The envelope, please

For 75 years, PwC balloting leaders have kept
the biggest secrets in Hollywood.

Image: Academy Awards

PwC Partner Harold Brewster (seated at left) waits with envelope in hand as another statuette is awarded.

Let’s face it: accounting may not be the most glamorous line of work. It requires precision and discretion, and it’s usually a behind-the-scenes gig. But once a year, for two members from PwC’s Los Angeles office, the job also requires formalwear, a walk down the red carpet, some celebrity mingling and a briefcase packed with the most sought-after secrets in Hollywood.

As the official ballot tabulators for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual awards—also known as the Oscars®—PwC members collect handwritten ballots, lead a team in hand-tallying the results, and then hand-deliver sealed envelopes bearing the names of the winners on Oscar night. It’s an intentionally low-tech process designed to maintain the utmost secrecy, and it’s been at the heart of PwC’s relationship with the Academy for 75 years.

Image: Frank Johnson and Greg Garrison

Frank Johnson and Greg Garrison prepare ballots for mailing to Academy members.

PwC handles the ballot tabulation for both the Academy Awards® nomination process and the selection of the winners. Each year, in an undisclosed location, two balloting leaders assemble a crack team of accountants to count the ballots and tally the results for each of the 24 major Oscar categories (not including scientific, technical or special achievement awards). No scanning machines. No computers. And for all 75 years PwC has been involved, no security breaches.

“We kept the door locked and wouldn’t let anyone in,” says Bill Miller, balloting leader from 1954 to 1969. “All the results were locked in the vault. We even burned the scratch paper.”

Over the years, this painstaking process has remained much the same for each of the 12 people who have led the balloting and represented PwC at the annual Academy Awards show. “The balloting leaders are sort of like a fraternity,” says Frank Johnson, who oversaw balloting from 1977 to 1997. “We share that experience.”