KPMG has confirmed that its chairman is stepping aside after the accounting giant launched an investigation into controversial comments he made to staff in a virtual meeting this week.
Bill Michael, who took over as chairman in 2017, told staff on Monday to “stop moaning” about the pandemic and the impact of lockdown on people’s lives, adding that they should stop “playing the victim card”.
The online meeting was attended by around a third of the financial services consulting team’s 1,500 staff.
Michael, who was in hospital with Covid-19 in March last year, later rejoined the call and apologised to staff who had criticised his choice of words in the comment section of the app used to run the event, according to the Financial Times which first reported the story. He also apologised in a separate email to all members of the consulting team.
The chairman also reportedly told staff he was still holding client meetings despite Covid lockdown restrictions, and claimed unconscious bias was “complete crap”.
The big four accounting firm has now launched an investigation into Michael’s comments, prompting him to step aside – at least temporarily – until KPMG completes its inquiry.
A KPMG UK spokesperson said: “Following the meeting on 8 February, the firm initiated an independent investigation into the alleged comments in accordance with its usual procedures.
“Mr Michael has decided to step aside from his duties as chair while the investigation is under way. We take this matter very seriously and will not comment further while the investigation is ongoing.”
KPMG has asked one of its board members, Bina Mehta, to step in as chairman in the interim.
In a statement released on Tuesday, before he stepped aside, Michael said: “I am sorry for the words I used, which did not reflect what I believe in, and I have apologised to my colleagues. Looking after the wellbeing of our people and creating a culture where everyone can thrive is of critical importance to me and is at the heart of everything we do as a firm.”
KPMG declined to comment on whether Michael would continue being paid throughout the investigation.
Michael was paid £1.7m last year, according to KPMG UK’s full-year results. That was despite taking a 14% pay cut after the firm suffered weaker demand for consulting and advisory services at the start of the pandemic. He earned nearly £2m in 2019.
KPMG’s 582 partners – who account for its most senior staff – took an 11% pay cut in 2020 but still earned an average of £572,000 each.