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Financial malpractices are grievous ethical issues facing many organizations in the contemporary world. The statement of Auditing Standards No. 99 (“SAS 99”) makes it mandatory for auditors to emphasize on two broad categories of malpractices when evaluating financial reports. The first intervention involves assessment of fraudulent financial reporting. The second step entails an evaluation by experts on the misappropriation of assets. These instances account for most of the fraud schemes that happen in organizations. False accounting occurs when the managers overstate the assets of a business, or when they understate liabilities of the organization. This concept makes the company appear to be in a financially strong position than its actual status. Accounting fraud may comprise of an organization destroying, changing or defacing financial reports. The concept may also involve a misrepresentation of the valid financial position of the business. This paper outlines various forms of accounting fraud. The common ones include procurement of extra financing from a bank or reporting unrealistic financial gains. The other designs include concealment of losses and theft, attraction of clients through the portrayal of a successful image to the public, and achievement of a performance related financial gain. The nature of accounting fraud mostly entails falsification of financial records, presentment of deceitful reports and alteration of accounting figures (Arens & Loebbecke, 2013).
This report examines Sunbeam Corporation’s fraudulent tendencies. The study explores the environmental factors that informed the financial fraud and an explanation of how the perpetrators accomplished it. The research also evaluates how fraud detectors exposed the Sunbeam Corporation financial reporting scam. The report examines various accounting fraud articles, books and internet sources to present a critical analysis of the Sunbeam Corporation’s case study.
Overview: Sunbeam Corporation
The Sunbeam Corporation came into existence in the year 1897. The company first operated as the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company. It originally served as a mechanical horse clippers’ producer. In 1910, the Sunbeam Corporation began producing iron. This aspect was the company’s first electrical, home appliance product. The company introduced other electrical devices. The components comprised of coffeemakers, mixers, and toasters. The business dominated production, marketing and designing sectors. The company’s products were significant in improving the quality of life of different consumers. In the year 1941, the company rebranded to become the Sunbeam Corporation. The Company acquired Oster in the year 1960. This fact created room for the Sunbeam Corporation to expand into the production of other home utilities. The company manufactured other personal utilities like beauty, hair and wellness products. The organization manufactured mattresses, electrical appliances, duvets, and vaporizers. The company featured among the top manufacturers of electronic equipments. In the year 1981, The Allegheny International (Al) acquired Sunbeam. The business was Allegheny International’s most profitable commercial venture. The group adopted the Sunbeam-Oster brand in 1992 (Byrne, 2009).
Environmental factors in which the Sunbeam fraud occurred
The fraud at Sunbeam occurred during a time of the group’s restructuring. The company had appointed Al Dunlap, who had gained a reputation as one of the toughest chief executives in the country. The directors of the company had thought that Mr. Al Dunlap’s appointment would lead the company out of a difficult financial time. The main shareholders of Sunbeam comprising of Price and Steinhardt at one time sought to sell the company but were unsuccessful. They thought that a restructuring would be fundamental in re-inventing the company. Sunbeam experienced a drastic reorganization (Byrne, 1998).
Sunbeam’s fraud happened in a period of intense internal competition among players in the home appliances industry. The sector slowly projected its rate of growth to be 7.5% annually. Instances of large numbers of competitors and clients switching costs were non-existent. The company standardized its products (Byrne, 2009).
The threat of counterfeits of Sunbeam’s products and new entrants began during this period. This fact complicated issues for Sunbeam leading to minimal profit margins and discontinuity, industry shock, clients switching costs and compromise of brand names.
The business relieved employees off their duties in order to get a new management team. Dunlap engaged only one manager from the former directors of Sunbeam. Dunlap’s first employee included Russ Kersh, a retiree of Sunbeam. The organization hired Russ as CEO in charge of finance and governance. The new directors comprised of a team of 25 executives who had worked in various capacities under Dunlap. Dunlap reduced the number of SKUs from 13,000 to 1,400. Sunbeam incorporated 35 mixtures of designs and colours for a clothes’ iron brand upon resuming office as director of the company. Dunlap pursued a strategy to differentiate Sunbeam from its competitors in the appliance business (Byrne, 1998). Another common occurrence during this period included the rise of supplier and buyer bargaining power. This aspect reduced the power of Sunbeam, and it became difficult to dominate the market.
The background of Sunbeam’s finances
Poor management of the corporation started affecting Sunbeam’s financial performance. It caused the Sunbeam Corporation to go through critical financial problems. The company entered into a state of bankruptcy in the year 1988. Mr. Michael Price and other directors of the organization acquired the possession of the insolvent Sunbeam. Despite the corporation’s problems, the board was optimistic about its future financial prospects. The team felt that they wanted a person who would guide the organization towards the right financial progress. Kazarian took over as the executive director of business. The committee felt that he had no risk control policies to manage the organization towards effective financial development (Rezaee, 2010).
For instance, Mr. Kazarian was sceptical of manufacturing a lot of commodities in the fear that they would not attract appropriate clients. Mr. Kazarian did not plan to improve the company’s ventures on new markets and products. However, the organization’s board was not supportive of his decisions. His contract as the company’s executive made an impact on new innovative processes and products for the vast range of consumers. He also had a target of reducing the costs of production.
The corporation sacked Mr. Kazarian from Sunbeam due to his outrageous demeanour in January 1993. The company was against his abrasive management style. Mr. Kazarian’s departure led to different lawsuits that brought about a buyout of the corporation. This buyout gave Steinhardt and Price a 57% shareholding in the Sunbeam Corporation. The business appointed Roger Schipke into office in August 1993 to lead the organization. However, the company asked him to leave office in early 1996. The company employed Al Roger Schipke, a former GE executive, to take charge of Sunbeam in 1997. Al Dunlap operated as a turnaround artist. He came into office in 1998 through Michael Price who was a stockholder with about 20% of the company’s shares. Michael Price believed that Dunlap would improve the fragile Sunbeam Corporation’s performance. Dunlap motivated his team and accepted to lead the corporation through a comprehensive restructuring exercise. His leadership resulted in better financial gains in the year 1997 and a stock price increase from $13 in July 1996. This fact also culminated into a high stock value of $53 in March 1998 (Byrne, 2009).
Discussion of Sunbeam’s corruption
The origin of Sunbeam’s economic digression assumed the form of fraudulent financial reporting. The introduction of Al Chainsaw Dunlap to the corporation in 1996 was the onset of the company’s problems. Dunlap adopted stringent staff redundancy measures and continued to overestimate the corporation’s losses. This aspect led to the introduction of “cookie jar” reserves that led the organization to make an overstated profit of about 60 million US dollars that the company announced in 1997. The organization supplemented this aspect by using false sales’ figures. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) reports indicated that Dunlap and other corporate executives used a diverse range of fraudulent financial strategies. Sunbeam’s management employed fraudulent tactics. The company would overstate income on contingent products; inflate older sales’ statements and present inexistent transactions. The Securities and Exchange Commission Report claimed that the Sunbeam Corporation had engaged in “channel stuffing”. The aspect sought to offer dealers unique discounts than required. Channel “stuffing” was an idea in which a dealer oversupplied commodities through the company’s distribution mechanisms. The products would be returned secretly by the receivers. These fraudulent techniques that the Sunbeam management employed created an artificial and rapid turnaround of financial gains. They dramatically boosted the share price of the corporation. This point increased the attractiveness of Sunbeam to potential buyers and investors. In addition, it boosted the value of Dunlap’s shareholding in the Company (Byrne, 2009).
The real financial issues in the Sunbeam Corporation started in the last quarter of 1996 up to June of 1998. During this period, the senior executive management of the Sunbeam Corporation including the organization’s CEO Mr. Albert J. Dunlap and Principal Financial Executive Mr. Russell A. Kersh, compelled the company to conduct a random assessment of its financial ratings to trigger the misapprehension of a positive reorganization of Sunbeam and expedite the sale of the corporation at an overstated price. Dunlap and Kersh first assured stockholders that, as a product of the reorganization, Sunbeam Corporation would meet rapid income and revenue objectives. They employed inappropriate financial reporting and deceptive revelations to mislead stockholders into trusting that they had met those objectives. They created the tactic together with the Sunbeam management executives who included Messrs. Robert J. Gluck, Donald R. Uzzi, and Lee B. Griffith. These fraudulent parameters of the company oversaw price increment of the organization’s shares to $53 per share. This fact meant that Dunlap and Kersh would have received millions of profits had they sold their Sunbeam securities. However, Kersh and Dunlap failed to find a buyer for Sunbeam Corporation before the company exposed their conduct (Byrne, 2009).
The illegal actions of Kersh and Dunlap started in the last quarter of 1996 when they started creating suspicious and inappropriate accounting reserves. These financial irregularities led to the improper and artificial lowering of Sunbeam’s performance in 1996. This aspect was a scheme to make the corporation’s financial performance in 1997 to be comparatively better than in 1996.
Sunbeam amplified the total reorganization expenses of $336.6 million at the end of 1996. Kersh and Gluck were in charge of the restructuring of the company. They included inappropriate liabilities, reserves and profits, and pre-determined costs. This fact was inappropriate according to the accounting regulations of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). About 10% of the corporation’s reported loss of about $ 301 million during the 1996 fiscal year was traceable to these “cookie-jar” initiatives. The corporation’s management could not manage the situation at will to boost income in successive periods. The management of Messrs. Kersh and Gluck ignored facts indicating that these actions did not comply with the requirements of GAAP. In addition, they would convert the losses into income for the 1997 financial year. This fact would affect the company’s trends and results of operations for the 1997 fiscal year. However, Sunbeam did not make a public disclosure of its booking of “cookie-jar reserves” at the business end of the year 1996 in its annual reports (Byrne, 2009).
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The management also manipulated the “cookie-jar” into which the executive could exert its influence to inflate income artificially and inappropriately in 1997. This fact contributed to the image of a rapid transformation of the corporation. It also created a wrong impression that Sunbeam was experiencing fundamental revenue increment projections. Messrs.Kersh, Uzzi, Gluck and Griffith collectively led Sunbeam to realize financial gains from sales that did not meet relevant financial reporting requirements.
Kersh and Gluck misreported Sunbeam’s Corporation’s 1996 transformation reserves with approximately $18 million in items that benefited upcoming operations in the biggest addition to the company’s “cookie-jar”. These additions were not appropriately part of the transformation reserve. The aspects comprised of expenditures incurred while evacuating employees and equipments. Other costs related to redesigning product packaging, stipends given to workers that the company had laid off but who still played significant roles related to consultancy. These issues became apparent when the Andersen Audit Firm discovered that these components of Sunbeam’s reorganization reserves did not meet the standards of GAAP. The Andersen Audit Firm proposed that the corporation had to revert to the accounting entries of its financial records showing the establishment of these reserves. It was apparent that the company had to integrate the reserves in the company’s costs because they featured in Sunbeam’s future operations. However, Messrs.Kersh and Gluck failed to agree on the decision of reversing the commodities. Kersh and Gluck created an excessive $11 million reserve at the end of the 1996 financial year. This fact led to a lawsuit alleging Sunbeam’s impending responsibility to cover a segment of the clean-up expense for a hazardous waste site (Byrne, 2009).
GAAP’s policies postulate that the management must decide that the reserve amount dictates a possible and justifiable regression in order to file a litigation suit. However, at the end of the 1996 financial year, Sunbeam’s managers including Kersh, Gluck, and Harlow were of the knowledge that the $11 million figure was unwarranted in the context of GAAP because that value was not a valid reflection of the prospective and estimable loss plan. In spite of their experience, Kersh and Gluck did not adopt appropriate actions to control the reserve value that would have been relevant to GAAP. This aspect occurred in advance of the reporting of Sunbeam’s financial statements of 1996 in Form 10-K. In addition, Harlow did not create the litigation value rate that GAAP envisaged. Kersh and Gluck would have learned that, at year-end 1996, it was neither probable nor estimable that Sunbeam would incur liability of even half of the reserved amount had they attempted to determine the appropriate level of this litigation reserve (Business Wire, 2008).
Sunbeam planned to abolish half of its products’ operations as part of the reorganization process. The company endeavoured to sell its stock of outlawed commodities at low costs. Towards the close of the 1996 fiscal period, Gluck lowered the cost rate of Sunbeam’s stocks of home utilities. Differentiations between the abolished products and the continued product lines did not occur. This idea resulted in the understatement of the financial balance of its stocks at the end of the fiscal period in 1996. The organization understated the loss of the Sunbeam Corporation by $2 million. Kersh and Gluck became dishonest with information. They denied the fact that Sunbeam had provided erroneous statements concerning the worth of its home appliances’ products. This aspect had a significant contribution to the material misstatement of Sunbeam’s accounting financial reports at the end of the 1996 financial year. It would lead to a significant “improvement” of profits in the first quarter of the 1997 financial year. The company sold household items at inflated margins (Byrne, 2009).
In the 1997 financial period, the Sunbeam Corporation realized net earnings of $188 million, $61 of which had been gained through fraudulent mechanisms. During this year, Messrs.Kersh, Uzzi, Gluck and Griffith were also accountable for the fundamental exposure failure. The business did not inform the corporation’s investors of the significant revenue growth of the company. The management did not inform the stockholders that the organization’s tremendous growth related to fraudulent accounting and at the cost of future financial outcomes. The corporation had overstated its financial gains by “channel stuffing” techniques. They overloaded distribution accounts through financial inducements to boost the corporation’s product sales. In addition, Sunbeam had provided its clients with commodities that would discredit the quality of the company’s products. The reported Sunbeam’s accounting statements and media releases at the end of the 1996 financial year, and the quarterly and 1997 financial year reports were immensely false and misleading.
During this period of Sunbeam’s financial troubles, Mr. Phillip E. Harlow was a commercial partner at Arthur Anderson, LLP (“Andersen”). This unit was Sunbeam’s outside auditing firm. Mr. Philip caused Andersen Auditing Firm to affirm invalid audit opinions on Sunbeam’s 1996 and 1997 accounting reports. However, Mr. Philip was aware of fraudulent dealings in Sunbeam’s financial statements. He observed various errors in the accounting records of the organization. However, the affirmation of Philip Harlow was false and misleading to the public. The affirmation falsely stated that Andersen evaluated Sunbeam through an audit according to the acceptable accounting regulations (“GAAS”). The affirmation also misled that the company structured the corporation’s financial statements according to the accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”). In addition, Philip Harlow’s affirmation was false because it made people believe that Sunbeam Corporation’s accounting statements were a true reflection of its outcome.
Sunbeam spent $2.5 million in advertising costs in 1997. Kersh and Gluck committed this accounting fraud in the knowledge of GAAP’s regulations. It was a reckless action that disregarded data. This aspect revealed that it would have an impact on the material overstatement of Sunbeam’s financial statements for the 1996 financial year. It would lead to the corporation’s losses by triggering period expenses to be understated during every quarter of 1997. This point led to the misstatements of Sunbeam’s quarterly and annual accounting reports in 1997. In addition, Uzzi participated in Sunbeam’s duplicitous bookkeeping by offering to pay Sunbeam’s advertising agency its 1997 fees and bonuses in 1996 and arranging to give invoices that incorrectly embodied $2.5 million in 1997 expenses to be 1996’s expenses (Byrne, 2009).
Sunbeam incurred additional costs for cooperative advertising during the 1996 financial period. It provided finances to a section of its dealers with a view of boosting their marketing efforts at local levels. Sunbeam presented false accounting reports in order to fulfil GAAP’s requirements. Kersh and Gluck gave a deceitful figure of $21.8 million in the 1996 fiscal period. They knew facts indicating that this accrual was not in accordance with the requirements of GAAP. It was about 25% higher than the prior year’s accrual value. Therefore, there was no proportional increase in sales providing a basis for the increase. In addition, the company detected erroneous accounting because Gluck and Kersh had planned to transfer elements of the 1996 fiscal period to the next. Therefore, the two directors played crucial roles in reporting falsehoods about the company’s accounts. The organization used about $5.9 million of this excessive accrual to inflate Sunbeam’s second-quarter 1997 income (Byrne, 2009).
The primary objective of Sunbeam’s fraudulent accounting reports was to sell the corporation at an inflated price. However, this fact had not been realized by the end of 1997 because the company had failed to find a buyer. The deceitful accounting and presentation of sales’ statements in 1997 provided room for a subsequent error in the next fiscal period. This aspect complicated matters for the management of the corporation. The Sunbeam management team of Mr. Kersh and his accomplices tried to adopt appropriate measures to protect the image of Sunbeam because of its financial challenges. They made an attempt to finance the acquisition of three other firms through bond offering. Messrs. Kersh, Uzzi, Gluck and Griffith reported revenue that did not meet the applicable accounting regulations. This aspect made Sunbeam engage in acceleration of sales’ revenue from earlier periods. The management deleted certain corporate accounts to hide pending returns of merchandises. This fact led to a misrepresentation of the corporation’s financial performance and future growth projections in financial statements (Wehinger, 2010). Therefore, the financial statements for the first quarter of 1998 were fraudulent. Fraud featured in the material relating to the bond offering to buy three other companies, communications with analysts and press releases (Byrne, 2008).
How auditors discovered Sunbeam’s financial malpractices
Negative media publicity about the organization’s financial challenges in June 1998 compelled Sunbeam’s management to start internal research. The investigation led to the termination of Dunlap, Kersh, and other members of the corporation management’s contracts. The board conducted a comprehensive review of the company’s finances and led to a complete restatement of Sunbeam’s financial statements from the fourth quarter of 1996 through the first quarter of 1998 (Business Wire, 2008).
Paine Webber, Inc., and analyst Andrew Shore, were crucial in the detection of the Sunbeam fraud. They had been following Sunbeam since the day the company employed Dunlap to take charge in the corporation. Shore’s portfolio as an economic analyst, was to give expert opinion on Sunbeam’s investment options in the stock markets. He had been examining Sunbeam’s financial statements every quarter of the financial year. In his assessments, Mr. Shore considered Sunbeam’s reported rates of inventory for certain items to be irregular in every fiscal period. For example, he noted significant rises in incomes from the sales of electronic equipments in the third phase despite selling well in the fourth phase of the fiscal period. He realized that proceeds accruing from the sales of grills increased in the fourth phase. This aspect was not common because the company would not make big sales on grills at the period in question. He also observed that accounts receivables were high. For example, in April 4, 1998, Shore declared that Sunbeam’s financial reports contained errors. This point resulted in Sunbeam’s pronouncement of a first phase loss of $44.6 million. Sunbeam’s stock prices fell by 25% at the close of business that day (Business Wire, 2008).
The analyst’s declaration caused a lot of anxiety for the company. The expert revealed that Dunlap had been employing a bill-and-hold approach with the intention of negatively manipulating its dealers. Sunbeam influenced its distributors to deceive about its financial statements. A bill and hold approach relates to selling products at large reductions to distributors and holding them in third-party depots to be distributed at a later date. Sunbeam would provide treacherous statements about its revenues even before making actual sales of its products. This aspect inflated its quarterly revenues (Byrne, 2008).
In the year 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission initiated an investigation on Sunbeam Corporation in a civil action. The Sunbeam fraud started in July 1996 as a simple malpractice. Albert J. Dunlap was in charge of the company when the fraud started. He collaborated to employ improper accounting techniques to regulate revenue until the investigators detected the fraud in 1998. The Securities and Earnings Commission reported that the Sunbeam scandal began unknowingly in the first quarter of the 1997 financial year. It started with a usual “channel stuffing” at the business end of the financial year to inflate revenue outcomes. However, the commission realized that the corporation had to keep pace with high profits’ reports in order to portray a positive image to the clients. This aspect deteriorated from a normal business practice to a comprehensive accounting fraud with improper revenue reporting (SEC Litigation Release No. 17710, 2010).
A series of fraudulent schemes that were contrary to GAAP regulations enabled the detection of fraud in the Sunbeam Corporation. The first fraud was the Bill and Hold Sales. This point involved improperly recognised revenue. Executives caused Sunbeam to realize revenue for sales, including “Bill and Hold Sales,” that did not meet appropriate financial regulations (Philip & Marshall, 2008). These actions were not in compliance with US GAAP, which does not allow recognition of revenue on financial deals lacking economic criteria. Therefore, Sunbeam recorded the sale of the barbecue grills even though it had not passed the title to the wholesaler. In addition, the wholesaler had the full right of return the products. The investigation team recognized this aspect which led to the detection of fraud.
The researchers detected the second fraud incidence called “channel stuffing”. The Sunbeam Corporation’s executives used the design to make the company’s reported revenue to look positive in 1997. However, Sunbeam’s management did not reveal to the public that the rising revenues would be detrimental to the company’s future incomes. Sunbeam usually offered incentives to its clients in order to reduce its stocks. The organization’s approach could be likened to “channel stuffing” because the products sold by the company did not reflect improved sales. The organization detected this form of treachery. Therefore, five cardinal ways informed the manner of detection of the Sunbeam fraud. Firstly, fictitious sales raised suspicion. Secondly, the improper expense recognition created mistrust in Mr. Dunlap’s management. Thirdly, the improper revenue recognition developed public outrage. Fourthly, the hidden liabilities caused losses to the company. Finally, the unsuitable disclosures resulted in financial improprieties. These factors were fundamental in establishing the fraud at Sunbeam (Caplan, 2009).
The court convicted Mr. Dunlap of fraud. He settled the conflict by paying a fine of 500,000 US dollars and accepted that he would never take any executive position in a public company. Sunbeam appealed to be given amnesty from its state of insolvency in February 2001. The company cited 3.1 billion US dollars in debt. The organization blamed Dunlap for its downfall. Sunbeam is currently in the process of reinventing its commercial strategy in line with Chapter 11 of the US Constitution. The organization may be able to recover from the fraud that threatened to lower its performance in the market if it integrates proper accounting regulations.
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