Career Advice Successful High flyers’ story

A passion for problem-solving has served Patrick Winter, managing partner, Asia-Pacific for EY, well over a successful career

For Patrick Winter, the complexities of helping clients meet the challenges that come with new technology and changing business models can be summarised in one key objective.

“The purpose is to build a better working world,” says the Asia-Pacific area managing partner for professional services firm EY. “Innovation powered by technological advancement means that many businesses are going through a revolutionary period of extraordinary change. They need skill sets and support to help them with the process, which is what we can provide.”

In working with clients, he notes, the firm’s involvement now extends well beyond its traditional strengths in audit, accounting and advice on corporate finance.

As operating models evolve in every industry, there is particular focus on talent organisation, achieving internal efficiencies and, in an increasingly interconnected world, finding new opportunities for productive interaction and investment.

“Technology is changing the way businesses and people work,” Winter says. “So, we advise companies in the context of their business, their model, and their customers. We help them understand their own plans for internal and external markets and, therefore, what is needed to support and enable their business.”

In doing that, he oversees a 44,000-strong team, including close to 1,900 partners, across more than 20 countries. He has to drive and influence the firm’s global strategy, provide the necessary sense of direction, instil a real sense of teamwork among the regional heads, and ensure each office executes appropriately when serving accounts.

From the people perspective, he also makes a point of creating opportunities for career development and new jobs within the region.

With all this, though, the vast majority of his time is still spent meeting customers – usually C-suite executives - and understanding their needs and issues.

“That way I get a feel for the challenges they are facing and for the pulse of the market,” he says. “Otherwise you can get caught out. As a leadership team, I believe we need to be out there serving our clients, not looking at spreadsheets.”

As one of five children growing up in Adelaide, Winter had a happy childhood, sailed through school, and was very involved in sports, especially rowing, cricket, tennis and Aussie rules football. Looking back, he can see how these activities – and the experiences they brought - taught key lessons about teamwork, trust, responsibility and always giving your best.

His father, who had served in the Royal Australian Navy in the second world war, was a chartered accountant and non-executive director, while his mother worked in accounting before marrying and becoming a homemaker. There was no pressure to follow suit, but things nevertheless fell into place.

“I decided early on accountancy interested me. I could see the profession was transportable and gave the chance to deal with a wide range of business issues. It could also let me work across different disciplines and help organisations by offering expertise and skill sets they didn’t have.”

Accordingly, in 1986, he completed a three-year bachelor of commerce in accounting and finance at the University of South Australia and wasted no time in joining the local office of what is now PwC.

After qualifying, he specialised initially as an insolvency practitioner, but keen to broaden his scope, opted for a move to Ernst &Young - now EY - in 1994. There, he took on corporate finance work, including mergers and acquisitions, became a partner and, in due course, started looking to more distant horizons.

“By then, I had a good grounding in how businesses shouldn’t run and how they should,” he says. “I’d developed the ability to work with clients and solve their problems with distressed assets or in periods of growth. I didn’t have a clear career plan, but I did always map out options for myself in three years’ time. I’m a big believer in creating your own career development, taking your chances, and knowing how to position yourself.”

To that end, he was constantly on the lookout for internal and external courses, attended networking events, and figured out who he should connect with. When possible, he also made people aware he was looking for opportunities

“I was always pushing and challenging myself to make sure I didn’t get stuck in one role,” he says.

As a result, in 2000, he was offered a three-year assignment in London, working on private equity transactions. It included stints in the US and other European cities and, crucially, provided the international experience so vital for any future overseas postings.

After returning to Australia, Winter accepted a role in Sydney as M&A transactions partner, but in 2011 when a reorganisation of the Asia region opened the way to a job in Hong Kong, he was first to put up his hand.

“Each move is a calculated risk and can be disrupting for the family, but it is important to push yourself and look for something different every few years,” he says. “Overall, I can’t fault the opportunities and support the firm has given me.”

His current role covers a large and culturally diverse area, with some very developed markets, some emerging markets, but all subject to China’s increasing economic impact. The challenge is to balance those factors and anticipate what’s around the corner.

“Not all parts of our business will be going well at the same time,” he says. “Some may need to ramp up investment or may just be having difficulties in a specific market. I put a lot of reliance on teamwork, trust and accountability and would like to think I have an open, transparent style.”

With his family currently based in Sydney, Winter admits the travel can be taxing, but now takes it in stride.

“Whenever possible, I dedicate weekends to supporting my two daughters’ hockey and netball teams. I’m also involved with a charity helping people with disabilities take part in sports.”