KPMG U.K. Chairman Makes Himself Scarce After Calling His Staff Whiny Little Bitches

[UPDATE] Bill Michael quit today, according to the Financial Times and other U.K. outlets.

“I am truly sorry that my words have caused hurt amongst my colleagues and for the impact the events of this week have had on them,” Michael said in a statement on Friday. “In light of that, I regard my position as untenable and so I have decided to leave the firm. It has been a privilege to have acted as chair of KPMG.”

[This article was originally posted on Feb. 11.]

In light of recent events at KPMG U.K., whoever said “any publicity is good publicity” might be asked to revise this phrase.

On Wednesday morning, KPMG U.K. Chairman and Senior Partner Bill Michael, who has been in that role since 2017, said he was stepping aside while the firm investigates his rather loose comments made during a virtual town hall meeting on Feb. 8.

While Michael is away, KPMG announced today that Mary O’Connor, who is head of clients and markets, will take over Michael’s responsibilities as senior partner, and Bina Mehta, a KPMG U.K. board member, will temporarily assume the chairmanship, according to the Financial Times.

It is the first time in KPMG’s 150-year history that either role has been held by a woman, FT noted.

FT reported on Feb. 9 that Michael informed staff about the possibility of reduction in pay and contributions. For good measure, staff were to be assessed against a forced distribution curve. (For those who live in the dark, staff performance is measured against the curve; those toward the lower end are usually asked to review “their career aspirations.”)

As one would guess, this wasn’t greeted by rapturous applause. Instead, Michael went on to state that staff should “stop moaning” and to stop “playing the victim card.” Being Australian, Michael probably thought a little straight talking to the troops in the trenches wouldn’t hurt, despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and stress this has caused. Michael himself had a bout with the coronavirus late last March.

However, during the meeting Michael was rather vocal about unconscious bias and was quoted as saying it was “complete crap.” This wasn’t well-received and staff vented their disgust on an internal message board.

Unfortunately for Michael, the Daily Mail obtained video footage from Monday’s town hall. Michael said, “There is no such thing as unconscious bias. I don’t buy it. Because after every single unconscious bias training that’s ever been done nothing’s ever improved.”

On a roll, Michael added, “Take as much influence of your own diary, of your own life.” Strangely, this seems reminiscent of the last scene of Back to the Future Part III where Doc Brown tells Marty and Jennifer, “Your future hasn’t been written yet; your future is whatever you make it.”

While some old-school practitioners may have welcomed Michael’s fight back against the more touchy-feely aspects of modern working life, Michael later apologized for his words. But it is unlikely he’ll be reinstated to chairman anytime soon.

There were also reports that the dreaded forced distribution curve would be abandoned. One can’t see Michael’s reported £1.7 million annual salary coming back anytime soon either.

About the author:

Tim Ames is an accountant based in the U.K.

KPMG UK chairman told staff to ‘stop moaning’ about work conditions [Financial Times]
KPMG appoints first female leaders in shake-up after Michael furore [Financial Times]

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6 Comments

  1. I realize that I’m old and out of touch, but the staff at the large accounting firms these days are as soft as tissue paper. They are whiny little bitches, but the firms not only let them get away with it, they actually perpetuate it. The fact that the firm made him apologize for telling the truth and he also lost his position for it just reinforces my point. The next chairman won’t make the mistake of treating the staff like professionals and adults. Treat them like adorable little babies…that’s what they want.

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