People in power can lose touch with the reality of those around them and the boundaries of what is acceptable. Often they don’t pay a price for that arrogance. Normally, at worst, a formulaic, meaningless apology is deemed sufficient. Occasionally, as we saw this week, they do.
Japan's ageing and gaffe-prone former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, was ultimately unable to move beyond sexist comments at an online meeting of the Japanese Olympic committee last week and resigned as committee president on Friday for it.
“If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat. They have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” he told the meeting – words that were a step too far even in a country with such a male-dominated hierarchy.
But it wasn’t the resignation of hundreds of Olympic volunteers in the wake of his comments that was the telling blow, nor the opprobrium among sportspeople and the general public.
No. It was only when the head of a global Olympics sponsor – Japan's Toyota – broke ranks with the political elite to criticise the comments that his card was marked. Other sponsors followed. Money talked.
We know less about the precipitous demise of Bill Michael as head of Big Four accountants KPMG UK.
Comments at a virtual meeting early this week about the impact of the pandemic on staff’s working lives – where he ill-advisedly urged them to “stop moaning” and to stop “playing the victim card” – quickly rebounded.
Michael (52) has been in senior executive roles at KPMG for 16 years and is variously described as “no-nonsense”, “abrasive”, “blunt” and “aggressive”.
He quickly said that he regretted the words he had chosen. Later, he trotted out the well-worn and trite line: “I am sorry for the words I used, which did not reflect what I believe in.”
Four days later a 30-year career drew to a close, his position, in his own words, “untenable”. Far from principle, it was difficult to escape the view that, in the cut-throat world of Big Four recruitment and client retention, KPMG had decided their strong leader had become a liability. Money talks.