Tax Accounting 2010 Apr 12 2010

KPMG's Bruce Pfau: The Best and the Brightest

By kyle stock

How do you get a job at KPMG, one of the world's biggest tax accounting, auditing and advisory shops?

Start when you're young.

FINS sat down with Bruce Pfau, KPMG's vice chair of human resources, to discuss getting a foot in the door, poaching amongst the Big Four, the firm's push into environmental advice and its goal to capture the best and brightest on U.S. college campuses.

Kyle Stock: Can you provide a general breakdown of recent hiring?
Bruce Pfau: Each year we hire a couple of thousand people from [college] campuses into our audit, tax and advisory practices. In addition to full-time people, we're also hiring interns.

On an experienced basis, where we're seeing a lot of activity is in the federal area, restructuring, M&A and corporate finance, healthcare, financial services – insurance, banking, and investing -- and international tax.

We're also very focused on making sure that we're keeping an eye on creating a diverse workforce compliment.

KS: It seems that some of these concentrations would favor certain geographies, are there any specific parts of the country where the firm is growing?
BP: You can pretty much gather from some of the areas of focus that there will be some geographic concentration. We have a gigantic financial footprint in New York, but that doesn't mean we're not hiring financial folks on the West coast as well. And we're obviously beefing up in developing countries -- in China, Southeast Asia, India.

KS: You recently hired a new partner in charge of campus recruiting, Stacy Sturgeon. Is the firm taking any new directions there?
I don't expect to see any major changes in our approach there. We've spent the last several years taking campus recruiting to a new level. We've redoubled our relationships there and did a variety of things to make sure that our message is getting across to the best and brightest students.

KS: KPMG also recently hired the United Nations' chief climate change expert, Yvo De Boer. Can we expect the firm to offer more environmental advice?
BP: We're looking to expand our footprint in that area, not only in the standpoint of the firm's commitment to being a good corporate citizen environmentally and having our own green efforts, but also to try to utilize some of his capabilities, knowledge and relationships to expand our business and gain higher visibility in that space globally -- areas like carbon evaluation and emissions trading.

KS: Would you say that the crisis gave you an opportunity to grab market-share?
BP: The financial crisis has had a lot of effects. From a recruiting standpoint, we're obviously hiring at a slower pace now, than we were four or five years ago. Although we have pockets of growth -- restructuring for example -- where you can see a general increase in volume, our hiring is more strategic and deliberate.

KS: Has the crisis changed the ways that you search for talent?
BP: I think the short answer to that is, no. It's changed the areas that we're most focused on. We have always had high standards, but we are now especially focused on making sure that somebody is going to be successful and we very carefully vet any senior hire that we make, because we're making fewer [of them].

KS: I often read about poaching amongst the Big Four. Has that activity increased or decreased recently?
BP: Like any business, there are going to be fluctuations and vicissitudes in the industry in general and there's a certain amount of movement between the firms. There's no warfare going on between the firms or any vendettas or anything like that. In general, we find at least when people leave us, by and large, they're not leaving to go to a competitor. And I think the same is true of our competitors. It's usually because they see opportunities in either a corporate situation or another consulting environment of some kind.

KS: Do you engage in recruiting via social media and has it proved to be valuable?
BP: Yes. Obviously, [we use] the electronic job-boards and things of that nature. The Facebook-type forums we're obviously participating in as well, though I cannot say it has transformed our hiring at that level. It's more of an incremental difference. Our hiring at the more junior level really has a lot to do with sustained relationships with students. Huge percentages of the people that we bring in from campus have done an interview with us. That's the best social interaction that we can have [with them].

I think it's very important for you to know that the basics still matter to us. We're looking firstly for highly competent, very bright people to come work for us and secondly for people that share our same values -- not whether they're on Facebook or Twittering. We want to make sure that they know what they're doing, that they have the capacity for continuous learning.

We believe that we're a great place to build a career.

KS: You mentioned culture, how is KPMG's culture different from the other three of the Big Four?
BP: Our cultures are way more similar than they are different.

I strongly believe that we face the same challenges, we recruit the same kinds of individuals, we're in the same business -- there's a lot that's similar. Where we differ is in a few areas.

First, although all of the firms have a good record in this, I truly believe that our firm has a remarkable culture of corporate social responsibility and volunteerism. I think that that's something that really is a little bit different at KPMG. I literally could go on and on about how our people have risen to the occasion in that area.

The second thing is the whole area of continuous learning and development. We want to differentiate ourselves as being a great place to build a career.

KS: Is KPMG a financial calculator or a Bloomberg terminal?
BP: (laughing) I'm going to pass on this one. Neither one seems to be particularly descriptive of our environment. I think that we are definitely a hard-work, high standards, high-integrity organization. We want people to be top-notch -- to work hard.

Write to Kyle Stock

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