All change at EY
Steven Phan is targeting a range of hires as the erstwhile Ernst & Young moves forward
There’s obviously something going on at the company formally known as Ernst & Young. Not only does the accounting and professional services giant have a new global chairman and CEO in Mark Weinberger, a new Asia-Pacific managing partner in Steven Phan, and a new corporate tagline – “building a better working world” – it even has a new name: EY.
With EY’s global workforce numbering around 165,000 and an annual turnover in the Asia-Pacific region alone of about US$3 billion, you would imagine that it wouldn’t be susceptible to upheaval. Phan, however, sees the recent changes as part of a continuing process.
“We started to integrate our global business in a meaningful way about seven or eight years ago, working one country and one area at a time,” he says. “Today, we believe we are the most integrated of the Big Four firms. This allows us to take advantage of our global scale, so our partners don’t have to worry about backroom operations, or about the management staff and the running of the business. But there is a balance to be struck. [Our local partners] must continue to feel that entrepreneurial spirit and be empowered to focus on clients and the market.”
Phan says the process of integration has allowed EY to implement its new vision and purpose even more consistently across its worldwide offices. “You have to make profits – that is a business imperative – but you also have to have a higher calling,” he says. “When we say our purpose is ‘building a better working world’, we do this one task at a time – whether we are helping to build more trust and confidence in the capital markets or helping our clients do better in their businesses.”
The reason for the name change, though, is much more prosaic. “The reality is that our clients and our people have been calling us EY for a long time,” Phan says.
Phan has over 32 years of auditing and advisory experience working with multinationals in Asia-Pacific. Having joined the erstwhile Ernst & Young in 2002, he was elected managing partner for Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and country managing partner for Singapore in 2008, before taking on the role of chief operating officer for Asia-Pacific in 2011.
With his promotion to Asia-Pacific managing partner, his responsibility now stretches from the region’s economic powerhouses to countries such as Myanmar and Papua New Guinea, all at a time of impressive global growth for the company.
“EY’s results for the financial year 2012 showed global growth of more than 7 per cent,” he says. “In some markets, such as mainland China, it’s been in double digits, and in the more mature economies, such as Australia, Singapore and South Korea, it’s been high single digits.”
This expansion is mirrored in the size of EY’s workforce. “We will always be a significant recruiter of people – both graduates and experienced hires. I think every year we add about 5 to 7 per cent to our headcount,” Phan says.
“We want to move from being a more technical adviser to a more strategic one. And while we invest a lot in technology and methodology, our most important investment is in people.”
He remains bullish on the markets within his remit. “In Asia-Pacific, there is a positive trend to make economies more pro-business. Look at the way Asean is trying to lower trade barriers. Almost every nation in the region is implementing international accounting standards – some almost fully, others are on a journey – which can only encourage business,” he says.
“I think there is recognition by regulators that transparency and disclosure are important in building business confidence. We can, however, sometimes be caught in the middle – such as in the issue between the SEC [the US Securities and Exchange Commission] and China over access to working papers.”
Phan relishes the fact that the other big players in the Asia-Pacific market are unlikely to give EY an easy ride. “There will always be fierce competition in this region, but I tell my people that the enemy is us,” he says. “In other words, if we fail, it’s through our own doing. If we as an organisation cannot deliver exceptional client service; if we do not have a high performance culture; or if our partners who lead our troops are inward-looking as opposed to market-focused, then we deserve to lose to our competitors.”
FIVE FORCES THAT WILL TRANSFORM APAC
Phan cites the top factors that will shape the region’s economic future
GLOBAL TRENDS “Factors such as whether the US continues its economic recovery, the state of Europe, and other mega-trends such as capital flows from West to East, will have a big impact as we remain very export-oriented economies.”
DEMOGRAPHICS “A large, young population, better education and rising middle-class purchasing power will help make economies more consumer-based. Women can power the next burst of growth in Asia-Pacific.”
EMERGING MARKETS “Chinese companies are investing overseas and intra-Asia-Pacific trade is growing significantly, driven also by countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.”
REGULATIONS “I don’t see any government clamming up or being very nationalistic, which would obviously impact the vibrancy of their economies.”
TECHNOLOGY “Developments help share knowledge and drive innovation and entrepreneurship.”