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KPMG's first female chief quits over CEO snub

Interim CEO and KPMG’s first female leader has resigned after unexpectedly being passed over for the top job by head of audit Jon Holt.

30th Apr 2021
Staff Writer AccountingWEB
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KPMG auditing company in Manchester
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Mary O’Connor stepped in as interim CEO at KPMG, following the sudden departure of Bill Michael after he made inappropriate comments to staff in a video call. 

Michael had reportedly told staff to “stop moaning” about coronavirus and lockdown and to stop “playing the victim card”. He left the firm altogether days later following public backlash and KPMG investigation.

Despite publicity around Bina Mehta stepping in as acting chairman and as the first woman to lead the Big Four firm, KPMG’s board unexpectedly elected head of audit Jon Holt for the permanent role of CEO.

After two months as interim CEO, KPMG revealed earlier this month that Holt would be taking over her role. It was later revealed last week that O’Connor was considering departing the firm following the sudden promotion of Holt over herself.

As of Wednesday, according to the Financial Times, KPMG partners had been informed that O’Connor had decided to leave the firm. It was previously stated that she was still reviewing options for her future at KPMG in the light of Holt’s promotion.

“I am privileged to have been able to make a significant contribution to rebuilding the trust in our business and to help set it on the path to even greater future growth,” said O’Connor. “However, I have decided that my corporate experience and approach are now best suited to a leadership role outside of the firm.”

In a further twist to the surprise move from KPMG, it has come to light that Holt was put forward by the board as the only candidate for the permanent CEO position. His promotion took effect as of last Monday. 

A senior auditor at a rival told the FT that “KPMG has chosen a somewhat more understated leader — one who is “guarded” in his choice of words. It would appear that KPMG is focusing on airtight diplomacy of leadership following the Bill Michael debacle.

“Mary has made a significant contribution to KPMG, and we are hugely grateful for the commitment, focus and energy she’s brought to the firm,” commented KMPG UK chair Bina Mehta. Mehta’s post as KPMG’s first female chair will last until February 2022, while Holt’s will remain as CEO until September 2025.

KPMG has now lost its unusual board ratio of more women to men, taking it back to a 50:50 split of men and women – although still above average for large firms.

O’Connor has also been described as ‘a relative outsider at KPMG’, having only joined in 2018 as chief risk officer and coming from the world of insurance brokerage. O’Connor had previously worked as Willis Towers Waston, as well as the FCA

Replies (15)

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By carnmores
01st May 2021 18:29

patriarchy at its worst, i wonder what my grandfather would have thought

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Replying to carnmores:
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By Paul Crowley
02nd May 2021 16:57

Who made the decision?
Was it a board with more than 50% women?
If so then Matriarchy at its worst?
Or did they just decide to pick the person that best suited long term plans

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Replying to carnmores:
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By Truthsayer
02nd May 2021 15:49

The board thought a particular candidate would be more suitable for the permanent position than the interim manager. That appears to be all that has happened here. I see no reason to infer into their decision what you are saying.

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Replying to Truthsayer:
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By carnmores
02nd May 2021 18:38

;-) truth seeker it was meant to be tongue in cheek.

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By carnmores
01st May 2021 20:38

Paul having more women with votes does not make a matriarchy.
Completely the wrong use of the word you need to revisit the definition of a patriarchy. The right person is however spot on but didn't they say that last time?

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Replying to carnmores:
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By Paul Crowley
02nd May 2021 17:01

patriarchy
/ˈpeɪtrɪɑːki/
Learn to pronounce
noun
a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line.
"the thematic relationships of the ballad are worked out according to the conventional archetypes of the patriarchy"
a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
"the dominant ideology of patriarchy"
a society or community organized on patriarchal lines.
plural noun: patriarchies
"we live in a patriarchy"
Definitions from Oxford Languages

That is the definition I would accept

If a majority of women had the vote, patriarchy seems to be a misdescription

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Paul Crowley
02nd May 2021 17:09

matriarchy
/ˈmeɪtrɪɑːki/
Learn to pronounce
noun
a system of society or government ruled by a woman or women.
"a matriarchy run by morally superior women"
a form of social organization in which descent and relationship are reckoned through the female line.
the state of being an older, powerful woman in a family or group.
"she cherished a dream of matriarchy—catered to by grandchildren"
Definitions from Oxford Languages

Only difference seems to be replacing dominance by men with women, but with the flourish of adding 'morally superior'

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By carnmores
02nd May 2021 18:35

I know what it means and it is still the wrong description.

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Replying to carnmores:
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By Paul Crowley
04th May 2021 10:40

I agree
either both or neither should state morally superior

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By BryanS1958
04th May 2021 10:48

I thought we are trying to achieve equal opportunity to all. Headlines like 'a female is 'snubbed'' do not help, they are just encouraging gender bias. Surely the job should go to the best person for that role. If it is considered that it didn't then we have equal opportunities legislation to address these issues - since the matter has seemingly not gone to a tribunal I assume there is no case.

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By Crouchy
04th May 2021 12:13

Its a sad statement on our society that someone can play the discrimation card when not getting their own way. Had the roles been reversed and the chap was not selected for promotion would he be getting any coverage now, doubt it!

it would seem that the best person for the job was selected, nothing more, nothing less

a classic case of throwing the toys out of the pram, a clear sign that she wasnt the best candidate for the job

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Replying to Crouchy:
Should Be Working ... not playing with the car
By should_be_working
05th May 2021 08:11

Crouchy wrote:

Its a sad statement on our society that someone can play the discrimation card when not getting their own way. Had the roles been reversed and the chap was not selected for promotion would he be getting any coverage now, doubt it!

it would seem that the best person for the job was selected, nothing more, nothing less

a classic case of throwing the toys out of the pram, a clear sign that she wasnt the best candidate for the job

Agree, though to be fair the article itself doesn't say that she has played the discrimination card; it's more a case of the author of the article (or at least the click-bait headline) looking at the story through the filter of corrosive identity politics.

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By thomas34
04th May 2021 12:16

What's the world coming to when KPMG appoint an accountant instead of a risk officer to run their accountancy practice? On a more serious note one wonders about the board's decision to appoint her as interim CEO in the first place.

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By Mr J Andrews
04th May 2021 18:17

What does the term ''......being passed over .....'' mean in these circumstances ? Was it a given that O'Connor should have had the job ? Would Holt have sought leadership outside the firm if O'Connor was given the job ?
All exciting stuff . As exciting as watching paint dry.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By carnmores
04th May 2021 18:38

LOL

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