In the corporate world, karma so rarely bites the ass of a deserving executive in a timely fashion, that the corporate manager has become the butt of millions of jokes and even has spawned its own cartoon. But in this year’s (2017) Oscars presentation, karma bit down on two executives, in the most public way–on national television.
The head of the PriceWaterhouseCooopers’–PWC’s–entertainment division, Brian Cullinan, and his chief lieutenant, Martha Ruiz, handed the Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope. It was the Best Actress envelope for the movie La La Land, and not the envelope for the actual Best Picture winner. When Dunaway announced the wrong winner, the two accountants were in such shock that it took them almost two minutes to recover and admit the error to the Academy Award producers. By that time the La La Land producers were well into their acceptance speeches, which had to be cut short by Beatty, who with significant chagrin announced the real winners of the top Oscar prize.
Of course neither Ruiz or Cullinan likely had any role in the actual distribution, collection, and compilation of the ballots. That was probably done by worker bees at PWC behind the scenes. No, the only thing that the doomed duo had to do was to memorize the winners and hand the envelopes to the presenters. In fact they had done so already in a previous Oscars presentation, so it seems a little puzzling how they screwed such a simple task up.
The number of lives that have to be ruined and necks that must be stepped on to ascend a normal corporate ladder, never mind the juggernaut that is PWC, is so stupendous, that the karmic backlog that builds up is so significant that one would think that it would be impossible to avoid the inevitable short-term comeuppance. But the sad truth is that Florida and Arizona are full of thousands of corporate sharks that retire in resort comfort while their hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of victims stumble through their declining career years to the inevitable reliance on Social Security checks.
Even among the higher-ups at PWC, Cullinan and Ruiz are likely sporting resumes that reflect the necessary pedigree that a senior executive of one of the accounting Big 4 needs to be considered worthy to stand in the dressing room of the Academy Awards backstage and snap photos of celebrities that are then posted to Twitter. B-schools at Columbia, Stanford, Wharton (Penn), Chicago, or similarly impossible to get into program probably make a showing, as well as a smattering of Harvard or comparable graduate school credentials. Also present are probably a steady, perhaps even serendipitously rocketing careers from first year junior staffer to senior partner and/or vice president in a bafflingly short period of time.
Sorry Slippery Rock and San Diego State graduates, we’re not likely talking about you. Neither are we talking about the overworked junior partners and senior managers at PWC sweating out the details of dozens of tricky audits every year.
Don’t fee too bad about the PWC has-beens working in the trenches. Many of these will end up at one publicly traded corporation or company or another as a CFO, controller, or high-ranking HQ staffer, getting paid big money and stock options so the board and management can crow about all the former PWC auditors they have on the payroll. To be sure, there are still thousands of accountants that drop out after a couple years as a 80 hours-a-week associate, but even these often parley out their PWC paystubs as a ticket to a comfy industry or medium-sized accounting firm job.
Still, Ruiz and Cullinan are the ruthless survivors in a system designed to grind up prospects in the search of the executives that will ensure the dominance of PWC, now and in the future. So for the two of them to be embarrassed in such a public fashion after falling victim to one moment of inattention–circumstances that undoubtedly led them to heartlessly fire or marginalize many of their employees in the past–seems like karmic justice. That’s probably small comfort to all of their victims. But one must find emotional sustenance in even the smallest things. Let us hope that for the many folks that were waiting for it, this debacle is one of those.