As part of Business News Wales’ ongoing series of interviews with some of Wales’ leading figures in business, we had the opportunity to interview Simon Jones. Simon is the senior partner for professional services firm KPMG’s Cardiff office.
Tell us about your business?
I’m the senior partner for KPMG in Cardiff. KPMG is a professional services firm, providing clients with audit, tax and advisory services. Globally we operate from over 120 countries, and we have 23 full service offices around the UK. We have approximately 80 staff based here in Cardiff.
We work with a huge range of clients, which include public sector bodies, privately-owned and private equity-backed businesses, through to AIM-listed and FTSE 100 companies across Wales and the rest of the UK.
While most people are very familiar with the traditional audit and tax services we provide, few are aware of the vast range of advisory services that we also provide, including deal advisory, management consultancy, risk consulting, restructuring, pensions and legal services. We also have dedicated teams of specialists focussed on IT advisory, cyber security, business transformation, and data and analytics, among other areas.
What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
Inevitably our challenges also represent our key opportunities, and in this regard, I believe our key challenge is to continue to evolve, or revolutionise, our products and services in response to the ever growing digital economy. We are already making great strides in this area, of which our alliance with McLaren Applied Technologies is just one example. Through this alliance we are embracing McLaren’s world-class skills in simulation, technology and predictive analytics to help our clients achieve game-changing breakthroughs in operational performance, whilst also using these skills to further develop and enhance our audit methodologies.
Another example is our fast growing Small Business Accounting platform, which helps entrepreneurs and small businesses as they seek to manage and grow their business.
Our market-leading platform takes care of all their accounting and bookkeeping needs, and at a fee which is lower than most high street accountants will charge. This is a great example of disruptive technology, through which we aim to be the leading provider of accountancy services to small businesses.
What do you wish you had known when you started out in business?
Obviously it would have been great if I knew all there was to know – but let’s face it, no one does. You learn through experience and through your successes and failures. I joined KPMG, fresh from university, some 30 years ago and had no real idea about how my career would develop, or what running a professional services business would entail. What I would say, however, is that you have to be dedicated and to work exceptionally hard. You have to be receptive to new ideas and to change, and be prepared to follow your instincts. It’s also important to do something you enjoy or something that motivates or challenges you.
What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?
In a service business such as ours, then undoubtedly a key quality is to be able to develop good relationships with your clients. People buy people, and human nature dictates that they are more likely to buy from someone they like or someone they have a good relationship with. So as well as being technically expert, it’s key that our people develop the softer skills needed to develop strong relationships with our clients. For long-lasting success it’s also key that you demonstrate honesty and integrity in everything you do.
What Brexit advice can you offer?
I don’t think anyone can over-estimate the potential impact of Brexit. In KPMG’s recent survey of UK CEOs, although the majority were confident about growth prospects overall in the short and medium term, over half of business leaders were of the view that the UK’s ability to do business would be hindered after leaving the EU, and the recent rhetoric of a “hard Brexit” will have done little to dampen those concerns.
What is undoubtedly true is that Brexit has introduced another level of uncertainty, which impacts confidence, and that naturally leads to a more cautionary approach by business. That said, the overriding response by companies to date, has been very much a “business as usual” approach – with no real idea how the Brexit negotiations will unfold, and hence what the real impact on business will be, how can businesses make concrete plans. While that is the case, we are still urging our clients to undertake some detailed contingency planning for Brexit covering a range of scenarios, to assess the potential impact on the workforce and their ability to do business post Brexit. For some this is already leading to an assessment of relocation options, or how to continue business operations in the EU in the event passporting rights are lost. On the positive side, I’d also urge companies to try to take advantage of any upsides Brexit might present – not least the fantastic opportunities for export following the massive devaluation in currency.
What are your top three tips for success?
Be confident, be bold, treat people as you would want them to treat you, and very importantly, have fun!
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
As a really passionate Welshman, I genuinely believe Wales is a great place to live and work and that’s fundamentally a result of its people and its incredible natural environment. We have a huge pool of hard working, skilled and talented labour, and with nine Universities across the country we have a growing number of graduates entering the world of work every year. As well as producing graduates, these universities are also developing fantastic links with businesses and are engaging in pioneering research projects that will help drive the economy of tomorrow.
What’s also an important strength is the ability to provide this talented work force, and the requisite bricks and mortar, at a very competitive cost compared to other parts of the UK and indeed the EU.
What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
Clearly with the backdrop of a looming Brexit, we must do everything we possibly can if we are to retain our existing inward investment and win our fair share of future inward investment. While the recent investments by Aston Martin and TVR, among others, demonstrate the attractiveness of Wales as a place to invest, we need to continue selling our story if these are to be replicated in the coming years.
In this regard, the public sector clearly has a big part to play, and I would like to see all the various public sector bodies working together to achieve a common aim. In addition to providing financial support where appropriate, it’s clear that investment in infrastructure is also going to be key to driving the economy and attracting further inward investment, and I see the recently published Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan as a firm step in the right direction. It is vital that these investment plans, together with the M4 relief road and the much heralded City Deals in the Cardiff Capital Region and Swansea, are followed through and become a reality, thereby providing a much needed stimulus and creating the conditions for sustainable growth in the medium and longer term.