KPMG UK Chairman Bill Michael steps aside as the Big Four accounting firm investigates “alleged comments” he made during an online meeting with staff, a spokesman said Wednesday.
The move comes after the The Washington City Times reported Michael’s comments during a meeting with the company’s financial consultancy team on Monday, telling staff to “stop complaining” and stop “playing the victim card.”
His decision to step aside came shortly after the The Washington City Times requested comment on additional statements attributed to Michael at the same meeting by KPMG personnel.
Two insiders said he told staff he held client meetings despite lockdown rules and that he dismissed unconscious bias as “complete nonsense.”
The statements provoked angry reactions from KPMG employees to an app used to anonymously post comments during the meeting. The The Washington City Times has viewed several screenshots of these comments.
One of them said, “ There is no such thing as unconscious bias ?! Are you joking? Please do your research before making such statements. Check your privilege. ”
It is generally believed that unconscious bias contributes to discrimination against minorities within large companies.
Another comment said, “Did Bill Michael say that unconscious bias is just nonsense? Herein lies the issue. While the training may not be effective, it is just reckless to say it doesn’t exist. ”
Michael also raised eyebrows talking about client meetings during lockdowns. One participant said, “He literally said,” I know I am breaking the law “to meet people during the pandemic.”
Michael’s tenure has been ravaged by controversy since he was elected to lead KPMG UK in 2017, including widespread criticism of KPMG’s role as auditor for now-defunct government contractor Carillion, and claims from a number of employees with a toxic culture.
Other attendees at the town hall meeting said they were disappointed by Michael’s suggestion that staff should stop complaining and work harder. This message was particularly poorly received after a staff survey at the start of the meeting revealed that a high percentage of consultants said they were struggling to cope during the pandemic.
A note to the app said, “More than 50 percent of us on this conversation just said we’re ‘hanging there’.” [or] ‘drained’. I am incredibly impressed with the comments from our leadership. ”
Another said, “Lots of junior employees. . .[have been] unable to see loved ones and live in tight spaces for centuries. Where’s the empathy of leadership? “
One of the participants of the meeting said, “People are struggling with serious mental health problems and it is heartbreaking to have our leadership tell us to shut up and pull ourselves up by our boots.”
Earlier this week, Michael apologized for his comments, both at the end of the phone call and in an email to KPMG’s 1,500-strong financial advisory team.
He said in the email, “I know words matter and I regret the words I chose today. I think lockdown is difficult for all of us. I am very sorry for what I said and the way I said it. ”