Q&A with KPMG UK executive committee member Dan Thomas

09 September 2021 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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Dan Thomas is the Head of Corporates and a member of KPMG UK’s Executive Committee. In discussion with Cat Callen from RDW, Thomas discusses his leadership style, areas of opportunity he sees at clients and how his team is adapting to the virtual working trend.

Now we are recovering post Covid-19, where are the biggest opportunities for growth in your business?

Many of our clients are in transformation mode – a cliched expression maybe… but it is true – whether it is digitally transforming their relationship with customers, repatriating and optimising increasingly disrupted post-Brexit supply chains, reimagining the future of workplace or decarbonising toward net zero – our clients are busy reinventing themselves in response to the opportunities and threats a post-pandemic world presents.

Personally speaking, I can’t remember a period of such intense change across virtually all of our clients' businesses.

Dan Thomas, Head of Corporates, KPMG

What one behaviour do you always look for when recruiting or developing people?

I tend to hire on attitude far more than skills (they can be taught!) – two elements in particular: commercial curiosity and bravery.  To be successful in our industry you really need to enjoy constantly questioning how our clients' businesses really operate and how can they be improved and combine this with a fearlessness in testing these thoughts with the most senior clients who will benefit from your ideas …when these two behaviours align, the job feels more like a vocation!

Tell us about your leadership style?

I am fortunate enough to be entrusted to ‘lead the leaders’ which demands a specific set of skills that are quite different to ‘leading the managers.’ I rely on an ‘eyes on, hands off’ approach and using data to analyse the state of each individual business – it sets you free! In such a client-centric world, we have to be highly present and devoted to our clients, which means placing a premium on time spent in the market over internal time… and I expect my leadership team to do this too.

I do my best to lead by example – you can never expect your team to do anything that you yourself are not already trying. We don’t need to succeed at everything we do but we do need to practice what we preach – trying (and learning) is more important than succeeding.

Who in business has had the biggest effect on how you lead? 

I have been extremely lucky to work with so many amazing people throughout my career, so this is a really tough question. I would have to say Michael Dell – I loved his authenticity, his passion for customers and the simplicity of his strategy, combined with the singlemindedness of its execution.

How do you sustain the resilience, drive and energy required to drive your business forward?

This is an easier one. Resilience comes from a combination of not taking yourself or the job too seriously (“the work will be there long after you’re gone!”) and physical exercise. It is so important to take down time – my best ideas and my best restorative periods rarely come from sitting at a screen!

Drive comes from striving to improve our clients' businesses – to build back better and greener.  Energy comes from seeing the people around you grow – made possible by the fact your clients love what you do, which in itself drives organisational growth – a virtuous circle. Everyone has stuff going in their lives which is tough – it is so important to put the job into perspective, especially right now.

How would you describe the culture of your immediate team?

We operate in a classic matrix structure (sectors and functions) – so our culture is, by necessity, supportive and collegiate. It can be too tactical at times but I think this is a function of operating in such a fast-moving, demanding and competitive market. We try hard to function as a ‘high support: high challenge’ team and whilst we don’t always succeed in confronting the elephants in the room, more often than not this spirit pervades our team meetings.

We do need to have a bit more fun though, something which I need to work harder at inculcating.

How has this changed since more flexible working?

Without doubt, virtual working has made the art and indeed the science of leadership a) very different and b) much harder. Those random meetings that used to happen now have to be engineered. One-to-ones take on even more significance than before and I need to be much more intentional with the things I say and do, as so much inference through body language has been lost…never my strongest trait!

And on a cheesy note… what’s your motivational morning song?!

I only really listen to EDM music, given my DJ’ing roots, so my motivational song won’t be known by many, nor will it be universally popular!  Land of the Living by Kristine W (Dekkard’s Planet Vocal Edit)…well, you did ask!!

About Dan Thomas
Dan Thomas is the Head of Corporates and a member of KPMG UK’s Executive Committee. He advises boards on their strategic response to disruptive forces on their business and is passionate about helping clients reinvent themselves to survive and then thrive in a constantly disrupted world.

Thomas qualified as a chartered accountant with KPMG before leaving the firm and spending 11 years working with Dell, Proudfoot Consulting and Huntswood in a series of leadership roles. He returned to KPMG in 2010 to lead the Banking business and take on the role of Global Lead Partner for RBS (now NatWest), amongst other clients.

About Cat Callen
Cat Callen is an Associate Partner at RDW, a specialist executive search and interim management firm focused on the advisory market. Callen is based in the firm’s London office and is passionate about diversity and inclusivity within her marketplace and, in particular, women in leadership.

Earlier instalments of the series with RDW:
Q&A with Jillian Moore, Avanade's Global Advisory leader
Benoit Laclau, UK&I Managing Partner of EY Consulting
RSM's CEO Jean Stephens on diversity and inclusion