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January 27, 2023

Remembering the Time Everyone at PwC Had to Work on MLK Day As a Noble Gesture to Honor Dr. King

a father and son in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC

The following message we’re about to share with you was sent out as a firmwide email from then-Chairman Dennis Nally to everyone at PwC almost exactly 15 years ago to the day. To my knowledge it’s never been published here, because back when it went out to everyone working at PwC US in January 2008, Going Concern didn’t exist yet and wouldn’t for another year and a half. Funny enough, GC was originally created by the same people who own Above the Law, perhaps it was emails like this that made them realize accounting deserves its own gossip rag separate from that of law’s. We’ve since been passed around to a few different owners like a poorly rolled joint but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, @twuench brought this to our attention on Twitter this morning and we’re publishing it because A) today is MLK Day and B) this one deserves a spot in the Museum of GC next to all the other stupid emails from Big 4 leaders we’ve posted over the years.

A tipster — who my brief and former colleague Above the Law’s David Lat described as “incensed” — wrote this to ATL:

[A friend] at Price Waterhouse Coopers forwarded this offensive message, which was sent from the head of PWC US to all US employees. It is one thing for firm management to decide not to observe Dr. King’s birthday. It is quite another to dress up that decision, which was clearly motivated by a refusal to bear the costs of observing the holiday, as a noble gesture in honor of Dr. King’s achievements.

Clearly, the firm believes that its employees (many of whom are attorneys — hence the email to Above the Law) are unintelligent enough to believe that this thinly veiled insult was intended to honor Dr. King. Even more offensive is the fact that the firm denigrates Dr. King’s extraordinary struggles and achievements by equating them with the daily work of accountants, auditors and tax professionals as they work to save tax dollars and maximize profits for mega-corporations.

The comparison is laughable and utterly offensive. I trust that ATL will not allow the insult to go unnoticed.

Do you think that tipster thought this email would resurface 15 years later? Probably not. Never underestimate the pettiness of gossip rags. Nor our tendency to bring up old shit and beat dead horses to within an inch of their afterlife.

At last, the message:

MESSAGE FROM CHAIRMAN DENNIS NALLY TO PRICEWATERHOUSE COOPERS EMPLOYEES

From: Dennis M. Nally

Sent: 01/18/2008 09:15 AM EST [Ed. note: I’m so stoked this came with a time stamp and everything]

To: PwC US Staff

Subject: In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This coming Monday, we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the preeminent leaders in the civil rights movement. At the age of 35, Dr. King was the youngest person at that time to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and he is widely known for his work toward ending racial segregation in public schools and promoting meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law that would prohibit racial discrimination in the workplace.

Dr. King was a remarkable speaker, and his “I Have a Dream” speech is considered one of the most impactful dissertations of all time. But there is another quote he delivered that I think is particularly important for us as a Firm:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Many US companies have decided to give employees the “day off” in commemoration of Dr. King’s birthday. But as you read the quote above, you realize that Dr. King believed that the efforts around basic human rights could never take a holiday. As a result, we consider Dr. King’s birthday as a “day on;” a day to take action; a day to recognize that progress is not automatic.

Throughout many of our offices this Monday, we will be hosting talented high school students from our local markets. The intent of these gatherings is to introduce these students to the vast array of career opportunities that are available to them, not just in our profession, but in the business world in general. In keeping with Dr. King’s passion for equal opportunity, I believe this is a fitting tribute to his work.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from Dr. King; “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Equal rights cannot be taken for granted, either personally or collectively as a Firm. I hope that you will take a moment to reflect on the significance of this holiday and find some way to recommit to the equality and respect for all individuals that Dr. King talked about so many years ago.

Regards,

All I got from this was “take a moment to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, charge it to admin, and get back to work.” It’s too bad the comments on ATL have been lost to time, you just know they had to be good.

Take note, Big 4 leaders: these kinds of things stick in people’s minds. And not just because aging tabloids with nothing better to write about decide to bring them up a decade and a half later.

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3 Comments

  1. I believe this happened in a time before giant corporations and global accounting firms came up with the idea to add a “Chief Diversity Officer” to the leadership team. Perhaps this email contributed, in some small way, to the epiphany that led to the creation of this new role. Back in 2008, the leadership was 100% white, including Dennis Nally himself. Putting this spectacularly insensitive email by Dennis into this perspective, it really isn’t surprising (in hindsight) that someone at one of the firms came up with the idea to work on MLK day to somehow honor MLK.

  2. I interpreted as an encouragement to volunteer and do work in the community “day on” as opposed to taking the day off.

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