KPMG boss quits amid uproar after telling staff to 'stop moaning'

12 February 2021, 12:18

KPMG boss Bill Michael has stepped down following his remarks
KPMG boss Bill Michael has stepped down following his remarks. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK chairman of KPMG has quit after reportedly telling staff to "stop moaning" about worries over cuts to their benefits during the pandemic.

Bill Michael will resign from the audit giant at the end of the month after his position became "untenable" due to comments he made during a conference call on Monday.

He reportedly told consultants to "stop moaning" about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown on people's lives, and to stop "playing the victim card".

Speaking following his resignation, the KPMG boss said: "I love the firm and 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," the 52-year-old Australian said.

"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. I feel hugely proud of all our people and the things they have achieved, particularly during these very challenging times."

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KPMG boss Bill Michael caused uproar after comments he made during a conference call
KPMG boss Bill Michael caused uproar after comments he made during a conference call. Picture: PA

The uproar emerged after Mr Michael made the comments during an online meeting of around 500 staff members, during which workers raised concerns over potential pay, pension and bonus cuts.

Footage of the meeting widely shared online appeared to show Mr Michael saying: "I have spoken to a lot of partners, and people at all sorts of levels, where it almost feels like this [pandemic] is being done to them.

"Well, you can't play the role of victim unless you're sick. And I hope you're not sick, and you're not ill, and if you're not, take control of your life, don't sit there and moan about it."

In another part of the video, the KPMG chair also questioned the efficacy of unconscious bias training, which tries to teach people how to challenge stereotypes they unknowingly hold.

"There is no such thing as unconscious bias." he said. "I don't buy it, because after every single unconscious bias training that's ever been done nothing has ever improved. So unless you care, you actually won't change."

Mr Michael later apologised for his words, saying they did not reflect his personally-held beliefs.

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Bill Michael will step down from KPMG at the end of the month
Bill Michael will step down from KPMG at the end of the month. Picture: PA

The decision to leave the firm comes two days after Mr Michael stepped aside while KPMG carried out an investigation into his remarks.

He also reportedly spoke about meeting clients for coffee during the pandemic, prompting one person on the call to tell the newspaper: "He literally said 'I know I'm breaking the law' to meet up with people during the pandemic."

Mr Michael was himself admitted to hospital with Covid-19 last year.

The senior partner was also reported to have offered his views on unconscious bias as "complete c**p".

According to the Financial Times, one employee wrote in response: "There's no such thing as unconscious bias?! Are you joking? Please do your research before just making such statements. Check your privilege."

Two senior KPMG members, Bina Mehta and Mary O'Connor, will take over Mr Michael's duties between them, becoming acting chairwoman and acting senior partner.

Ms Mehta said: "Bill has made a huge contribution to our firm over the last 30 years, especially over the last three years as chairman, and we wish him all the best for the future."