Treat graduates like royalty and build a spy network

Ruby Parmar heads up PwC’s UK private business practice. She began her career with the Inland Revenue in 1986. After two years she joined BDO, where she remained for 12 years. In 2000 she moved to PwC as senior manager; within four years she was a director, and within five a partner.

Here she gives her advice on how to build for long-term success…

What actions are you taking today to ensure that in ten years’ time, you and your firm are more successful than you are now?

It’s a testing question and one that the team and I at PwC spend a lot of time thinking about.

Here are my tips for long-term growth.

1) Support start-ups now, get payback later

It’s a fact that the owners of today’s fledgling businesses are the fast-growth entrepreneurial big hitters of tomorrow. Not only that, they are also friends of future stars.

I often meet up with owners of start-ups and introduce them to people who can help them on their journey. I catch up with them every six months or so, but it’s not a fee-paying relationship. In effect, what I’m saying to them is: you don’t need me yet but we know people who can help you at this stage of your growth.

By doing this I start to develop strong relationships and two or three years later when they do need PwC, they get in touch because we’ve been supporting them.

I will always see people, even if it’s to say you don’t need us. Yet.

2) Involve graduates in business development

Have you ever met an undergraduate who didn’t have great social skills? Most have lots of mates and they’ve been in groups, bands and clubs. They know how to socialise and network.

What happens when they join a professional services organisation? Exams! Study! Learn this! Keep your head down. We teach them to forget about their networking skills and when they come out the other side three years later, we suddenly say: “What about your network? How are you going to win new clients?” Not surprisingly, they are on the backfoot.

At PwC we learned this a few years ago, and now our new graduates get involved in a scheme we call Five & Five. During their induction we ask them to choose five people they know – probably friends – and follow their progress for the next five years. We check in with the graduates every now and again to ask what their five contacts are doing? Which companies are they with? We challenge the graduates to keep the connections going and to find opportunities for their five contacts and vice versa.

3) Utilise the intelligence of your entire firm (or create a spy network!)

At PwC we have launched a programme called On(e) Sell. The idea behind it is that if you’re out and about and hear something potentially interesting to the business, you can share it with the entire firm.

For example, during a recent conversation a contact started chatting about a project that a business was launching in Africa. With On(e) Sell I was able to go onto the online system and log the information. The On(e) Sell team can then pick that up and decide whether the information needs acting upon or whether it presents any opportunities.

On(e) Sell is really for our graduates who pick up something they’ve read in a blog or newspaper, or a snippet of conversation they’ve overheard. If they log important information they can win up to £10,000 depending on how far it takes us.

This system means everyone at the company can be involved in business development. It recognises that we all hear and see things and if we don’t make connections early on, we lose out.

4) Consider the wider business landscape

Finally, I want to talk about the future of the industry.

With the changing regulatory environment, including mandatory firm rotation for auditors, it means there is no certainty anymore that the client you’ve had for 20 years will still be your client in the future. As a result, the art of building and sustaining relationships is becoming even more critical.

Has mandatory firm rotation moved to the private business space yet? No, but it will in some guise. Many large private businesses have the same ideas of corporate governance as the FTSE 100: they want the same levels of governance, so they may well want to follow the same rotation strategies. That means knowing your wider market inside out, whether they are clients are not, is paramount.

Start now…

Planning for long-term growth is a challenge, but it’s a challenge we must all embrace. How we behave today will leave its mark a decade down the line. So let’s start building those relationships and involving our graduates right now.