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Tech Industry

Accenture takes giant step toward IPO

The management and technology consultancy files for an initial public offering, making it the latest of the leading consultancies to tempt fate in the jittery markets.

    Management and technology consulting firm Accenture on Thursday said it plans to proceed with an initial public offering, making it the latest of the leading consultancies to tempt fate in the jittery public markets.

    New York-based Accenture, formerly known as Andersen Consulting, said that it has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a proposed offering of its common shares and that its partners have voted unanimously to proceed with the IPO plans.

    Accenture, which has weighed the option of going public for some time, has not yet disclosed the number of shares it intends to sell.

    Tom Rodenhauser, an analyst who heads Consulting Information Services, said while Accenture is making IPO plans during one of the toughest times in the market, the firm has built a trusted brand that can help carry them through a successful run.

    "Times are tough, but if anyone can do it, they can," Rodenhauser said. "It might sound strange, and we're not talking about Accenture's brand, but Andersen Consulting's brand recognition is still very strong."

    The move follows a similar move by rival KPMG Consulting, which in February made its long-awaited debut on Wall Street. On the first day of trading, KPMG's shares jumped more than 30 percent after opening modestly above the target price of $18 per share. The company, which had been the largest IPO deal in several months, has since seen its shares trade below that target price, recently at around $13 per share.

    The market for tech-related IPOs has soured. In addition, the consulting services sector has been struggling to overcome a market downturn, partly caused by a slowdown in spending by dot-com clients for Internet-related consulting services. A number of publicly traded consulting houses have been badly bruised, and most are limping along after laying off employees, implementing cost-cutting plans, closing offices or shutting down altogether.

    Even Accenture's larger rivals, such as Computer Sciences and PricewaterhouseCoopers, have stumbled and have recently announced layoffs. Accenture itself is expected to let go a number of employees as part of its annual performance-review process, which is under way.

    A spokeswoman for Accenture said the firm will let go consultants whose performance skills and capabilities are "not a long-term match for our clients' needs."

    Though she did not yet know the number of employees who will be affected, she stressed that employee departures are not tied to a slowing down of Accenture's business. The firm has hired some 17,000 new employees to date for the year, and the spokeswoman said the firm continually recruits consultants.

    Accenture, which employs 70,000 people worldwide, recently reported $10.3 billion in annual revenue. Its public offering will be jointly managed by underwriters Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

    Last August, Accenture formally separated from accounting parent Arthur Andersen, a move prompted by the SEC, which for some time had said that a privately held auditing firm should not provide business consulting to its clients.

    Rodenhauser also said he believes that Accenture will be one of the "stronger performers" in the consulting industry. "The biggest challenge for them is still revising the partnership mentality and operating in more of a public realm."