PwC: One of the Leading Professional Services Firms in Kenya and Africa

Anne Eriksson gives an overview of PwC, one of Kenya’s leading professional services firms focused on providing assurance, advisory and tax services, mentioning some of the company’s most significant success, challenges to be faced, CSR activities, future plans, etc.

Interview with Anne Eriksson, Country and Regional Senior Partner at PwC

Anne Eriksson, Country and Regional Senior Partner at PwC

To start with, could you give us an overview of your professional background and how you became the Country and Regional Senior Partner of PwC?

My profession is accounting. I joined the firm 37 years ago as a trainee accountant and became a partner 29 years ago. I remember that well because my son is also 29. I have two children, a son and a daughter. So it is not all work, we do play. We try and grow families in the process. I am an accountant, but family is very important to me, as well. I love orchids. I like to trek, enjoy the outdoors and travel the world. And then, we work very hard. I am now Regional Senior Partner at PwC based here in Kenya, which also means that I am the Country Senior Partner for Kenya. This region consists of Mauritius, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, which is one of the biggest of the six countries. In each of those countries, we have fully fledged offices and several partners depending on the size of the area. We are the leading firm in the region and I am truly privileged to head this firm.

PwC is one of Kenya’s leading professional services firms focused on providing assurance, advisory and tax services. Could you give us an overview of PwC’s history and main business segments?

PwC operates in more than 160 countries globally. We want our clients and those that want to do business with us to know that we will be able to serve them in almost any market in Kenya and Africa, as well.

Globally, PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC as we now call it, was formed in 1998 through the merger of Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse. Most of the people we employ today joined us after 1998 and do not actually know that we used to be two separate firms. The legacy firms, Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse, have been in this country for over 60 years. In Kenya, we provide the full range of services that our global firm provides. We offer assurance, tax and advisory services. If you want to invest or do business in Kenya, and you don’t know where to start, we are the place. Clients can talk to us and we will guide them on how to form a company, how to contract, and how to navigate the immigration and employment area. Our tax and legal team can also advise clients on the different taxes and regulations that you need to be aware of and comply with here in Kenya. But even more so, when you are doing business, that team will also give advice on filings, compliance, tax planning, and any acquisitions the client is interested in. Our consultancy and advisory service is also extremely extensive. We can help clients hire people, reorganize their business, determine what jobs they have, what jobs and structures they should have and advise on how to transform their business using technology and other means. Strategy is a big component of what we do. Should your business face turbulent times and you want to borrow money or are struggling with your lenders, we are there to help with our business recovery services. We are quite varied with a big team based both here and in other parts of Africa. Most people associate assurance with auditing. Auditing is a key part of what we do in assurance, but it is not the only thing we do. We also offer risk assurance services, and provide help with capital market transactions and complex accounting principles and structures that an organization may wish to put into place. We have a team of about 550 people based here in Kenya. We are located at the PwC Tower, which is the home of PwC in Kenya. PwC operates in more than 160 countries globally. We want our clients and those that want to do business with us to know that we will be able to serve them in almost any market in Kenya and Africa, as well. We are an integrated practice in Africa, and we have large operations in the west and south, in addition to Kenya in the east. We look forward to serving anyone that wants to business here.

What are some of the company’s most significant success stories in Kenya?

This firm is associated with great capacity building. We recruit graduates from various universities, both inside and outside of Kenya. Most of them will go through training in the firm and then continue to work with us. We like to retain as many of our staff as possible, but we also know that not everyone will make PwC their lifetime career. What we are really proud of is the number of people that have joined the firm, trained with us, left the firm to go into commerce, industry and government and are now hopefully strong ambassadors of PwC. We recruit the best and the brightest which means that we have a huge alumni population of individuals that have grown through the firm. We have just finished the induction of 65 new graduates that we recruited this year. Next year, we will recruit a similar number, if not more. So “people development” is a success story of ours. People want to join us. Young graduates want to join us. It is very competitive, and those that join us make the most out of it. Another strength is our ability to solve complex problems. We are a multidisciplinary organization, so whoever the client and whatever the issue, we can bring our different disciplines together to solve their problem, whether it is the private sector, the government, or a large corporation dealing with a particular challenge, or issues with tax, accounting or strategy. It is our ability to work with the private sector, such as influencing government policy for the benefit of the country, not just for the benefit of the organizations that we represent. We provide useful insights to the government as they put together the national budget every year through the different clients we work with. We are skilled at working with either groups of clients or specific clients dealing with specific issues in both the private and public sectors.

In addition to being problem solvers, how would you describe PwC’s philosophy and what makes you different from the competition?

PwC is not only about solving complex problems but building trust in society. We do that through the fundamental values we subscribe to which makes us unique. They are values of teamwork, leadership, and excellence. It is being very relentless about the quality of what we deliver, the quality of the people we recruit, and the investment we make in the people we recruit to empower them to give their best. It is not being scared or afraid to do what is right, even if it is not in line with what the client desires. It is having very strong values and principles that are not imposing but collaborative. We are very passionate about protecting and living those values, so we have zero tolerance with any of our clients or our people that do not do what we consider to be the right thing. Doing good business and doing the right thing is key to building and protecting our brand. Every two years we conduct the Brand Health Index Survey. We are very proud that in the last three surveys, against competition, PwC has been ranked right at the top of these various attributes.

Are you involved in CSR activities?

Corporate responsibility takes different shapes and forms. We have tried to work with our people and our teams to champion activities that make sense to our staff and our partners. We work very closely with the Faraja Cancer Trust which is a non-governmental organization that was created by a former PwC partner. It is focused on giving hope and support to cancer sufferers, caregivers, and people affected by cancer. It centers on holistic care and therapies, as opposed to the actual treatment of cancer. It helps provide support structures they can draw upon to walk that long journey they now face as someone who is affected by cancer, either personally or through members of their family. We have given Faraja aid in many different ways. Last year, over several weeks, we raised funds in the office through the sale of pastries and various initiatives. Employees could come to work one day a week dressed in a non-conventional manner, and for that privilege, donate some money to the Trust. One of the highlight events we are involved in is the whitewater rafting activity for Faraja Cancer Trust. Each of the last few years we have sent two or three teams to participate. We also have Faraja come and talk to our people about cancer, not just in the month of October which is Cancer awareness month, but any time throughout the year. So we work very closely with them and it is a mutual relationship. Our flagship project is the Our Lady of Nazareth School. This is a primary school in the middle of one of the big slums in Nairobi called Mukuru kwa Njenga. We have partnered with them for the last seven years. The school started quite small and now has about 2,500 children. The partnership we have with them started with the Uji Feeding Program. We were introduced to the project through the Marianist Brothers and PwC was among the very early corporate allies. These children come from the neighboring slums and many of them would come to school without having eaten anything and perhaps not get a meal during the day either. Uji is the Swahili word for porridge. We provide funds so that every child that comes to school can get porridge for breakfast. In the early days that was probably the only meal the child would get for the day. We have enhanced that partnership into a scholarship program where every year, based on the advice of the Marianist Brothers, we identify ten deserving children and pay their fees through secondary school. To date, we have helped 70 children through four years of high school education. In the last few years, we have also introduced an internship program. These students are able to intern with our firm before they go to university. They grew up in the slums and were privileged enough to go to a national school somewhere, but they have not been exposed to the corporate world. So the exposure of interning with PwC for six months before they go to university has been quite enlightening. These children have done very well. I remain in touch with some of them after they go to university. They are studying all types of courses and as a firm, we are very proud of the changes that we have been able to make in the lives of not only the students but also their families.

What are the main challenges to be faced by the company in Kenya? What is being done to overcome these challenges?

When you are in business, challenges are the order of the day. We try to ensure that we keep the working environment an enabling environment for our people to want to build their careers for as long as possible. We overcome that challenge by continuously listening to our people. Every year we have a survey and employees tell us what we are doing well, what we are not doing well and what we can do to be better. We work with our people to improve their working environment so that we can get the best out of our people and hopefully give the best of the firm back to our people. We have recruited the best and brightest and we give them good training and want to retain them, so we are continuously competing with the outside world who are very interested in the same people. The reality of the world in which we are operating is that it is a developing world, whether it is Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda. Unfortunately, we will have elections every four or five years. Elections are a major occurrence in our markets, so there is economic activity that follows a very predictable cycle around elections. Being able to manage the business and maintain a level of business that does not dip because there is an election in Tanzania, Uganda, or Kenya and look beyond that is a continuous challenge. We can manage that by making sure our clientele is as diverse as possible. We work in all sectors, not just government. We work in the private sector with financial services, consumer industrial products, non-governmental organizations and donor agencies, in addition to the government itself. We also try to ensure that we continue to operate as a regional business, so that occurrences in one country are counteracted by occurrences in another country. We are privileged to be running a fairly regional business, not just in the east but across Africa.

What is your vision for the future of PwC Kenya in the next 2 to 5 years? What would you like to have achieved by then?

As a firm, we have very ambitious growth targets. This includes growth for our people and growth for the benefit of our clients. The depth of experience and expertise we have is very much geared towards what we think the market requires. In five to ten years, we will have the skills and expertise that the business of that time requires. We foresee a very different environment from what we have today, dependent on the influence of technology and the convergence of various market and business sectors. The things we are doing today are geared towards getting us to that business that we want to be in five to ten years. We cannot project a definite workforce number. It will not be so much a function of the number of employees we have, but the quality of those people compared to what the market requires. My vision is that we will remain the leading firm in the quality of the services we deliver and in the clients that we serve. We serve the leading businesses right now and I expect that we will remain that same firm and that we will actually enhance our position in that leadership. I see us making huge investments in coming years centered around the huge changes we see taking place in the market place, the sort of people we recruit and how we operate. The world is moving from a very regimented and formal business environment to one that is younger, fresher and more dynamic. We will be at the forefront of that type of employer environment.

On a personal level, what is it like, as a woman, to lead such a huge company in a country like Kenya? Do you face more challenges than your male counterparts? Is it more difficult?

Being a professional woman and also wanting to have a balanced life with a family, children and a home requires a lot of juggling. It is harder for a woman than a man, particularly when you are younger. There is no doubt that if you put a male and a female alongside one another and the female is just in the process of building a young family, compared to the man, the challenges will weigh more towards the female. It is fair to say that the woman is expected to do more to achieve the same result. The Creator made us for a purpose. There are qualities that a woman has that a man does not have. Women can take advantage of those attributes such as multitasking and sensitivity to succeed. But you cannot do it alone. You need support from the workforce, from your colleagues and peers, and most importantly, support from home. Of course, it has been hard. I have been very fortunate to have an extremely supportive family and a very supportive working environment. That is something that we at PwC should be extremely proud of. The environment we have at PwC allows and supports both male and female advancement. Not every man and woman will make it to the very top. We have equal chances, but it is much harder for a woman. To be honest, one can be simplistic about the challenges for women. But if you have the right attitude and desire and an enabling environment, which we try very hard to provide at PwC, both men and women can succeed. Among my peers, most of my partners and most of our senior staff are male, but we have a good proportion of female senior employees at the associate director level and senior manager level. I find that for any organization to be whole, we really have to support the development of both men and women. When you have a balanced workforce, you have a better working environment. Respect is earned not bought. It is earned from what you do and how you do it. If you are a professional, it should not matter whether you are male or female. But certainly, there are certain things which I will not feel comfortable doing but my male colleagues would be. We make those calls and we leverage our various skills.

Why should business people and investors consider Kenya as a destination?

For investors looking at emerging markets and Africa in particular, Kenya should be given very serious consideration. Kenya has a very solid workforce in terms of the quality of education and the quality of people you will be able to recruit to employ in your organization. We are an English speaking country, so Kenyans travel very well doing business with the international community. There are aspects that could be streamlined with our infrastructure, laws, and regulations. But as an investor, the navigation of business in Kenya is not as daunting as it may appear. PwC will be able to work and help investors to navigate that journey. The demographics of Kenya and its growing middle class are not something to ignore as an investor. Kenya is the gateway into Central Africa and the Great Lakes region which means that the market is not just Kenya, but the greater East Africa as well. It is also simply a lovely place to live. God has blessed us with many wonders. We have great weather, national parks, mountains, the sea, and more. Most important is the people. We are nice people. I am Kenyan and I am so proud to be Kenyan.

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