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India helps recharge batteries and open eyes

June 13, 2008 12:51 IST

How do you motivate the motivators? How do you teach leadership to leaders?

These are questions that international professional services firms, such as KPMG, must constantly grapple with.

These organisations consist of global networks of highly driven individuals whose primary focus is their clients. Consultants' duties can range from advising "C-suite" executives on how to ensure their accounts are compliant with multifarious regulatory regimes, to working with them on acquisitions and even, on occasion, to helping them refine their golf strokes.

With the entire firm steeped in this intense client culture, it can be easy to forget that consultants sometimes need to take their own advice and invest time in fostering the next generation of their leaders.

One way that KPMG is answering this challenge is through its "Chairman's 75" (C-75) programme. In an organisation of over-achievers, this is an annual event that brings together "the highest potential partners"for three days with senior management.

This year, the group met in Mumbai, and many of them stayed at the glamorous five-star Marriott hotel in Juhu, the home of the Bollywood movie industry on the city's northern beaches.

The participants each had four to seven years of experience as partner. They came from 33 countries.

"They're all in leadership positions or bound for them," says Russell Parera, chief executive of KPMG in India.

KPMG opted to hold the C-75 meeting in India this year, so that partners could have a first-hand view of this emerging Asian economy. While some partners already travel to or live in Asia, a much larger number have little experience of the region. For these people in particular, the programme of company visits and presentations by local Indian businessmen was illuminating.

"It's a great experience to open your eyes when you come from small cosy Denmark and see that there is a big world out there," says participant Jesper Olsen, a partner and state-authorised public accountant for KPMG in Denmark.

Whenever consultants are involved, jargon is never far away and C-75 is no exception.

But while some of the language might be impenetrable to outsiders, the ultimate aim of the meeting is simple: to introduce the next generation of leaders to each other and to current senior management. KPMG's global chairman, chief executive and others are also present.

"The participants will spend time with them (the senior leadership) and get to know them and their vision for KPMG. It's like the senior leadership saying: 'This is where we're going and, at some point, you will pick up the baton'," says Mr Parera.

An "invitation-only" event, C-75 is, in fact, a combination of three groups, known as the "Chairman's 25s", which come from: Asia-Pacific; Europe, the Middle-East and Africa; and the Americas. The C-25 programmes differ between regions, but all involve some classroom time, some team-building activities, and work on real-life projects.

For instance, Tony McNaught, a partner from New Zealand and participant in the Asia-Pacific C-25, spent six weeks on the programme, including three stints at Insead, the business school. Each was a week-long course and they encompassed subjects ranging from economics to personal development.

"You obviously network with the other candidates and learn a lot more about the issues in their countries and practices," says Mr McNaught.

Another key element of C-25, he says, is plenty of contact with senior regional management. "This gives you a lot of access to and understanding of 'As-Pac' strategy that you don't have on a daily basis," Mr McNaught explains.

Participants are also asked to look at strategically important issues facing the organisation in each region.

The Asia-Pacific team, for example, looked at merger proposals for the firm in the region. A deal eventually materialised later that year.

The programme also makes time for "softer" activities, including some outdoor team-building exercises, such as walking 400m blindfolded and guided by a partner. These are designed to teach people to rely on colleagues.

"We spent a lot of time working out how different nationalities approach meetings and relationships, and how we can get the most out of it, how we can work together," says Paul Korolkiewicz, London partner in information, communications and entertainment.

Those chosen to do the C-25 and C-75 are expected to negotiate with clients and make sure they get the time off to attend. Most clients are supportive, participants say.

But what about inside the firm? Do such leadership programmes - which amount to selective streaming - rankle with ambitious partners who are not invited? "When I tell people I work with that I'm coming on this programme, they're proud and excited that somebody in my area has been selected," says Mr Korolkiewicz."

We've only got three participants from the UK who are on this programme and people get a buzz from the fact that we're being recognised."

Joe Leahy
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