CEO Q&A: Mark Kennedy, Mazars Ireland

Mark Kennedy, Managing Partner, talks short-, medium- and long-term goals in the tax and finance industry.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

I would answer that in two ways; I am very focused on ensuring that we continue to build our business in the right way. For me that means ensuring that we deliver excellent service – it is the one area where I think a firm like ours can excel and compete with even the largest of our competitors – and safeguard the quality of what we do. In today’s business environment that means finding great people, investing time and training in them and delivering our services in a way that proves the integrity and value of the Mazars name.

If we succeed in that, we will automatically achieve our second goal, which is to deliver our growth and profitability targets in a sustainable way. And the sustainability of our firm is key. As Partners in Mazars, we are here to ensure that we develop the firm in a way that is true to our values and pass it on to the next generation.

 

Q. What are your biggest challenges as Managing Partner?

I think about three challenges a lot. In the short term, how to ensure that we keep the balance between investing for the longer term and achieving short-term growth right. In both short and medium term, I am concerned that Mazars will adopt and adapt to changing technologies – to support our people in the best way but also to meet the changing needs of our clients. There is a lot of talk about what various professions and industries are doing in the areas of analytics and artificial intelligence, and my own view is that those who pick a wise path through some of the opportunities will do best in the long run. The other challenge that I am very focused on relates to the development of our professions – auditing, accounting, taxation advisors, all have been portrayed in a particular way in the media in the past decade. I would be the first to acknowledge that we have been justifiably challenged. At the same time, I am unshakeably convinced of the importance that those roles play in our society and economy – as stewards of a prudent approach to business and good business advisors. As a chartered accountant and practicing auditor myself, I am focused on ensuring that we as a firm do our part to make sure that we carry out our role to the highest business and ethical standards and with absolute integrity.

 

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I think the best way to keep people motivated is to be clear about what we are trying to get done together, to respect the views of others and to give them responsibility and authority to get the job done. Over the years I have enjoyed brilliant working relationships with many people from different backgrounds and generally I have found that motivation is not an issue.

 

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry?

I have mentioned two already – adapting to technology and ensuring that the professions maintain and deliver a sense of purpose relevant to today’s (and tomorrow’s) society. The other key challenge is attracting the best and brightest to the business. People today have an enormous range of opportunities, particularly in the new economy, and we need to make sure that we are engaging with and demonstrating to graduates that there is a fantastic opportunity for an important, well-remunerated and engaging career in what might be seen as a very traditional sector.

 

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Probably the single biggest trendsetter has been the introduction of mandatory audit rotation for Public Interest Entity (PIE) companies. This is certainly prompting more companies to change auditor but also has meant that there are significant restrictions on firms providing multiple services to a single client. This is good for competition in the sector and in the past year has seen a big increase in tendering activity. We are also beginning to see signs of key individuals and teams moving firms. I think that this will continue and we will see quite a significant shake up in the market. The second trend is the increased levels of regulation. This, of course, adds cost, but will also I believe be one of the factors that will lead to a consolidation of the market. Overall, I expect that the market will reshape over the next decade to comprise approximately eight or so very large firms, and a much larger number of boutique, highly-specialised smaller firms.

 

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

There isn’t any area where I think there is an oversupply of expertise. The financial recovery has driven a strong growth in the requirement for professionals across the board. To highlight particular areas, at present there is a demand for recently-qualified people in the accounting and auditing space. I also see very high demand for data privacy, security and IT consulting and assurance experts.

 

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We quickly developed a very successful financial advisory practice, incorporating insolvency, business restructuring and planning services. We also focused on developing specialist services to banks themselves, particularly in the assurance and regulatory space. We also worked extremely hard to support our SME and other clients to make sure they survived and ultimately prospered as the country weathered and emerged from a very difficult period.

 

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Our business is affected by anything that impacts our clients and the market in which we operate. Ireland is very exposed to the downside of Brexit and we are very focused on working with clients to ensure that they are adequately prepared for the challenges that Brexit will bring. We are beginning to feel the effects through clients in the financial services, agribusiness and hospitality sectors. So far, it has been a mixed effect – with some real positives in certain businesses, but significant challenges in others.

 

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success is the job done to the best of our ability and a happy client. I am driven by a desire to do things right and in the right way, and to create value for our clients, partners and teams. On a very basic level, I really like working with people and achieving things together and that is probably my main motivation over the years.

 

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Look after people, as best you can. Take enough time to think things through. And remember that good business is built on relationships and trust.

 

Q. What have been yourhighlights in business over the past year?

I have been really proud of what we have achieved as a team in a number of areas. We launched a really exciting service called Optimize designed to help entrepreneurial clients to build value in their businesses. It will ensure that the businesses are better positioned to assess challenges, cope with change, evaluate opportunities and make the right decisions. We won a number of really significant PIE audits, here in Ireland, which will also lead to work for Mazars around the world – and we did it by building multidisciplinary teams of experts. And our financial advisory and tax teams collaborated on a number of very significant advisory and corporate finance transactions. All great – but the really positive thing was that it demonstrated again the value of teams working together.

 

Q. What’s next for Mazars?

We have a number of goals for the coming year. Obviously, we would like to continue our growth as a firm, both organically and by buying in new talent, including by merger. We will continue to have a firm focus on ensuring the quality of our work for clients. On a more personal level, one of our more important goals is to redouble our work on the agenda of diversity within the firm in all of its aspects. We have done an amount of good work, but there’s much more we can do to make Mazars a place where any person can develop and use their talent to its fullest extent.

 

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We are on an ambitious development path to 2020 – which includes growing the business by almost 50%, modernising aspects of our firm and the way we work and ensuring that we continue to deliver the highest-quality service. I would like to think that we push all of those objectives forward over the next year.

 

This article first appeared in Business & Finance in April 2018. 

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