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Erica Williams Gets Second Term as PCAOB Chair

Williams, who was sworn in as PCAOB chair in January 2022, will begin her second term on Oct. 25, lasting through Oct. 24, 2029.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reappointed Erica Williams to a second term as chair of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a move that signals stability at the audit regulator following the dismissal of its previous chairperson by SEC Chair Gary Gensler three years ago.

Williams’ second term begins on Oct. 25 and concludes on Oct. 24, 2029, the SEC said on Tuesday.

Gary Gensler

“I thank Erica for her leadership and am pleased that she will continue to serve as chairperson of the PCAOB,” Gensler said in a statement on June 11. “I also thank the PCAOB staff and the board for their diligent work to ensure that public company financial disclosures can be trusted by investors.”

SEC Chief Accountant Paul Munter added, “I look forward to continuing to work with chairperson Williams to further the PCAOB’s long-overdue plan to modernize standards and improve audit quality to promote investor protection.”

A lawyer by trade, Williams was appointed chair of the PCAOB in November 2021 and was sworn in on Jan. 10, 2022, becoming the first woman chair of the PCAOB and the first person of color to lead the audit regulator. She succeeded William Duhnke, who was ousted in June 2021 before completing his first term as chair.

William Duhnke

Bad press seemed to follow the PCAOB during Duhnke’s tenure, including an article by the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 15, 2019, that said the PCAOB at the time had “slowed its work amid board infighting, multiple senior staff departures, and allegations that the chairman has created a ‘sense of fear.’”

After Duhnke was appointed board chair in January 2018, longtime high-ranking PCAOB officials started leaving en masse, including Martin Baumann, chief auditor and director of professional standards; Helen Munter, director of registration and inspections; Claudius Modesti, director of the enforcement and investigations division; and Gordon Seymour, general counsel; among others.

In its article, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a one-page whistleblower complaint—written by a group of current and former PCAOB employees—was filed with the board in May 2019 and was also sent to SEC commissioners in August of that year. The WSJ reported:

Within months of arriving, Mr. Duhnke began pushing out longtime senior executives, according to the whistleblower letter and people familiar with the matter. The former executives, who included the board’s general counsel and its director of inspections, agreed to sign nondisparagement agreements in exchange for six months of continued compensation, the people said. …

The whistleblower letter said the regulator “is permeated by a sense of fear,” due to “the numerous terminations … [some] driven by retaliation.”

Duhnke was relieved of his duties by Gensler on June 4, 2021, and was replaced on an acting basis with PCAOB board member Duane DesParte.

During her tenure as PCAOB chair, Williams has taken a tougher enforcement approach than her predecessor, including conducting sweeps, which allows the board to collect information on potential auditing violations from several accounting firms at the same time, while also updating outdated auditing standards and making inspection reports more transparent to investors.

“I am honored to have chair Gensler and the commission’s confidence and grateful for the opportunity to continue working alongside my fellow board members and the talented and dedicated PCAOB staff to protect investors,” Williams said in a statement on June 11. “I’m proud of our work together and eager to continue executing our mission on behalf of investors who depend on U.S. capital markets to build their American dream.”

Prior to joining the PCAOB, Williams was a litigation partner with the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. She previously spent more than a decade in various roles at the SEC, including as deputy chief of staff to three former SEC chairs and assistant chief litigation counsel in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement trial unit. After leaving the SEC, Williams served as special assistant and associate counsel to President Barack Obama with a focus on financial and economic policy issues.