An Interview with the KPMG Senior Partner Murat Alsan
An Interview with the KPMG Senior Partner Murat Alsan
I’ve been working at KPMG for 21 years. As a career, auditing has a course which has been accepted by the whole world for many years. In accordance with that pattern, I started my career at KPMG in 1995 as an assistant in the audit department. I had just graduated from METU, I was a young and ambitious new graduate. I worked as an audit assistant for two years. One of the best aspects of our profession is that you get to manage teams as you start your third year. Between my third and fifth years, I performed audit practices on the field and became an audit manager at the end of my fifth year. I started to manage multiple projects at once after I became audit manager, and four years later I got the chance to become a partner in KPMG Turkey. My company partners who trained me during that time, my co-workers and of course our clients have had great impact and contribution to my success. When I started out, Turkey was a land of opportunities, so to speak, and I can say that becoming a company partner in KPMG in nine years is, in fact, a very rapid career boost.
In the following period, I became the head of audit department in 2009. I have been managing the audit department for six years. I have had an additional duty in the last year; I am also the head of the group which provides all services of KPMG to the areas of banking and insurance known as the finance industry. This role has been one of the most challenging duties in my career at KPMG since we try to synchronize the employees working in audit, tax, and advisory. This is my brief summary of my career development at KPMG.
As confirmed by my own experience and observations, the primary condition of becoming successful at KPMG is to develop good relations with all associates including employees, clients, and partners. What I mean by ‘developing good relations’ is establishing complete trust; act in a manner that allows people to trust you and let others feel this trust. I think this is the primary condition to succeed at KPMG.
The second criterion of success is to be open to learning at all times. We advise people. All of our friends working in tax, audit, and advisory departments are essentially advisors. To me, the most important quality that a good advisor must possess is being open to constant learning. If you stop your learning performance and motivations at any point, you will start to fall down in a very short time. Therefore, I think my friends who would like to succeed at KPMG must be open to learning and improvement.
Finally, you need to have discipline. It is essential that you are a systematic, cautious, time-efficient employee to achieve success at KPMG. We must be aware of the fact that time is the only resource that cannot be taken back, and we must discipline ourselves accordingly. Since we are in an intense working environment, one of the most important parameters of becoming happy and successful is the ability to prioritize and manage your time efficiently. In short, having good communication skills, being open to learning and discipline are the three basic aspects of becoming successful.
In the traditional sense, we have 3 main branches of service. One of them is audit; which offers career opportunities within itself as well as allowing a chance to have a resume sought and preferred by many different sectors. Therefore, our audit department is a very significant service and profession in terms of career opportunities both within and outside of KPMG.
Apart from that, we have tax specialists and specialists working in the advisory department. Both tax and advisory departments include numerous disciplines within themselves and provide our employees with solid career opportunities by national and international standards. It is possible to progress and build a career within each one of such opportunities. I think it is very important how we guide our friends towards these areas as experienced professionals. The channels which we recommend and guide towards as a starting point are audit and tax. Here, the employees get to know companies and industries, which basically teaches them the cornerstones of the world and allows them to improve themselves at an unmatched speed. Later on, we put our friends through a rotation process in other departments of advisory or tax, depending on their skills and newly gained experiences. Those who want and have an interest may continue their careers in the audit department as well.
In addition to career opportunities in Turkey, we also give our employees chances to build a career in KPMG’s foreign offices. I would like to expand on the international working environment and opportunities at KPMG. Expat, who are our foreign employees, make great contributions to our local offices regarding the cultures, business styles and know-how of foreign countries. Secondly, a significant portion of our projects have international connections, our teams get to visit our foreign offices and work temporarily in offices at other countries while working on such projects. Finally, the KPMG Global Opportunities program offers our employees a chance to work in KPMG offices abroad for a short or long term, and to improve their intercultural working approach by having the experience of living in a different country.
One of the best aspects of KPMG is, as we talked about earlier, the value placed on learning and employee improvement. I can say that there is no limit to the information we acquire at this point. We receive countless information every day from our worldwide network and local resources. Yet to me, what’s important is not only that information is presented to you; but that an experienced master trains you to decide for yourself which information is important. You need a mentor who, among the heavy flow of information, explains to you which data you need, makes you realize which data creates value for your client or company in a fast manner, and shows you the tips and tricks just like how a master would pick the most beautiful and delicious apples from the grocery and hand them to you. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean much in terms of value. The master also teaches you how to build trust, and how to develop a professionally respectable relationship before the client, public, and press.
From my perspective, the area in which we make the greatest contribution to our young friends at KPMG is that they get to have such a master by their side. If you don’t have a master or mentor like that, you are very likely to get lost especially in such an intense working environment. You quickly lose track of where you’re headed and possibly seek other pursuits. While their managers are always near our friends who have newly started their careers, our company partners are always near the managers. As long as the employee is eager and open to learning, the communication channels between such different levels are always open. KPMG presents improvement and training opportunities to their employees in a very serious manner. Since this is a mutual learning experience, it is also significant in terms of performance improvement; while our young employees learn from their masters, the masters may notice that employee’s talents and move them to other projects or positions within the bounds of opportunities.
This mutual communication is one of the most important values of KPMG. In addition to professional development, we also greatly value our employees’ personal developments at KPMG. For instance, in my 21 year long career I had the opportunity to take lessons from experienced leading experts and teachers in numerous different areas from Turkish rhetorics to time management, from developing customer relations to improving the quality of the relationship that must be built with employees. After becoming a manager, I tried my best to encourage and lead my team to take these trainings. Therefore, there is a distinct and professional perception of development at KPMG that goes beyond the master-apprentice relationship, which I believe makes a major contribution to us.
Of course, I have dear friends from the Big4; my friends from college or whom I met in social life… All of them are very valuable people and valuable companies. We are glad that we have such valuable competitors since a good competitor keeps you in shape and helps you improve. In that sense, KPMG is very lucky. Our distinctive quality is KPMG’s spirit. This spirit quickly spreads to all of our employees. What we mean by the KPMG spirit is the value that this institution places on persons.
From the moment you walk through the doors of KPMG, it doesn’t matter who you are. You are provided with an environment in which you can practice, build good relationships, enjoy and thus, succeed. This spirit is a common feeling in all of our KPMG offices. There is a company spirit which doesn’t discriminate but which highly values friendship. I’ve always been proud of becoming a part of this and I’ve seen that my colleagues have always been proud of it as well. Yes; we work, we work hard, we learn; but at the same time we have fun due to the friendships we’ve built within the company. Bringing all of these together, I think it creates a strong and effective KPMG spirit. I think that’s our most distinctive quality among the Big4.
As we talked about earlier, one of the conditions to build a successful career at KPMG is to prioritize building good relationships. If you don’t pay attention to building good relationships, then life at KPMG will be truly hard for you. You are going to have trouble at KPMG if your co-workers, superiors or clients don’t trust you. If you aren’t open to learning you will again face challenges because the career ladder here makes it compulsory that you gain a certain amount of knowledge and experience every year. If you don’t, you can’t fulfill the responsibilities of the higher level. In that case, life at KPMG may be really difficult. I’ve also mentioned being systematic and disciplined. Professional advisory, which is what we do, doesn’t allow planlessness. Your life at KPMG may be really tough if you don’t handle your business in a disciplined and planned manner. I’d like to mention this specifically because it is also a part of the nature of the world of audit. Since our business is seasonal, we perform nearly 70 % of our business in the first 3 months of the year. Therefore, we work at a really busy pace during the first 3 months in which we conduct 70 % of our business. The remaining 30 % is conducted in the other nine months, which is a quite calm period. If you use that calm period to plan and prepare for the intense 3-month period, you will manage to complete your busy periods in a more controlled manner. That’s how I’ve done it all my life. Yet if you don’t spend these nine months completely preparing for your work, it shouldn’t surprise you that those three months turn into a period of intense and stressful hours. Actually, this is why there is an impression that the auditing profession makes people work so hard and overtime.
We as KPMG seriously plan how our employees should spend their relatively peaceful nine months in the most efficient and effective manner so that they are able to spend their busiest periods as comfortably as possible. We have rearranged our working hours. While shifts end at 8 in the evening during the 3-month busy period, they end at 4 or 6 in the afternoon during certain months. Such arrangements are our way to balance the density of workload.
Since we place great emphasis on early planning, we made some serious works regarding this issue. To my knowledge, we are the first company in our sector who has banned working on Sundays and past a certain time in the evening. We would like our fellow workers, no matter at what position, to have a manageable, convenient life even during those busy periods.
KPMG has opened me a solid career path and given me a chance at success. In the meantime, of course, my financial possibilities improved directly proportionate with my career development. KPMG gave me everything I was expecting from life, but these are not what’s been keeping me here for 21 years. My answer to this question is that I’ve built good friendships within KPMG; I have a large number of friends, from all ages and cultures, with whom I’m happy and have a good time during and outside of work; and together we are able to form the KPMG spirit I’ve told you about before. My colleagues are what has been keeping me at KPMG for 21 years, and hopefully continue to keep me in the future.