32 years at PwC: Former Big 4 Partner's advice to Millenials and Gen Z on how to build a meaningful career and not be a rolling stone

Harinderjit Singh, Former Partner at PwC

  • Harinderjit Singh is an experienced hand from PwC who spent 32 years in the Big 4. 
  • He initially discovered his love for finance, auditing, and accounting after school. 
  • He believes that leadership lessons and modern methodologies coupled with the opportunity of working in a variety of challenging roles, and people friendly environment were what kept him in PwC for long.

 

Early 80’s 

I was born and brought up in Delhi. 

Initially, I had taken up science in school, but slowly developed an immense interest towards accountancy. With that, I switched the course from science to commerce. 

My father had a transferable job and we soon moved to Mumbai after I graduated (1981). 

In those days, the awareness of the commercial & financial services world was much higher in Bombay than it was in Delhi. 

It was here that I became acquainted with the people who were looking to pursue a career in Chartered Accountancy. 

I too did the same and started my journey to become a Chartered Accountant (CA). 

Those days, concepts like Big 4 firms were usually not talked about. 

So, it was only after a few years as a CA, I was aware of terms like big firms, the medium size and the small firm.

I chose the firm SB Billimoria representing Ernst & Whinney in India. In those days it was one of the larger firms and that was a big thing for me.

The experience was fantastic as I experienced world-class methodologies and best practices in auditing.

Starting my journey with PwC back in 1989 

I got the basic feeling of working at a large firm at SB Billimoria. It was here that I developed the aspiration to be a Partner in a Big 4 Firm.

Coincidentally, after working for two years over here I happened to see a rare job advert from Price WaterHouse in the newspaper, which suited my profile.  

I applied and got the job after going through 5 rounds of interviews! This was how I started with Price Waterhouse in 1989. 

In 1998, we merged with an internationally networked firm like ours, Coopers and Lybrand, and became PwC. By then I was already within the firm for nine years. 

In fact, I became a partner in 1998 just before the merger with the member Firm. 

When the economic liberalization happened in 1991, the growth the firm saw was amazing. Although the firm is 140 years old, it had never seen this kind of growth the world over. 

The advantage was a lot of learning and growth & development, we too grew fast as individuals.

In spite of the high growth, the firm maintained its purpose, culture, values, and people-friendly agenda which was based on trust in leadership. 

Also, the investment in the latest technologies, world-class methodologies, and infrastructure has been tremendous. 

I was there at the right time and at the right place and decided very early that this could be “The Firm” till my retirement!

Harinderjit Singh advises leaders to communicate with the new generation

What helped me stay in one firm for 32 years

Even back in the 90s, my peers would change several jobs before settling down. 

I learned from their experience and said I will not be a rolling stone, provided there are no reasons for me to leave the firm.

Some other reasons for me to continue at the same firm were:

Recognition by Seniors: I will not say that it was an easy ride. I was working sometimes seven days a week but my work was recognised by my seniors & mentors in the Firm. They helped me grow in the Firm. 

Challenging work: Every day was different with new types of challenges, different types of clients and there was a chance to develop my own team. So, I was content in my professional life. 

I kept growing in my role and also as a professional: I was an engagement leader, a senior client relationship partner, and a trusted advisor who solved complex problems of clients, people, and the firm relating to governance, accounting, auditing, corporate laws, regulatory matters etc. 

Personality development: I was groomed by the firm where I had the chance to develop my personality. I was sent on secondment to the US where I worked alongside people from different countries and cultures enhancing my personality. 

Social initiatives: I had the opportunity of being on the Central Council of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). In fact, when I contested the elections in 2004 & 2006 the entire firm rallied for me and supported me and I won those elections twice. I began to understand and appreciate the issues of the entire profession. I gave a very balanced view at the council and I did not just talk about the big four. Got opportunities to chair many important Boards/committees and develop a network of related professionals. 

As part of my volunteering initiatives, I got the opportunity to be the President & founding member of the Alumni Association of my college for the last 12 years, helping out students, members, and the college in various initiatives. 

I could also balance my personal life in spite of such hard work.

What more could one ask for?

Leadership tips 

When I joined the firm, the setup obviously was much smaller. There was a one-to-one connection between the leader and the people. This connection tends to get lost when the Firm is on a high growth path.

Thus the best advice I can give to a leader of any large organisation is to form small groups and give attention to what that millennial or Gen Z kid has to say. 

Have regular conversations with them to understand their mindset & communicate the purpose & culture of the organisation to them and how their role fits in achieving collective goals.

The days of patriarchal leadership style are long gone and dead.

Also, the youngsters should realise that organisations survive on talent. Sooner or later the seniors/ mentors will spot them for further growth and development of the organisation.

All this is possible if the youngsters can place trust in the organisation, seniors, mentors, and have the passion and perseverance to reach their goals!

Closing…

Most organisations today look for people beyond their technical skills.

A person has to develop his personality and be effective in his communication. 

When I meet a person, I have to picture that person in front of my clients. He or she has to think on their feet and be able to effectively communicate their point of view which is aligned with the firm’s position. 

Our clients are demanding at times and can be progressive. Growth-oriented companies have a presence in multiple countries adding to the complexity.

Lastly, I am looking forward to my next golden phase of life which promises to be fulfilling.

And I hope to share my experience and wisdom gained over the years to the benefit of corporates, startups, society, and of course my grandchildren, family, and friends.

(Edited by Preeti Mondal and video by Subhankar Dutta)

 

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