In 1998, when Dennis McEvoy was 28 and working in the New York office of KPMG Advisory, he had lunch with a colleague who casually mentioned there were some openings in Singapore at the firm.
McEvoy met with his boss and agreed to relocate for two years. On his way home from the meeting, he purchased an atlas and a book on the country. He didn't even have a passport. Three months later, he was on a plane.
McEvoy, now 41, is a partner in KPMG's International Executive Services practice, which advises on tax, compliance, immigration and family matters for employees of clients who transfer around the world. As one of two partners in KPMG's Singapore office, he oversees 60 people. He also serves as the Asia-Pacific leader for the International Executive Services practice and helps drive the strategy of the business in the region.
FINS caught up with McEvoy to discuss why he's never left International Executive Services, how he acclimated to the Singaporean lifestyle and how many countries he wants to see before he dies.
Julie Steinberg: Had you ever visited Asia before deciding to move to Singapore?
Dennis McEvoy: I didn't even have a passport. It was a very impulsive decision. I was intrigued by the prospect of working there because it's a part of the world I have never thought of working and living in. But there were opportunities there at the time and I wanted to get myself out of my comfort zone.
Tell me a bit about your background and what you studied in school.
I'm originally from New York. I went to the State University of New York at Oneonta and majored in political science and business economics. I joined KPMG in 1992 in a program that was designed for non-accountancy individuals. I split my time between audit and tax, which was appealing because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I spent six months in audit and then requested a transfer to International Executive Services. It was appealing because it focused on a very niche business of supporting companies and individuals who were traveling and working around the world. I saw this would be a high-growth opportunity.
You stayed in Singapore for two years and returned to New York. Then what did you do?
I stayed in New York for roughly three years. I took over a global leadership role with one of our clients, which, having been in Asia, certainly helped me perform in that role. I was missing the opportunities out here and missing the travel. There was a request on both sides for me to come back to Asia, but I initiated it. I moved back to Singapore in 2003 permanently.
Was it a lateral move?
Yes, I stayed a manager. One year into it I was promoted to senior manager. I was promoted to partner in 2005.
What made you miss Singapore so much?
Form a professional perspective, I had been doing many more different things in Singapore. When you're working for KPMG US, there are 30,000 employees, maybe more. Here, it's 2,300. You go to market differently. You work with your colleagues in other service lines more regularly and you pick up a lot of different technical skills, understanding client businesses working in Asia. When you're in the U.S., you're predominantly focused on U.S. issues; when I'm out here I'm focused on the U.S., Singapore and regional tax issues.
Without KPMG, I never would have visited the countries I've been to. Two weeks ago I was in Prague for the first time. My wife and I want to want to hit 50 countries before we die. I looked at the 30 I have to date and it's because of my clients there. I've been to Hungary and Poland; it's more exciting than getting on a plane and going to Cincinnati or Philadelphia.
How important was having a mentor in your career?
It was very important. It was important for me to have a mentor when I came back to Singapore in 2003 because my career goal was to make partner here. I was fortunate to work for a woman who was very good at setting goals. When I returned, she set some expectations for things I needed to do to get there. She also told me some things I shouldn't do. For example, a terrible way to start a sentence is "Back in America, we do it this way." You need to be more collaborative and say, "have you considered doing it this way?" You can get to the same end result but it's how you approach that discussion. I thought that advice was very valuable.
Do you have any of your own career advice for succeeding in an Asian workplace?
You have to actively listen more. You have to be aware of the cultural differences of people. If you're aware of it, it makes easier to succeed. Americans tend to be very vocal and outspoken and carry their emotions on their shoulder. At times Asians can be more reserved and you may find that one-on-one discussions are more effective than a group town hall meeting.
How important is networking in Asia?
You need to have strong relationships with your clients, but you need to be able to deliver high-quality work and be a technical expert. You will not get awarded the work solely because you have a relationship with an individual. You need to produce. We promote based on performance.
Do you lead an expat life?
I view myself as pretty localized, at the local level and professional level. In Singapore, it's an easy adjustment. You don't have the language challenges that you have in other countries around the region. The people are wonderful and very accepting of foreigners. Professionally, within KPMG and particularly in International Executive Services, you're working in cross-border teams of nationalities. In my role I deal with colleagues in China, Thailand and all around the region.
What are the lifestyle differences?
I certainly eat more Asian food now. When I go back to the U.S. I'm amazed at the size of the portions of food. I don't follow U.S. sports as much I used to. I love the Yankees, I love the Mets, but if you can't watch it on TV, you just lose interest. You do other things. You play more golf, you get outdoors. You travel. You're less of a couch potato.
KPMG has plans to hire 200,000 people over the next four years. With this type of growth, do you feel relatively secure in your job?
Yes, I think I am secure. We think there's a great deal of opportunity for good people. In the accounting profession in many countries, there's an insufficient umber of qualified accountants. The big four firms take up a lot of those graduates but we're also competing with industry and financial services companies. Particularly within accounting here there's a tremendous amount of opportunity for people, whether they're from the region or whether they're coming over.