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PUBLISHED ARTICLE (Redux): How the Partner Role is Shifting at KPMG
31-Aug-08 [ by Larry Chao ] 7962 Read and 1012 Comment

The post Sarbanes-Oxley era presents leadership challenges to accounting firms‚ which must devise ways of sustaining profitable growth by peaking client interests‚ and retaining the best and the brightest‚ writes Larry Chao.

Kaisri Nuengsigkapian is trying to create a sense of urgency for change at KPMG Thailand.  The veteran chief executive officer‚ who arrived at KPMG four years ago from the now defunct Andersen Consulting‚ believes the Firm?s culture needs a wake-up call to deal with shifting client needs and intensifying competition.  What is required is a partnership team that cultivates greater creativity‚ more passion for client service and intense learning experiences. 


?Our clients are demanding more than off-the-shelf services to comply with accounting regulations‚? she says.  ?We need to demonstrate greater knowledge of their businesses and recommend innovative solutions to deal with emerging challenges and age-old problems.?


With the avalanche of work related to assisting clients implement Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) slowing down‚ Kaisri knows the partnership team needs to lead the way in identifying new and better ways to add value to clients? business and drive profitable growth.  Furthermore‚ she recognizes the need to develop and retain fresh talent that will serve as the engine to power KPMG into the future.


A recent internal survey of over 300 international executives published earlier this year by KPMG?s Economist Intelligence Unit‚ underscores Kaisri?s concerns‚ by pointing out the challenges and opportunities dotting the global business landscape.  According to the survey‚ over 90% of executives expect significant shifts in their business models‚ especially in how their companies create value for customers‚ target different customer groups and generate profitable income.  Reducing supply chain costs and leadership development were also cited as priority change areas.


?We must be prepared to advise our clients on how to take advantage of changes confronting their business‚? says Kaisri.  ?This means our project teams need greater industry expertise and practice development focus on how to adapt and develop new services that will help clients.?  For example‚ advising clients on how to enter new markets‚ or how to structure mutually beneficial partnerships.


To this end‚ KPMG is motivating its partners to think outside the box and collaborate across practice areas.  The goal is to convert knowledge into services that help create competitive advantage for clients. 


Client service is another area under the microscope.  Traditionally‚ in the auditing and accounting industry‚ many partners spent time either conducting audits themselves or signing off on reviews.  That was deemed satisfactory performance.


But thanks to accounting scandals such as Enron and Worldcom‚ SOX brought auditing into the limelight under the watchful eye of chief executives.  While this interest in compliance has receded‚ as SOX has been retrofitted into accounting practices‚ KPMG still wants to continue its relationship with top management.  The key is to provide more strategic advice on how to create better business models.


?The role of the partner is shifting.  While partners need to continue oversight on auditing assignments‚ they also need to anticipate client needs and deliver creative solutions to help create change and enhance profitability‚? says Kaisri.


Finally‚ the implications of deepening and broadening expertise means partners need to spend less time working on audits themselves‚ and more on delegating these tasks.  Clients also demand more immediate solutions and minimal upfront learning about their business.  The pressure for consultants to learn and apply what they learn quickly has raised the need for more intense training on and off the job.  The challenge will be managing time in a pressure cooker environment. 


?In the past‚ our firm had a reputation as a place where staff worked too hard and couldn?t balance their lives‚ says Kaisri.  ?This was unsustainable and many of our best consultants left.? 


Today‚ the challenge for KPMG is to accelerate learning yet improve the work-life balance.  The onus of responsibility is on the partnership team to make this happen.


?If our partners cannot manage work life balance or ignore the need to develop effective consultants‚ then we cannot make the transition‚? says Kaisri.


Larry Chao is managing director of Chao Group Limited‚ an organization change boutique consultancy located in Bangkok and New York (





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