Mohamed Kande in line to become PwC global chair

13 November 2023 6 min. read
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Mohamed Kande is set to be confirmed as PwC’s next global chair. The historic appointment is the first time the Big Four firm’s global entity has had a Black leader, as well as the first time the traditionally audit-led company has been presided over by a consulting partner.

Born and raised in the West African country of Côte d'Ivoire, Mohamed Kande was raised by with a mother who was half Lebanese, and a family that was part Catholic, part Muslim. As he sought to continue his education, he moved to France on his own, at the age of 16. The country was “not always an inclusive place” in the 1980s, and Kande endured “encounters with far-right extremists and random ID checks for Black and Brown people” during his time there.

The world only knows this story because of the please of his daughter, though, who urged him to write about the impacts his race had had on his career in professional services. Published in 2021, the resulting 1,000-word essay on LinkedIn foregrounded many of the experiences and talents that would later take Kande to the very top of one of the world’s largest accounting and consulting brands – as well as the barriers which prevent many other people from realising such an ascent.

Mohamed Kande in line to become PwC global chair

“I am a Black man. I am an immigrant. I speak English with a French accent. And my name is Mohamed,” Kande wrote in 2021. “Given these factors, success – or even a presence – in corporate America was far from preordained, to say the least.”

Early challenges

After going through graduate school in Montreal, Kande found his way to the US, taking a job at Motorola, and supporting the roll out new wireless networks around the world. At the time he found it difficult to adjust to working in English – writing that in early meetings “I comprehended about half of what was being said”. Some PwC leaders still admit that they do not understand his French accent without concentrating.

These were not the only issues which Kande had to contend with, though. Beyond the language barrier, the systemic legacy of racism in Western society also led to some difficult encounters – including one colleague at a Fortune 500 company, who revealed Kande was the first Black person she had ever spoken to. According to Kande, however, his diverse background was a strength, helping him understand the benefits of keeping an open mind when solving a problem.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Nicki Wakefield, clients and markets leader in PwC’s global advisory business backed this up. Wakefield explained that Kande “does not come with a pre-determined view like people who come from a single country or single culture”. Instead, he looks to looks to inform himself on as many points of view on a situation, and act according to the bigger picture he has built – as “a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all.”

It may have been this determination to accommodate other points of view that put him off of writing about his own experiences initially. But in the time since he posted his story, Kande’s essay has had a powerful effect inside PwC, according to his colleagues, and shown that there is more than one route to the top with the firm.

Paul Terrington, European head of consulting, interviewed Kande about the essay for an internal video, and found that the piece had “knocked down misperceptions about who can be a leader” at the Big Four firm – not just because of Kande’s cultural background, but also because he had not spent his whole career at PwC. Indeed, he only arrived with the company by way of a merger in 2011 – with PwC acquiring PRTM, a supply chain consultancy where he was then serving a managing partner for Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.

The move turned out to be excellent business for PwC – which has regularly picked up advisory work relating to supply chain chaos of the following decade. Kande was a key component in pushing that forward, encouraging PwC to build the service in anticipation of disruption to come – particularly pointing to Chris Miller’s ‘Chip War’ as essential reading to understand mounting geopolitical tensions between the US and China within the global supply chain – and even flying colleagues to Samsung’s facilities in South Korea to discuss the semiconductor industry.

Next in line

This path led Kande to become co-head of PwC’s US consulting practice, and eventually assume the role of PwC’s global advisory leader. Even as he forged ahead with his career at PwC, however, Kande found himself facing another apparent barrier. Along with Big Four rivals Deloitte, EY, and KPMG, PwC has historically seen accounting as its bread and butter. As such, its leaders have traditionally come from within the audit wing, rather than advisory. So, if he wanted to become the firm’s US senior partner, there was a requirement for Kande to pass a US CPA exam, granting him a professional license as an accountant.

In 2022, after hundreds of hours of study, Kande sat the exam and passed. However, with PwC suddenly having to change tack in the wake of a series of infamous accounting and tax scandals, a new job suddenly presented itself to Kande, that might previously have come as a surprise to the wider firm.

With PwC’s role of global chair coming up for grabs, as Bob Moritz’s tenure expires in June 2024, the firm’s incumbent US Senior Partner Tim Ryan had been widely seen as favourite to succeed him. But when he withdrew from the race earlier in 2023, PwC plumped for a fresh approach – and selected Kande for the role instead – leapfrogging the role he actually needed his CPA for.

His selection, which must still be ratified by local member firms, but when Kande formally takes office in July 2024, it will be a breakthrough moment for the industry on two fronts, further showing that professionals outside the normative backgrounds of professional services firms leaders can still rise to the top. As chair of PwC, Kande will become the first global leader of a Big Four firm to be drawn from the consulting wing of the business, instead of audit or tax – and he will also be the first Black leader of the quartet.

Looking ahead, the constant adaptability Kande has already displayed will be important, as he carves a path forward for PwC. PwC’s federated structure means he cannot simply order national operations how to act, so as global chair of the network, he will need to work as a businessman and diplomat, balancing the interests of local branches in 152 countries. Finding a way to repair the damage of the company’s recent tax scandal in Australia, and respond to regulatory changes, while also attend to the need to compete harder in the technology market – as Deloitte, Accenture and others invest heavily in an AI arms-race – will be quite a balancing act, but his peers believe he is the right man for the job.

Terrington confirmed to the Financial Times, “I’m always impressed when people invest in themselves, even as experienced leaders. I expect it will be an asset to him in the role.”