String of senior partners exit KPMG on eve of new chief exec taking up UK post

A series of KPMG UK’s most senior partners — including two of its vice-chairs — have left the firm in recent weeks as it prepares to vote in a new leader following chair and chief executive Bill Michael’s exit.

Michael resigned from his role as chair and chief executive in February after a backlash against comments he made in an online town hall meeting where he said unconscious bias was “complete crap” and told staff not to moan about working life during the pandemic.

The firm said on 31 March that it was proposing audit head Jon Holt as chief executive with the result of a partnership vote ratifying the decision expected on or before 14 April.

Two of the UK firm’s vice-chairs — James Stewart and Bernard Brown — have left in recent weeks, according to filings at Companies House.

READ KPMG audit head Jon Holt set to replace ousted boss Bill Michael

Stewart was one of the firm’s vice-chairs, its head of Brexit and the chair of its audit board, while Brown was “one of four vice-chairs serving as a non-executive on the board and providing senior support to the business,” his LinkedIn profile said.

The pair have been replaced as vice-chairs by the firm’s head of energy Simon Virley, a former senior civil servant in the business department and the Cabinet Office, and Mark Britnell, previously chair of the firm’s global health practice.

A person close to the firm said Stewart and Brown had retired after long careers at the firm and their departures had been “long planned”.

A KPMG partner said the firm could expect further governance and leadership shake-ups once Holt takes the reins.

“Jon will be assessing all the governance and who holds these roles when he gets elected,” they said.

READ Video of rant by KPMG chair Bill Michael: ‘Unconscious bias is complete crap’

Other recent senior exits include the firm’s chair of natural resources Andy Cox — KPMG’s global relationship partner for oil giant BP — who is leaving the firm this month, and Stephen Oxley, formerly a board and audit committee member of the firm who joined FTSE 100 chemical company Johnson Matthey on 1 April.

Peter Meehan, the partner that led the firm’s audit of Carillion, also left the firm recently ahead of a potential regulatory settlement with the Financial Reporting Council that could see the firm fined millions of pounds.

Meehan left on 31 January according to a Companies House filing published on 31 March. His exit was first reported by the Financial Times.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email James Booth

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