From a mid-sized accounting firm to becoming the CEO at KPMG India: Meet Richard Rekhy
- Hi, I am Richard Rekhy, a Chartered Accountant who dared to dream big.
- I started my career in 1983 at a mid-sized firm. Over the years I developed entrepreneurial abilities and later moved to a larger firm where I transformed into a leader and eventually becoming the CEO at KPMG, India from 2012 until 2017.
- Did all of this come about easily to me? Not at all, however, the challenges and adversities I faced only strengthened my resolve to make it big.
- Here is my journey of how I rose to be the CEO of KPMG through sheer hard work, by following my gut and never ever straying away from my values irrespective of the temptations.
First-person in my family to become a CA
I was born in Amritsar, Punjab (India). At an early age (just 8 years old) I went to a boarding school St. Joseph's College Nainital and later completed my school at La Martiniere For Boys School, Kolkata.
So, from a very young age, I was independent and knew how to hold my own.
To add, I participated in various school activities like plays, debate, and sporting activities from cricket to swimming to hockey. I always had a desire to be on the winning side and worked hard on it.
When I was at a juncture of deciding on my career, like many, I too was confused.
One day, when my school Principal was talking to me, he asked 'what were my career aspirations' and then he suggested me to pursue Chartered Accountancy. That advice stuck with me and I finally decided to become a CA.
I have to mention that I had no clue what Chartered Accountancy was and I just went with the flow. Basically, I play by my gut and my gut said this was the right decision!
Fast forward, I completed my CA in 1983 and was probably the first person in my family who went on to become a Chartered Accountant.
Starting my career at a mid-sized accounting firm
After qualifying, I started my career in a medium-sized accounting firm Ratan S Mama & Co.
I was lucky that I found a great mentor in Mr. Ratan S Mama very early in my life who in many ways molded me to become what I became.
One of the great experiences in my entire life was when I set up the Delhi Office for Ratan S Mama & Co from scratch and helped build it.
When you start a new office from scratch and you are the first employee, a lot has to be done. One has to hire the entire staff – from professionals to other support staff and also operate in a new city with no relationship in the market.
I still remember – to keep the office afloat, I didn’t take any money for more than 6 months. In fact, some of the office expenses I made from my own pocket.
I used to ask my clients to pay our fees in advance so that I could meet the office running expenses like rent, salaries, etc. This requires belief in oneself, perseverance, and confidence that one day you will succeed. In other words, it was a typical start-up of today’s time.
The pride for doing it on your own was the making of what I went on to become and it was great learning.
I was with them for 13 years and I left Ratan S Mama & Co after Mr. Mama’s death. I joined Arthur Andersen (one of the top accounting firms back then). This was in 1997.
From a mid-sized firm to a large international firm
Moving from a mid-sized firm and joining Arthur & Andersen that too at the senior manager level was not easy in the initial days.
Getting acceptability from the team initially was challenging. However, as true leaders lead by example and inspire teams to follow them, I did what I was good at and that was – being my natural self. Within a few months, I got respect from the team and in fact, it even went beyond that.
Here I learnt how important it is to have a good understanding of clients’ needs and to become a trusted advisor. I gave my best every day and tried to put myself in the client's shoes and give them the time and energy deserved.
I have many times gone beyond the call of duty to ensure that the real needs of the clients are addressed. This would involve taking efforts to bring new insights and providing solutions to the challenges they face.
After all, the client should be hearing from you what they would not have anticipated – an insight or data that would help grow their businesses or deal with an issue in a meaningful way.
At Arthur Andersen, I transformed into a leader and learnt how to think big, never to compromise on quality, always to believe in yourself – that you are the best.
Also, one must always think out of the box and be innovative. Delighting the clients was a given.
Going from a Partner to CEO at KPMG
After Andersen collapsed globally, it was merged with EY in India and I was there for a very short time.
In April 2004, I joined KPMG as a Partner heading Risk Consulting as I felt my values are more closely aligned with KPMG.
KPMG gave me a wide breadth of roles to do and here I got early opportunities to connect with the Global Firm which helped me expand my thinking. I got international exposure and started working on global projects and global clients.
I gave my best at every opportunity and did my bit to help KPMG India get recognized and respected within the global network.
It all paid off when early in my stint, I got an opportunity to be selected for Chairman’s 25 (C25), a global program where 25 partners around the world go through leadership training.
Just within two years when KPMG was scouting for new leadership, I was made the COO of the firm for three years.
In years to come, I headed the Advisory Practice for three years post which I got elected to serve as CEO of KPMG India (Oct 2012-2017) and was also on the Global Board of KPMG International.
In the last 5 years at KPMG as its CEO, I lived my dream of making my Firm the best Firm in the country amongst the Big4. Needless to say, the experience was priceless!
View from the top
I can never forget the day I became the CEO, I could feel the pride in my Mother’s voice when I informed her that I have been elected as the CEO of KPMG India.
Becoming a CEO is a wow feeling. You hobnob with high profile people, you are on all the invitation list of all the major events-conferences and seminars, respect you get from the clients, the VIP treatment you get from hotels, airlines, etc. – it is all very overwhelming.
As a CEO the challenge you face is that every single issue from big to small comes to your table and you have to deal with them. In addition, you need to take ccountability for the decisions you take.
It is very lonely at the top and one’s mind is working 24*7 thinking about coming up with innovative and out of box ideas to steer the Firm to a new height. I would say – enjoy it but don’t get attached to it because one day it will go away.
I would like to quote this line – “Titles are given and Respect is earned” and not to sound pompous, I am a living example of this.
Failures and Challenges
With Ratan S Mama & Co., I learnt to stand even during the most challenging times. People give up even in the anticipation of tough times. However, those who showcase determination, are able to hang in well and enjoy the fruits of success.
While at Arthur Andersen, I did not make it to a Partner when I thought I should have. I felt very disappointed.
Fortunately for me, I had tremendous support from the people who reported to me because they knew who I was. I also had support from the other service line leaders.
For the first 15 days, it was bad but after that, I got over it. To add to my self-confidence, I got an offer from one of the competitors at triple the salary I was getting, and the then Chairman personally wooed me, but I did not take it because I wanted to become a partner at Arthur Andersen.
The ability to bounce back even stronger by working harder such that all the disappointments of that one year were more than made up in the next few years. The one big lesson I learnt that we should prepare ourselves to run marathons.
Throughout my career, I have handled different roles. Each role had its own deliverable, different sets of challenges and issues.
The strategy and approach needed to deal with each role had to be very different. However, one quality that helped me sail through was humility and my ability to connect with my team and understand their challenging behavior with teams and understanding their challenges.
Journey post-retirement and life beyond Big4s
In 2017, I stepped down as the CEO of KPMG India, and currently, I am a Board Member of KPMG Dubai.
When I was a CEO, I had one job, but now I am handling a portfolio of things and at times it can be more strenuous than handling one job.
But now I am a master of my own time. It is exciting to be working with the young entrepreneurs and supporting the KPMG Middle East Firm on its integration and growth process.
On the personal front, post-retirement I have time to do things that I could not do due to my hectic schedule. I spend time on my physical fitness, time with family, and friends.
Coaching and mentoring young aspiring entrepreneurs is something that I focus on. Giving them direction – how they can utilize their full potential.
Many of us venture out to become successful or make a mark or leave our legacy. In my view it is just not about leaving a legacy, but can we work to become that best version of ourselves.
Before I end this piece, I would like to leave the following:
- Always be in the driver’s seat, your destiny is in your hand
- Never sell anything that you would not buy
- Always have a long-term view rather than being transactional and cashing on small opportunities.
- Put in 10% extra in what you do because this is what differentiates Winners from Losers.
- “Be a Good Ancestor. Plant trees you’ll never see.”
- Always do the right thing even when no one is looking! There is no shortcut to success.
- Challenge the status quo – it is going to be tough
Lastly, live life in such a way that when tomorrow comes and you’re not here how would you like to be remembered.
Richard Rekhy is the Board Member of KMPG Dubai and Former CEO, KPMG India.
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