Jozef Imrich, name worthy of Kafka, has his finger on the pulse of any irony of interest and shares his findings to keep you in-the-know with the savviest trend setters and infomaniacs.
''I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.''
The 2022 list of the most powerful people in consulting was populated by consultants including Tom Seymour, then chief executive of PwC, who took out third spot. But the thunderclap of the PwC tax leaks scandalhas upended the industry and this year’s list is filled with the people who are reshaping it. And that includes just one consultant.
The downfall of PwC shows that in the rarefied world of consulting, the client is not just king – they can also be judge, jury and executioner.
PwC remains the largest of the big four by revenue but will fall from its perch this financial year. Deloitte is on track to take its place, followed by Accenture. Peter Burns, chief executive of Accenture, is the only return entry on the list this year.
1. Jenny Wilkinson
Finance secretary Wilkinson told the Senate that officials first learnt of the PwC tax leaks matter in January, via The Australian Financial Review, and did not realise the extent of the scandal until May, after reading another Financial Review report.
The firm had initially played down the matter, and only in May confessed it involved many more PwC operatives than first indicated. That lack of candour was considered unforgivable by the department that controls the rules about how the Commonwealth buys goods and services.
The Finance Department was quick to unveil updated rules reminding procurement officials they must consider previous behaviour, including ethical conduct, when evaluating tenders.
Labor senator O’Neill has had the big four consulting firms – Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC – in her sights for years, railing against their conflicts, secrecy and lack of accountability.
She was instrumental in revealing the extent of the PwC matter, first during Senate estimates questions and then via a Question on Notice that uncovered the 144-page cache of internal PwC emails.
O’Neill formed one part of a formidable interrogation tag-team (with No. 3 Greens senator Barbara Pocock) during the Senate inquiry into consulting firms and other hearings.
She is only getting started. In June, O’Neill announced a new joint parliamentary inquiryinto the partnership models of the big four firms and their lack of disclosure obligations, which will also explore how they are regulated and punished for bad behaviour.
The results of the inquiries will be fed into no less than eight new two-year reviews announced by the government into the sector, covering areas such as the structure and regulation of the firms, the Australian Taxation Office’s information-gathering powers and rules around legal professional privilege claims.
3. Barbara Pocock
After convincing the Labor government in March to agree to the Senate inquiry into consulting, Pocock has been forensic with her interrogation of the often hapless firm leaders. She has not been shy in cutting them off when they (often) stray off topic.
The inquiry managed to extract information from the firms they have never previously released (including profit, partner pay and partnership deeds).
Pocock and O’Neill have also forced the ATO and the Tax Practitioners Board to detail how they investigated the PwC tax leaks matter and why it took so long for action to be taken.
4. Peter Burns
Burns, who earns $2.5 million a year to helm Accenture, managed the remarkable feat of being the only consulting leader to appear at the Senate inquiry who was not subject to a pile-on by the two senators above him on this list.
It helps that Accenture is the Australian branch of a listed company and is required to file audited financial results. Much of Burns’ testimony detailed how Accenture is different from PwC, and by extension Deloitte, EY and KPMG, which are all private partnerships.
The firm’s annual revenue was up 29 per cent to almost $3 billion last year and its results are on track to have exceeded that figure at the end of its 2022-23 financial year (in August).
He was announced as Scyne’s first non-executive director in July and is chairing the new company’s probity, conflict and ethics subcommittee. This is the group responsible for approving the firm’s new employees and matters such as conflict checks so that the PwC problem stays with PwC.
His broader goal is to help set up what will be the country’s newest consulting firm, which features ASX levels of corporate governance and offers services to public sector organisations only.
The private equity-backed outfit will become a threat to the public sector arms of Deloitte, EY and KPMG if it does well.