RUTH SUNDERLAND: KPMG boss had to go – if you take job of senior partner at Big Four audit firm, you sign up to be a champion of diversity
- The views Bill Michael expressed are incompatible with leading a top accountancy firm
- For a multi-millionaire chief to tell his staff to ‘stop moaning’ about coronavirus is not brimming with empathy
- Michael describes himself as ‘an ally’ of disadvantaged groups
Supporters of Bill Michael, the KPMG boss who quit over politically incorrect comments, believe mollycoddling employers have created a generation of snowflakes on the staff.
I have more than a smidgen of sympathy with that view. It takes only a glimpse at social media to see plenty of others in my age group and above feel the same.
But the idea that Mr Michael is the victim of a workplace culture war is nonsense. He had to go – because whether right or wrong, the views he expressed are incompatible with leading a top accountancy firm.
Sign of the times: The views Bill Michael expressed are incompatible with leading a top accountancy firm
True, back in the day, as youngsters confronted with dinosaur-like behaviour at work, my peer group would mutter ‘Jurassic Park’ amongst ourselves and shrug. We had no choice, since neither social media nor diversity had been invented, so scurrying to HR or posting a denunciatory video online was not an option.
We were not terribly concerned with unconscious bias, which Mr Michael dismissed as ‘crap’. In those days, the fully conscious variant was still rampant. But why wish the hair-curling levels of sexism and racism that were routine decades ago on today’s young employees?
Maybe overcoming bias bred resilience in some, but prejudice also curbed and even destroyed potential on a vast scale.
And for a multi-millionaire chief to tell his staff to ‘stop moaning’ about coronavirus is not brimming with empathy, even if the employees are relatively privileged. The point here, however, is not whether or not his remarks were obnoxious or false. KPMG is a firm which, despite having a despicable record of shoddy auditing, paints itself as a caring and diversity-conscious employer.
Therefore, Mr Michael had to resign because of the hypocrisy.
The idea that middle-aged male bosses are cowed into silence by younger, woke employees is wide of the mark.
Try telling it to Charlie Mullins, the Pimlico Plumbers founder, whose opinions on furlough, Covid jabs and the like make Mr Michael look like a silver-tongued diplomat.
Yet the fact that Mr Mullins is a stranger to tact in all its forms has not hurt his career in the slightest.
Since he has not put his name to elaborate equality programmes, he cannot be accused of being two-faced. Not so Mr Michael, who boasts in a ‘pay gap’ pamphlet of his role as chairman of KPMG’s Inclusive Leadership Board. He describes himself as ‘an ally’ of disadvantaged groups and invokes the police killing of George Floyd in the corporate bumph as a ‘painful reminder’ of how much more his ex-firm must do.
KPMG and other hard-nosed audit partnerships want to hire a wider range of people: it is in their commercial interest.
Being nifty with a calculator is not a talent confined to middle-class men. Clients, particularly entrepreneurs, are from a range of backgrounds and some prefer having an accountant to whom they can relate.
As huge employers of graduates and apprentices, the Big Four could play a part in creating a fairer, more socially-mobile and prosperous country if they get it right.
KPMG has a long way to go. Of its 582 partners, fewer than a quarter are female and fewer than one in ten are from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background.
So if you take the job of a £1.7m-a-year senior partner at a Big Four audit firm, you sign up to be a champion of diversity.
As for plain-speaking, it’s a shame Mr Michael and his colleagues didn’t do more of it with a long list of audit clients over their questionable accounts.