BusinessDay

Trio of top KPMG executives ‘failed to act’ on bullying concerns

Three senior KPMG executives including its head of human resources are said to have been aware of staff concerns about a senior partner accused of bullying long before the Big Four accounting firm launched a formal investigation into his conduct last October.
KPMG employees approached the firm’s UK managing partner Philip Davidson, its deputy chair Melanie Richards, and its head of HR Anna Purchas with concerns about Sanjay Thakkar’s behaviour at different points over the past two years, according to several people close to the firm.
Mr Thakkar, the firm’s head of deal advisory, agreed to step down from his role this week and take a leave of absence after it emerged that two top female partners had quit KPMG in February in anger over how an investigation into his conduct had been handled.
KPMG said last week that it had opened an investigation into Mr Thakkar’s behaviour shortly after an anonymous employee logged a complaint about the 50-year-old via the firm’s formal whistle blowing channel in October.
The firm added that UK managing partner Mr Davidson received an informal complaint about Mr Thakkar in October. However, people close to the firm said that Mr Davidson, Ms Purchas and Ms Richards had previously received several informal complaints about the partner throughout 2017 and 2018.
KPMG’s apparent reluctance to act on these complaints have fuelled concerns among staff about a possible reluctance to take action against high earners or those with close ties to the firm’s leadership team. They also view the firm’s claim that it only received one formal and one informal complaint about Mr Thakkar as disingenuous.
Mr Thakkar sat on KPMG’s executive leadership team alongside Mr Davidson and Ms Purchas until this week. The leadership team now includes Ms Richards instead of Mr Thakkar as she has taken over as acting head of deal advisory.
Mr Davidson is no longer listed as chair of that committee. Staff concerns about KPMG’s commitment to tackling such issues have intensified after the firm’s chairman, Bill Michael, said earlier this week in a staff email that Ms Purchas would be responsible for spearheading an initiative to consult employees on ways to “create a stronger culture”.
One person close to the firm said raising concerns with Ms Purchas had proven ineffective in the past. “The normal response when she doesn’t hear what she wants to hear is you get a blank wall,” the person said.
A KPMG spokesperson said: “When we receive complaints about behaviour that contravenes our values we have a set investigation process, and where allegations are upheld we have taken a range of actions up to and including dismissal.
We can confirm that this process was followed with regards to a complaint made against Sanjay Thakkar. “Last week, new allegations regarding Sanjay Thakkar were reported to the firm’s leadership and a new investigation has commenced. As this investigation is now live, it would not be appropriate for us to comment further.” KPMG declined to comment on behalf of the three executives concerned.
Suzanne McKie, founder of Farore Law, a law firm specialising in discrimination and harassment issues, said many of the big accounting firms were failing to respond appropriately to allegations of bullying or harassment by their top partners. She said: “The outcomes aren’t tough enough. I am seeing a lot of final written warnings and not a lot of dismissals, and sometimes that is because [the alleged perpetrators] are big earners. “My sense is that companies are not going far enough and need to be tougher with the penalties they are meting out.
There is a lack of understanding of the drip drip drip effect of bullying and harassment. I see very strong people coming to me and saying I cannot cope — I can’t go through the front door. And they’ve been there for 30 years.” If you have an insight into related issues in the accounting sector that could inform our reporting, please contact madison.marriage@ft.com. We want to hear from you. If your information is particularly sensitive, consider contacting us using one of these secure methods