After a roller coaster of a week that ended with the fall of Bill Michael at KPMG, it is time to don the forensics hat to determine how it went horribly wrong. The Titanic may have hit an iceberg, but where did Michael trip over his didgeridoo?
Michael the F-bomber: Ben Marlow, a business columnist for The Telegraph, wrote recently that he met Michael at 20 Grosvenor Street, KPMG’s premises in Mayfair, for schmoozing clients. Apparently Michael dropped so many F-bombs he could have been mistaken for a NWA rapper. English is a rich and colorful language, but British business culture is still conservative. A couple of F-bombs though aren’t going to result in much collateral damage.
KPMG’s millennials and Generation Z (MAGZ): The MAGZ (pronounced “Mags”; I coined this phrase, I thought it was rather good!), like many finance professionals in the U.K., have been working from home since March 2020 because of the pandemic. It was amusing at first, but the novelty has definitely worn off. Lockdown No. 3 to stem the rise of COVID-19 has turned into Groundhog Day. While Michael can probably sit in his study at his £3 million home in Richmond, Surrey, many associates are probably sharing digs in less glamorous parts of London. Living in Balham or Clapham isn’t so chic when the restaurants and bars are shut. Following last Monday’s Zoom call, they probably wanted Michael to “feel their pain.” He didn’t. Instead he told staff they were well off and should be grateful.
Cue cries of “privilege” from the MAGZ, but Michael is from a Greek-Cypriot background and grew up in a working-class suburb of Melbourne, Australia. That doesn’t smack of white privilege. On paper Michael is progressive; his LinkedIn profile states that he is interested in “how businesses can help create a more even society.”
So are the MAGZ in the ascendancy, or was Michael justified with his Macmillan-esque “you’ve never had it so good” speech? One could side with Michael because he is the voice of experience, not the voice of youth. Unemployment due to COVID-19 is creeping up. The airlines, oil and gas, retail, and hospitality sectors have been hit hard. The U.K. government’s furlough schemes will end at some point and the economic recovery may not be instantaneous.
Many banks and asset managers have suspended their graduate recruitment for 2021. They couldn’t even get the 2020 intake through the door, let alone 2021’s. That means more grads on the market who may switch to accountancy as a second choice. With student debt to clear, they won’t be so precious about being “woke” but being broke. The competition for jobs will be more intense than it already is. The recessions of the early ’80s and ’90s were grim affairs; Michael probably recalls these. To date, the accountancy firms have weathered the storm. I wouldn’t criticize the boss too loudly.
As for Michael, the filthy lucre probably precipitated his downfall and trip down the billabong. It always has, it always will. As Marlow notes, KPMG partners have seen their profit share decline from £690,000 in 2018 to £572,000 in 2020. Some of this isn’t Michael’s fault; he didn’t eat a bat in Wuhan and give us COVID-19, but the other KPMG partners clearly had other thoughts.
About the author:
Tim Ames is an accountant based in the U.K.
KPMG boss falls victim to the woke brigade [The Telegraph]