KPMG boss under fire for telling consultants to 'stop moaning'

11 February 2021 2 min. read
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Bill Michael, the Australian who is leading KPMG in the UK, has come under fire in Europe for telling consultants to ‘stop moaning’ about life during Covid-19. Following days of controversy, he has now stepped aside.

In an online town hall discussion, KPMG UK consultants discussed a number of issues – spanning the impact of Covid-19 on their work lives; concerns around pay and pension cuts; dissatisfaction with the firm’s system of ranking team members internally; and concerns around unconscious bias – implicit stereotypes held against certain social groups.

According to the Financial Times, KPMG UK chairman Bill Michael responded by telling staff to stop “moaning,” and “playing the victim card,” while also labeling unconscious bias as “complete crap.” Employees and the media expressed outrage at the attitude, and Michael has now resigned.

Bill Michael, KPMG UK Chairman

“I know that words matter and I regret the ones I chose to use today. I think lockdown is proving difficult for all of us. I am very sorry for what I said and the way that I said it,” wrote Michael, in an email sent across KPMG UK’s 1,500-strong financial services consulting team.

Michael is Australian by background, and qualified for his chartered accountancy in Australia before moving to the UK more than two decades ago. At KPMG UK, Michael headed the financial services practice for nine years, and was named chairman in 2017. In 2015, he was also named global head of banking and capital markets at the firm – putting a global team of 17,000 under his management.

Now released from his charge, the team will hope for more time and space to cope with the unique challenges of life in a crisis. “People are struggling with serious mental health issues and having our leadership tell us to shut up and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps is heartbreaking,” said a meeting participant to FT.

While far from ideal, life at KPMG in the United Kingdom is not far removed from conditions faced by consultants worldwide. Several accounts have emerged recently of the punishing hours kept in the consulting industry – most recently exemplified by an EY Hong Kong manager who expects his staff to work 80 hours a week plus weekends.

The outlook is mixed in Australia. Top consulting firms have introduced myriad ways to improve work-life balance – including more paid leave and more time off for new parents and. At the same time, the crisis forced the industry to take a hard stance – with some asking employees to take unpaid leave while most made immediate cuts to staff and salaries.