Farewell to KPMG’s Donald Trump
Ther Imprudent Accountant considers accontancy's latest front page scandal
It is not often that our esteemed profession manages to hit the headlines but already, with 2021 only six weeks old, we have hit the jackpot twice.
First, BDO was upbraided by the press for legitimately taking advantage of the government’s furlough arrangements to stand down some key members of staff during the early days of the pandemic. For once, the accountancy sector had become a talking point regarding something other than its failure to prevent yet another business from sinking without trace.
However, that mild rebuke which led to an overnight U-turn pales into insignificance compared to the unlikely story of KPMG Chairman Bill Michael.
I must confess that until he hit headlines, the Australian was not somebody of whom I had heard. This was far from the kind of politician, rock star or footballer that normally that usually populates the front pages of the papers or becomes a leading story on the BBC News.
While I wasn’t aware of Mr Michael, his profile wasn’t as low as all that, since the papers were only too gleefully happy to point out that what they are describing as a blunt, straight-talking Australian had recently enjoyed a “virtual” meeting with the Queen.
I imagine that I am speaking for many accountants when I say that, for the most part, our primary concern is to boost the top line for our practices and, by doing so, maximise partner profit shares.
By those vital measures, the Aussie had been doing a good job since Mr Michael took over the reins in 2017, although inevitably his business has accepted a bit of a hit as a result of the pandemic recession. One consequence is that (relatively) poor Mr Michael felt obliged to cut his personal profit allocation to a mere £1.7 million for 2020.
Sensationally, and there is no other word for it, Mr Michael was captured on Zoom making the kind of comments that turned Donald Trump from a “B” list celebrity and a “C” list businessman into President of the United States of America and we all know how that ended.
It might be suggested that I am saying this with hindsight but I honestly could have told Mr Michael in advance of his fateful presentation that telling colleagues to “stop moaning” about the pandemic and how it was wrecking their lives wasn’t the best idea.
In this day and age with #MeToo rampaging across the world and Black Lives starting to Matter more than ever before, my advice would also have been to avoid compounding the offence by calling unconscious bias “utter crap”. For anyone who enjoys that kind of thing, extracts from the recording are widely available on the Internet.
The irony is that had Mr Michael been running the firm 20 or 30 years ago and made the same statements, he would be lauded as a hard-nosed visionary rather than derided as an offensive historical throwback.
The upshot is that rather than looking forward to returning to profit shares in excess of £2 million per annum for as long as he cared to continue running the practice, Mr Michael has come to the sad conclusion that his position is untenable and is now on the accountancy scrapheap.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if, having become a media darling albeit as something of a villain, Mr M is busier than ever.
He is probably already taking calls from investment banks desperate to utilise his talents. If that doesn’t appeal and he feels like a break from the hurly-burly of the financial sector, other alternatives might be a career on the public speaking circuit charging six-figure sums for each appearance or becoming the next unlikely star of Strictly Come Dancing.
Why does this matter to the average account? In principle, it shouldn’t. However, stories of this kind will consolidate long-standing preconceptions about members of our profession being arrogant and supercilious. Such impressions may take a considerable time to reverse.