September 20, 2019

Two KPMG U.K. Female Partners Had Enough Of Working At a Firm That Protected An Alleged Bully

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Last December we learned that the Big 4 firms across the pond sacked nearly 40 partners (probably all men, although we don’t know for sure) within the past four years for inappropriate conduct, such as sexual harassment and bullying, seven of whom had worked at KPMG. But KPMG evidently sided with a male partner who was accused of bullying last year, and two longtime female partners at the firm had enough.

The Financial Times reported:

Two of KPMG’s high-flying female partners have quit their jobs in response to the way the Big Four accounting firm has dealt with concerns about alleged bullying by a senior male partner in the UK.

The departures have caused shock and dismay among staff at the firm, which has already faced a bruising period following a series of accounting controversies that have sparked criticism of its culture and values.

Maggie Brereton

FT identified the two KPMG female partners, who resigned in February, as Maggie Brereton, former head of U.K. transaction services and a nonexecutive U.K. board member, and Ina Kjaer, former head of U.K. integration in the deal advisory team.

The senior male partner accused of bullying, who still works at KPMG, was not identified by FT.

[UPDATE: The Times in London identified the partner as Sanjay Thakkar, head of deal advisory in Britain.]

On their LinkedIn profiles, both Brereton and Kjaer confirmed that they had both resigned from KPMG and are currently on garden leave, but neither woman gave a reason why they left the firm.

Ina Kjaer

Together, the two women had about 40 years of experience working at KPMG, and FT learned that they were highly respected and two of the firm’s most talented partners.

Concerns about the senior male partner’s communication methods were raised to his line manager last October, according to FT, and then someone within KPMG made a formal complaint through the firm’s whistleblower hotline that same month about the guy’s conduct during a meeting.

An investigation into the male partner’s conduct concluded that his behavior didn’t amount to bullying, according to FT. But we can presume that he was probably being a jag-off because the firm said in a statement that “aspects of the individual’s behavior required improvement.” The male partner agreed was forced to take leadership coaching and he agreed was forced to apologize to “certain employees.” This is very similar to the story Going Concern broke in April about a current male partner at EY India who was accused of sexual harassment and bullying by a former female associate director at the firm.

KPMG U.K. also changed the partner’s reporting channels in February, according to FT.

This is the second case of workplace bullying at a KPMG firm that has been made public this month. The Australian Financial Review reported on May 15 that KPMG in Australia conducted a secret internal investigation into a senior partner after receiving several anonymous postcards over an 18-month period accusing him of workplace bullying.

Postcards? Isn’t there an ethics or whistleblower hotline they could call instead? And when we say postcards, we don’t mean the blank, white ones you can buy at Office Depot. According to AFR, they were actual postcards you could buy at a cafe or convenience store, including several advertising the Disney movie Christopher Robin.

These postcards featured a cut-out of the senior partner’s official profile shot and title stuck onto the postcard along with a range of different messages, including “why have you lost so many good female [business area] partners??”, “Are you aware of this man’s behaviour to women?” and “How long before you act against this bully?”.

Security specialists conducted a forensic examination on the postcards and concluded they were sent by the same person, which they assumed to be a man with a gripe against the senior partner, but were unable to identify the person, according to AFR.

The senior partner wasn’t identified in the article, but he has denied any wrongdoing and said the allegations made against him are unfair.

AFR noted that only one individual was named across the various postcards—a female partner who no longer works for KPMG.

When she was interviewed by the firm, she admitted she did not get along with the senior partner but did not make a formal complaint about him. She also told the firm she had no knowledge about the postcards and had not sent them.

AFR also reported that KPMG Australia executives recently asked a male audit partner at the firm, who was not identified, to retire early while giving him an additional “discretionary” payment worth six months’ pay, or more than $200,000, after a female staff member with whom he previously had a relationship accused him of harassment.

The complaint against the audit partner, who is married, came after his relationship with the female staff member had ended. The audit partner then filed a complaint against his former mistress, accusing her of inappropriate conduct.

The investigation into the audit partner, who had been warned before by the firm about his behavior in the office toward the woman, found he had breached the firm’s values around leading by example and he was asked to resign from the partnership.

The investigation into the woman, who still works for KPMG, is ongoing, according to AFR.

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