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KPMG U.K. Doesn’t Really Care If You Don’t Like How It Handled Complaints Against Partner Accused of Bullying

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We were so busy trying to wrap our heads around the $50 million fine the SEC gave KPMG last week for its auditors’ involvement in two separate scandals and which of the two might be more damaging to the firm’s reputation that we missed a new article about the bullying allegations made against KPMG U.K. senior partner Sanjay Thakkar.

KPMG must have picked two partners to do some damage control because in an article by Accountancy Age, the partners were quoted as saying how great a place KPMG is to work and that the firm has “a very inclusive culture.” And of course the partners who were speaking glowingly of KPMG are women.

Michelle Quest, head of tax, pensions, and legal services at KPMG U.K., and Melissa Geiger, head of international tax and tax policy at KPMG U.K., wouldn’t comment specifically about the allegations against Thakkar or the bullying investigation, but Quest said if you don’t like the processes the firm uses when complaints are made, too bad:

“As a former head of people at KPMG and now head of tax and sitting on the executive committee, we have processes in place, we follow those processes – not everyone will always like the outcome of those processes, and we have to always look at continuous improvement,” she said.

The problem is, a lot of people—even former employees—have been critical of the way KPMG handled the complaints made against Thakkar since it was reported last month that Maggie Brereton, KPMG’s former head of U.K. transaction services and a nonexecutive U.K. board member, and Ina Kjaer, former head of U.K. integration in KPMG’s deal advisory team, quit the firm in February in protest of Thakkar, who lead the deal advisory group.

Concerns with Thakkar’s conduct had been raised by employees as early as 2017 but were ignored by three senior executives—U.K. managing partner Philip Davidson, deputy chair Melanie Richards, and its head of HR Anna Purchas. Does the firm’s processes include turning a blind eye at the pleas of employees who have to work under or with a person who is making their workday unbearable?

Was the reason Davidson, Richards, and Purchas ignored employee concerns because the deal advisory practice, in which Thakkar led, rakes in a ton of money for the firm? Probably. In 2018, the deal advisory practice increased its revenues by 14%—the highest of the firm’s four divisions, which include audit, consulting, and tax. So of course the firm was trying to protect him.

Or maybe because Thakkar sat on KPMG’s executive leadership team alongside Davidson and Purchas until recently? It’s a lot more convenient to pretend like the bullying didn’t happen than to confront Thakkar about it. Is that part of the firm’s processes too?

Most recently, after conducting an investigation into bullying allegations against Thakkar that were made via a formal complaint on the firm’s whistleblower hotline in September 2018, KPMG concluded that Thakkar didn’t act like a bully, even though “aspects of the individual’s behavior required improvement.”

KPMG leadership made it seem like Thakkar fell on his sword by sending an email to staff earlier this month after news of Brereton and Kjaer leaving the firm was reported saying Thakkar decided to step down from his role “in the wider interest of the firm” and was taking a leave of absence.

Is it part of the firm’s processes to make the person accused of bad behavior to be the victim and/or the hero?

I think KPMG needs new processes.

Related articles:

Two KPMG Female Partners Had Enough Of Working At a Firm That Protected An Alleged Bully
KPMG U.K. Partner Accused Of Being a Bully Decides He Probably Shouldn’t Be a Partner Anymore
Here’s More Proof That KPMG U.K. Totally F*cked Up the Way It Handled Bullying Allegations Against Partner