[CEO INTERVIEW] 'Invest in people, they will do remarkable things': PwC US Chairman Tim Ryan [VIDEO]
Video by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min
One of the most important goals for top management is to achieve long-term growth by driving business profitability and that cannot be done without constantly creating value.
PricewaterhouseCoopers is the world's leading consulting and accounting firm that identifies company value and constructs a roadmap for world leaders as to where their businesses should be heading to through quality assurance tax and advisory service.
To hear more about how the firm innovates itself to fit into the new business environment after the pandemic and advises others to follow suit, we have invited Tim Ryan, U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC who has more than 25 years of professional experience in advising companies worldwide.
Below is the full transcript of the interview with Tim Ryan joining us on the second episode of our interview series with CEOs and top executives of global companies.
Q. Mr. Ryan, would you like to start with telling us about your experience in the financial services industry and your current role at PwC?
: As you mentioned I grew up in financial services practice over my first 20 years of my career and it really impressed on me early in my career the important role of the independent audit, the important role of somebody like PwC which is we have this trust placed in us to make sure that the right things are happening in these financial institutions which is where so many people all across the globe trust their money to be safe and that the right things will happen.
Today I have the incredible privilege of being the Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC in the U.S. and I'm also a member of our five person global leadership team that sets strategy for our global firm. And a big part of my role today is meeting with CEOs of leading companies all across the world to listen to their challenges and problems and make sure we bring the right capabilities to help them.
So a big part of our business is our auditing business where we audit some of the largest companies in the world. We're looking at a company's external reporting and we are putting our name and certifying their financial statements and that helps those companies build trust with capital markets, trust with their investors.
Another big part of our business is our tax business and if you think about the tax systems all across the world where corporations, individuals are taxed so then money can be funneled to society to meet education needs, health care needs and the like. We help companies comply with the tax codes all across the world.
And about a third of our business is our consulting business or advisory where we help companies get into the digital age, where we help companies get ready to compete in a world where we're seeing more and more technology. So we have a well-rounded business that complements but it all is meant to help drive us in society and help with the companies in society's biggest and most important problems.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about PwC's business in Korea and how it fits into your global vision for the whole world?
: We are incredibly proud of Samil PwC in Korea. We have approximately 4,000 people. We audit some of the most important companies in Korea. The quality that Samil PwC in Korea has is among the best in not only in Korea but the best in the network, the global network that we have.
Korea is a very important country for PwC because it's very important for our clients. There are so many multinational companies all across the globe that are investing in Korea. Korea has some incredibly important multinational companies that do business all over the globe and I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the deep talent that exists in the Korean marketplace and I just did a staff town hall with our people that the quality of our staff in their technology acumen is among the best we see across the globe.
Q. So let's talk about business after COVID-19. What are the changes in PwC's infrastructure, work culture, tools and system after the COVID-19 pandemic?
: All across the globe what we're hearing from CEOs is in many respects COVID-19 did nothing but accelerate what they're already planning on doing. We are now looking at what role does remote play in our strategy going forward. The pandemic will give us the ability to offer more flexibility to have some element of our work lives be remote so I call that the ‘hybrid model' and that's where we'll go in PwC. We'll see more of a hybrid model but I don't believe work will look the way it did a year ago nor do I believe work will look the way that it did today.
It's becoming clear our clients need our help more than ever and where we're investing to help our clients is on digital and cloud transformation on reporting but not just financial reporting, reporting on climate, on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance), on data privacy, on worker safety, on diversity. That reporting will be a growing part of our business because that's what society wants to know. Is a company meeting their broader societal needs and that'll be a big part of our strategy as well.
Q. What are you folks doing in investing in digital and technology, especially as it relates to the workforce?
A. Our purpose statement is about solving important problems and building trust. We knew that workers all across the globe needed new skills or they would become irrelevant and then ultimately unemployed. We chose to invest in our existing people because we wouldn't be living our purpose statement if we simply discarded them and then went on hiring new people. So we began the largest upskilling effort that we are aware of in corporate America at the time and so we have 270,000 people across the globe and we're upskilling them. We're spending three billion dollars raising our people's technology IQ so we're teaching them how to build a bot, how to build an automation. We're teaching them data analytics. We have over 4,000 people who are going through cyber academies and so we're teaching our people these skills that which is great for them, it's great for our clients because they expect it. We feel a tremendous obligation to lead by example and we're now trying to encourage other companies to invest in their people.
Q. So it seems that PwC is adapting really fast to the new business environment. Did you see this coming? Was PwC ready for this extreme change in the work environment?
: Starting four years ago, fully moving to the cloud on all of our major systems and at the same time upskilling our people. So when the pandemic hit, because we had made those investments we were ready to make the switch. So we were ready from a technology perspective not because we planned on the pandemic.
What we needed to do is be agile to meet our employee's needs at that time. We had to then invest in our people around giving them new benefits, work from home allowances to buy office furniture and what they needed from us more than ever at that point was more mental health and well-being benefit.
Q. What are you folks doing to ensure safety for the employees because we all know really one unfortunate meeting or one unfortunate encounter with someone with the virus to impact us and all the loved ones we are involved with.
: Because we've invested so much in our people from a technology perspective, some of our people developed a world-class contact tracing app and we are requiring that when we come back to the office every person has to download the app on their phone and what the app does if someone does come down with the virus we know who is within three feet, six feet of that person so we can immediately notify them and then get tested, quarantined if necessary as opposed to shutting down the whole office. And so we're reducing anxiety and also managing productivity. The contact tracing app is now being used by dozens of our clients but we developed it. That's part of our safety protocol.
Q. Mr. Ryan, let's talk more about the other activities that you're involved in which is very inspiring. PwC is well known as the world's top consulting and accounting firm but not many would be aware that the firm has joined numerous global efforts to make the society better so you have been actively promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace saying that the issue of race is your top priority so what led you to become interested in such topics in the first place?
: A long-term trend without a doubt that almost every company is going to have to play a role in is their role in ESG. It's going to be new ways of competing. Buy from me because I'm a clean company, invest in me because I'm responsible and so companies will compete for capital on how well they're responding to the environment. That trend's been accelerated by the pandemic so it's not a new long-term trend but without a doubt is an accelerating long-term trend.
Notwithstanding progress, we had not done enough on race so we made a concerted effort beginning in 2016 to significantly improve on race. We made it more comfortable to talk about it which culturally most companies weren't. We significantly increased our recruiting at historically black universities which there's 102 of them in the United States.
In addition, what we did is recognizing the role we play in society and the brand. We started a group called ‘CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion'. When we started that group three years ago, we had 112 CEOs. Standing in front of you today, 1,300 of the largest company CEOs in the United States that represent 33 million workers. So we have built a coalition of CEOs to take on the topic of diversity including race and improve within our four walls. It goes back to our purpose. We believe with our brand we have a responsibility not only to do well at PwC but to help inspire others to do well.
Q. What are your near and long term goals as Chairman of PwC U.S.?
A. So my priority is our people. I'm incredibly proud that we're the only firm in the United States that didn't lay off people as a result of the pandemic. We promoted 230 new partners last year. We paid raises to our promotees. We honored 7,000 full-time and intern commitments. Happy people are going to do great things for our clients and I honestly believe that. It's easy to have a purpose in good times, it's a lot harder to have a purpose in challenging times and we lived our purpose in the challenging times and we did the right things for our people and I'm very proud of that.