KPMG's new chief looks to restore public's trust in business


BUILDING and restoring the public's trust in today's businesses will be among the key challenges and areas of focus for KPMG in Singapore's new managing partner.

Ong Pang Thye, 52, took over the helm from his predecessor Tham Sai Choy late last year. Mr Ong was previously the firm's deputy managing partner, and its head of Audit before that.

To say that he has his work cut out for him - leading the firm in a time of global economic uncertainty and new business challenges posed by technology - would be fair.

But, he says, he is "fortunate to be standing on the shoulders of giants before (him), who have helped to set a strong foundation for the firm".

"My predecessors have built a legacy where we have focused on ensuring excellence in service delivery for our clients as well as on developing and recruiting extraordinary people. Such hallmarks associated with KPMG will continue to be my areas of focus," he told The Business Times.

His own experiences, gained from his time with the firm, have also given him a deeper understanding of its concerns, issues and challenges.

He feels there is a need for the firm to adopt an even more collaborative mindset when dealing with its clients.

"It is clear in my mind that the firm that is able to bring solutions rather than piecemeal advice to a client's problem will be the clear winner."

The key challenges facing KPMG's clients, Mr Ong feels, are "disruption and a trust deficit faced by businesses".

"With this in mind, innovation and collaboration will be the focus areas for the firm. Fresh ways of thinking and tackling problems will be needed, which is why we are working hard to enhance our capabilities in this area," he said.

KPMG has set up a "Digital Village" in Singapore, with the aim of bringing the latest innovation and technology to its clients.

A Digital Village, the firm explains, is an ecosystem where corporates, innovators and partners can collaborate. The firm will offer its global innovation network and a portfolio of services to support the different needs of corporates.

The village will provide corporates with innovation workshops, access to start-ups, experts, and research and development (R&D) institutes, and a methodology to quickly test and validate innovative products in the market. Start-ups will have access to a network of mentors, partners and external investors who have the expertise and support needed to help portfolio companies scale and commercialise innovative products.

But it is also important, Mr Ong stresses, that the firm and its clients bear in mind the wider community they operate in as they forge ahead in their efforts. "As events in the global financial crisis and recent developments have shown, there is a greater distrust of businesses," he said.

"Many are questioning the risk and reward system in the world of business, expressing unease about the privileged few who seem to be benefitting excessively at the cost of others. The perception is that the goals of the business community are increasingly at odds with public interest or the less privileged. If such a perception persists, the trust in businesses will be eroded.

"Without the support of the wider community, businesses may find it more difficult to operate in the environment that they are used to. While the public trusts the professional work that we do now, we have to do more for the wider community to restore that trust and to strengthen links with the community."

KPMG has launched several initiatives that it hopes will deliver real and tangible outcomes in restoring that trust and strengthening the links with the community.

It started the Inclusive Employment Programme in 2015, which enables people from the special-needs community learn new skills in producing corporate souvenirs.

Last year, it launched the Progressive Wages Pledge, in which it focuses on its lowest-paid workers with the goal of raising their wages through enhanced training and job redesign for greater productivity.

To help itself keep pace with evolving business challenges and to make itself the firm of choice for its clients, KPMG is also bringing on more diverse talents. It has added on, in addition to the traditional public accounting skillsets, data scientists and cyber-security experts.

Mr Ong said: "The diversity is not just in the types of expertise, but also extends to the nationalities of the staff. The breadth and depth of experiences they have provide an international and regional perspective to any challenge that our clients may encounter."

Mr Ong, who hails from Malacca in Malaysia, continues to draw on the experiences he gathered during his youth, which included a stint as the head prefect in Malacca High School, to help him deal with the challenges ahead.

"Perseverance was a key quality for me while growing up. There were a lot of responsibilities as a head prefect, the role came with a lot of autonomy for decision-making and fostering teamwork.

"It was not easy, but an important lesson I picked up outside the classroom during those formative years was to believe in what I do, continue to press on with it, regardless of the short-term pain along the way.

"There will always be naysayers and challenges, ups and downs. Still, if you have assessed the situation, sought wise counsel and decided on what you think is the best course of action, then stay the course."

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