CEO Tom Seymour steps down over PwC government tax scandal

08 May 2023 Consultancy.com.au 3 min. read
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The growing PwC government tax leak scandal has cost CEO Tom Seymour his job. Seymour was head of tax at the time of the confidentiality breach and his handling of the matter since has drawn criticism.

The position of Seymour had become increasingly untenable over the past week as further details came to light surrounding the firm’s moves to capitalise on confidential government tax policy to attract and advise multinational clients on avoidance measures.

The CEO of PwC in Australia was head of tax at the time of the confidentiality breach, and has admitted to being privy to internal emails detailing the scheme.

Tom Seymour, CEO, PwC

Seymour reportedly flew into Sydney on Monday to inform the firm of his decision. A brief statement from PwC Australia’s Board of Partners read; “We agreed with Tom that this is in the best interests of the firm and our stakeholders,” with chair Tracey Kennair acknowledging the immediate need for the firm to rebuild and enhance trust: “The independent review previously announced, in addition to the changes already made, will help us meet this objective”.

Kristin Stubbins, appointed assurance leader just last year, will act as interim CEO, with the firm’s partners to elect a new chief in the “coming months”.

A recent AM-recipient, Stubbins has been a partner at PwC for close to twenty years. “I am honoured to take on this role at a critical time for the firm and our 10,000 people. We are committed to learning from our mistakes, listening to our stakeholders and enhancing our culture to build stronger trust and transparency.”

Seymour is likewise a two-decade PwC partnership veteran, rising to the top role in 2020 following the departure of former CEO Luke Sayers after eight years in the job. Previously, Seymour served as managing partner of PwC’s financial advisory business and tax leader for the Asia Pacific, prior to which he was boss of tax & legal between 2012 and 2016 – a period which coincided with the government tax policy breach. His future at the firm remains uncertain.

While Seymour’s ultimate responsibility for oversight as tax leader at the time of the unethical behaviour might have been enough to cost him his job alone, it has been his handling of the affair since as CEO that has drawn additional criticism. Seymour has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the issue since former international tax leader Peter Collins had his license terminated by the Tax Practitioners Board for sharing privileged information with fellow partners.

His efforts to minimise wider culpability at the firm in recent months have included legal semantics, seemingly outright fabrications to both the public and PwC’s partnership, and continuously shifting stories, an approach that now seems unfathomable with the evidence he surely knew would be made public in time. Ultimately, it gave the impression that Seymour himself doesn’t believe much in the way of wrongdoing has occurred, a sense that may linger over the firm just yet.

With up to 40 or more senior PwC tax partners also aware of the scheme, it’s hard to imagine that a brief statement from the firm about rebuilding trust, the announcement of an independent review, and the axing of Seymour as a scapegoat will be enough to quell public anger and rescue a relationship with the government worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Labor senator Deborah O’Neill has already called for a complete clean-out of those involved. “PwC deliberately designed a scheme of theft and deception to cost the Australian people and to profit PwC,” said O’Neill, parliament's joint committee chair on corporations and financial services.

“The question is, can all those involved finally accept that truth and respond appropriately to the nature and scale of the ethical collapse of which they were a part. Everyone actively or passively involved in the scheme needs to own up to that large-scale moral and professional failure.”