Today is Kelly Grier’s last day building a better working world. So in honor of her retirement, we wanted to take a look back at KG’s career at EY, especially the last four years as the firm’s U.S. chair and managing partner and Americas managing partner, and all the fun Kelly Grier moments (fun for us, not so much for her) we decided to write about.
Three Out of Four Big 4 Firms Made the Working Mother 10 Best Companies List (Sept. 16, 2014)
The first time Grier’s name graced the hollowed web pages of Going Concern was in this post about EY making the top 10 in Working Mother’s 2014 best companies list. Grier, at the time EY Americas’ vice chair of talent, told Working Mother that being a workaholic makes her a better mom or something:
As counterintuitive as it may seem, keeping pace with the demands of my job by staying connected for parts of the day—the early, early morning, the late, late night—actually affords me that focus and the time to be really present and be 100 percent mom or wife. The demands of the job don’t abate because you have a family, so it really is a matter of how you make it all work together.
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Grier would become the third woman to lead a Big 4 firm in the U.S. along with Deloitte’s Cathy Engelbert and KPMG’s Lynne Doughtie.
EY Thinks Women Are a Bunch of Dumb Sluts: Report (Oct. 22, 2019)
By now most people within this profession have read or heard about the infamous seminar for women EY hosted a handful of years ago where attendees were told that women’s brains were smaller than men’s, how to dress, and not to talk to a man face to face because that was intimidating. To be fair, Grier wasn’t EY U.S. chair and managing partner when the “Power-Presence-Purpose” program took place—it was reportedly held in June 2018, and Grier didn’t start that role until July 1, 2018. But the HuffPost article that detailed what went on during the seminar did come out while Grier was in charge, and she had to do a lot of damage control after it was published because EY was getting annihilated in the press and on social media.
While Grier eventually said she “deeply regretted the negative association that this program has had on EY in the media, and to acknowledge that mistakes have been made,” she initially blamed the media for making too big a deal out of it:
Grier also sent alumni a link to a video discussing the “Power-Presence-Purpose” program. Initially about five minutes long, the video was shortened later in the day, in part to remove remarks that were highly critical of the media.
Grier called media characterizations of the company’s culture “unfair and misleading.” She also appeared to take a swipe at HuffPost and the other news reports released this week. “The objective of the media is to create news and to attract clicks, and there is no doubt that this story was done with that objective exclusively in mind,” Grier said. Those remarks were edited out of a subsequent version of the video.
“We celebrate differences and authenticity and the courage of conviction, and we encourage bold leadership and a culture of belonging,” she said.
Grier said only a few women at EY had ever participated in the program — fewer than 1%, she writes ― and that it had not gone through an appropriate review at the firm. “This was an unfortunate breakdown in our processes,” she said.
In the video, Grier ― who is No. 38 on Fortune’s list of the most powerful women ― said she was “deeply troubled” by some of the “offensive” content in the program.
She said if she’d taken the advice offered to women in the presentation, she likely wouldn’t have made it to the top.
Layoff Watch ’20: Apparently It’s Doomsday for Some at EY (Sept. 23, 2020)
Late August/early September 2020 was a dark period in EY’s history, as many EYers lost their jobs during that first summer of the pandemic. The threat of possible job cuts had been communicated to employees by Grier several months earlier. During an all-hands webcast on April 21, 2020, Grier said there would be no layoffs through the end of EY’s 2020 fiscal year, the last day of which was June 30. But come July 1, there could be performance-based job cuts, as the firm had done in the past.
We started hearing in late August about EYers being told they were losing their jobs, and those discussions continued into September. Grier put lipstick on a pig by calling the job cuts “performance-based separations” instead of layoffs, but many people who were being let go told us (and, in some instances, showed us) that they didn’t have performance issues, were not put on a performance improvement plan, and had excellent performance reviews or ratings similar to those with peers who weren’t let go. Despite what Grier said, these were layoffs—plain and simple.
While there definitely were EY employees who were given pink slips because they sucked at their jobs, many people became unemployed that summer because firms like EY panicked about how COVID-19 would impact their business, and once work started to dry up, EY and those other firms—you know, the ones that say employees are like family—had no problem kicking their family to the curb under the guise of “performance” in order to cut costs. (We’re looking at you too, PwC.)
EY Changes Its Vacation Policy, Oh and BTW They’re Not Paying Out Accrued PTO If You “Leave” (Oct. 6, 2020)
While EYers were still dealing with the shock of hundreds of their colleagues losing their jobs and wondering if they still had a future with the firm, Grier & Co. dropped another bombshell on them: EY was moving away from its accrual-based vacation policy to unlimited PTO. And employees were pissed!
In an email to employees, EY said the move would save the firm an estimated $36 million per year “associated with paying unused vacation at termination.” And this part of the email REALLY rubbed EYers the wrong way (bolded for emphasis):
- Eliminates entitlement mentality and need for carryover of unused time or sense of “loss” by our people.
As one Redditor said following the announcement, “How DARE those youths feel entitled to the benefits [EY] offered them which they then accepted.”
The email also went on to say that the move to unlimited PTO “[p]ositions EY as a ‘first mover’ among the Big 4, providing a competitive advantage and serving as a differentiator on campus.” We don’t know if more accounting grads are flocking to EY because the firm now has unlimited PTO, but we do know that unlimited PTO has made EY the butt of many jokes on chatter sites like Fishbowl and Reddit.
EY to Staff: Pledge Allegiance to the United States of EY or Go Find Another Job (April 22, 2021)
Those who EY kept around after the purge in late summer 2020 were ordered by Grier to pledge their undying loyalty to the Black and Yellow. A tipster told us at the time:
Ernst & Young had an all hands call yesterday and the last segment of it was an “anti racism and social justice update.” At the end of this segment, Kelly Grier stated that in our inboxes next Wednesday, we can expect there to be a video and associated pledge to sign. She encouraged us to “watch the video, read every word of the pledge, and if you can’t sign it, it may be time for you to do something else”. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a threat (and maybe illegal?). Given the undertones and what she was talking about before, this gave the strong impression that the pledge was going to be related to being committed to anti-racism and social justice and the like.
However instead of waiting a week, the pledge and associated video came out TODAY (gee I can’t imagine why). It was a pledge to recommit to “EY Values” (which they didn’t go into detail on) and had an emphasis on cheating (probably having to do with WBLs…or auditing cash). Neither the pledge nor the 4 minute video itself said anything directly about anti racism or social justice, but it still left a bad taste with a lot of EYers, and it seems like “EY Values” was left rather vague. Count this as another unforced error from EY Leadership dating back to at least early 2020.
EYers obviously didn’t take this pledge seriously, as loads of people have left the firm (this time voluntarily, unlike in September 2020) during the Great Resignation. And Grier stressing “no cheating”as part of EY’s values is pretty interesting, given current events (more on that later).
EY U.S. Chair Kelly Grier Is Super Excited About EY’s Super Bowl Ad, You Guys (Feb. 6, 2021)
Remember that lame EY commercial that aired during Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? You know, this one:
No one, and I mean no one, was more excited about the nation seeing this EY commercial than KG. Here’s an excerpt from an email Grier sent to all EY employees the day before the Super Bowl:
During a year unlike any other, I’m looking forward to one tradition that holds strong this weekend – watching Sunday’s Big Game! While we may not be able to gather as we have in years past, I still plan on enjoying delicious food and checking out the commercials – always one of my family’s favorite activities.
But this year, I’m even more excited for the ads, because many of us will see a familiar brand … ours!
Never before has our brand’s purpose more perfectly aligned with the conversation of the day. No matter what came our way, we supported each other, our people and our clients by living our purpose of building a better working world. We could not be prouder of the incredible work you do for our clients, each other and our communities. Every day, you act with purpose and the #CourageToLead.
We were presented with a unique opportunity to purchase a spot during Sunday’s game at a fraction of the normal cost of a typical Big Game ad. And what better way to highlight and celebrate our purpose and the tremendous work you do than an ad on such an iconic stage?
She ended the email by saying, “Please tune in on Sunday and enjoy the game!” EY employees probably did enjoy the game. That commercial? Not so much.
EY US Chair Kelly Grier Will Not Seek a Second Term (Oct. 21, 2021)
We broke the news last October when Grier told employees during an all-hands webcast that she wouldn’t be seeking a second four-year term as EY U.S. chair and managing partner and EY Americas managing partner. A tipster who attended the webcast told us that Grier said “it was a personal decision and had nothing to do with the strength of the firm.” But the Financial Times revealed several months later a possible reason why Grier wanted out of EY …
You Know Things Are Bad at EY When Its US and Global CEOs Are Beefing (June 1, 2022)
Grier and EY Global Chairman and CEO Carmine Di Sibio apparently weren’t seeing eye to eye on things:
The head of EY’s US business quit the big four accounting firm after a power struggle with its global boss, underlining the tensions between the group’s competing fiefdoms as it considers a radical plan to break itself up.
Kelly Grier, the first woman to lead EY in the US, clashed with global chief executive Carmine Di Sibio over the influence her business should wield within the firm’s international operations, said four people familiar with the matter.
The two also disagreed over how much the US firm, by far the biggest in EY’s international operations, should pay to fund EY Global, the people added.
FT also said that Di Sibio may have felt threatened by Grier potentially coming for his job once his first four-year term as global CEO ends in June 2023:
Grier — also EY’s chair and managing partner of the Americas region, the largest of its three geographical segments — overplayed her hand in trying to position herself as Di Sibio’s successor, said some of the people with knowledge of the tensions between the pair.
“She flew too close to the sun and got her wings burnt,” said one.
Di Sibio remains “well-connected to the US partnership”, meaning Grier may have struggled to win re-election [as EY US chair and managing partner] had she put herself forward, said another person briefed on the matter.
EY Auditors Cheated on Ethics Exams and Tried to Cover It Up, Will Pay a Record Fine for Naughtiness (June 28, 2022)
Just as Grier had one foot out the door, the SEC announced a couple days ago that it was fining EY $100 million, the largest monetary penalty the regulator has ever given to an audit firm, after an investigation revealed that auditors were cheating on internal ethics exams and CPE courses—and that EY tried to hide the cheating from the SEC. The cheating continued even after Grier told employees in a message—sent two days after KPMG received a $50 million fine from the SEC on June 17, 2019, for internal exam cheating (as well as that whole PCAOB scandal thing)—that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated:
No client or external relationship and no metric is more important than the ethics, integrity and reputation of EY. We all play a vital role in instilling confidence in capital markets. We must always be committed to each other as colleagues, holding ourselves and each other accountable and maintaining zero tolerance of those who do not live our values. As stated in our Global Code of Conduct, we are people who demonstrate integrity, respect and always doing the right thing.
But at EOD today, this will no longer be Grier’s problem. Happy trails, Kelly.