Kevin Ellis transcript

Moderator: In recent annual reports, there's been a lot of talk about the impact of unprecedented events. How have the past twelve months measured up? 

Kevin Ellis: Yes, no. It has been chaotic. Three Prime Ministers, four Chancellors, significant industrial action, energy price inflation, ongoing war in Ukraine. There have been a huge number of chaotic factors that have pressurised our clients and our people. Against that backdrop, we've seen significant growth. But across our alliance, we've seen significantly higher growth. And I think that comes down to our unrivalled focus on quality, on training and on our people. We've got 25, 000 people now in the UK. And another 5,000 contractors. And therefore retaining the quality people and attracting more people to make sure that we can deliver for our clients in these challenging times, is really what is driving our success. 

Moderator: How did the firm see such strong performance in light of such difficult circumstances? 

Kevin Ellis: I think we track back to January this year. Every January we do a global CEO Survey. And the messages coming out of it this year were really clear. They were quite stark really. That 40% of global CEOs did not think that their business model would be relevant in the next decade. And that drives significant transformation. It drives significant change. And again, for a business like ours, we realised a few years ago that this wave of change and disruption was coming. And we knew we had to invest far more in our business to ensure we were able to meet the demands of our clients, as they face that challenge, change and transformation. We needed to be, effectively as a business, the disruptor, not the disrupted. And that I think has really driven, effectively, our success over the last year. And again, it's all about, as a business like ours, kind of, holding your nerve. Looking for the medium and long term, rather than the short term, but making sure that you remain relevant, whatever wave of disruption and change is coming. 

Moderator: You've spoken about investment. What form did that take over the past year? 

Kevin Ellis: I think that investment I think of straight away when asked that question is Harvey. You know, we know that in every conversation, be it with the clients, with potential recruits or existing staff members, the conversation goes to AI very quickly. So we effectively invested in an exclusive relationship with Harvey. We love their ethos. We love their people. And how they can work with us, to, kind of, take our learning forward and our operating model. And that's really one of the most exciting things for us as a business. You know, lifelong learning isn't just a statement. It's a commitment for a business like ours. And if you want to be a magnet for talent, you've got to show potential recruits and existing recruits that this is a place that they can learn and retain their relevance in a fast-changing world. 

Moderator: As well as developing the skills of our people currently here, you've also talked a lot about the importance of increasing access to working at PwC. What progress has the firm made in this area? 

Kevin Ellis: Well this is something I see as being hugely important for us as a business. It drives the economic performance, because our clients want their advisors to sound like them, to look like them, to come from similar backgrounds. And therefore, I think the starter point for me is that we need to make sure we're diverse to be effective as a business, as well as societal benefits too. Probably the biggest change this year has been removing the 2:1. That's no longer a prerequisite to join our firm, and that was an important message in terms of that widening the gate. And that sits alongside our hugely successful 'Flying Start' programmes and apprenticeship programmes. And again, when I talk to people already here about their backgrounds, they now understand that. So five or six years ago, less than 20% of people would actually declare their economic backgrounds. Now it's over 80%, because everyone understands that for a successful business, you have to be able to bring the best of yourself to work, every day. 

Moderator: What have been the biggest challenges that the firm has faced over the past year and, how have they changed over your time as Senior Partner? 

Kevin Ellis: I think the biggest challenge is around reputation. You know, it’s about having the right culture, but also the right governance to deal with challenges when they come along and say the culture doesn't work. We've had a challenge internationally, and again when there's an ethical failure, you need to act decisively and with high quality. But also ensure that you've got the right governance for the future, to restabilise and take it forward. And I think that is probably the biggest challenge we face, and any organisation faces at the moment. One of the biggest challenges has been the progression of the audit debate. And through that open and honest dialogue over a period of time, we're now looking forward with that debate in a positive way. I think the challenge with culture is that it's not static. It's always constantly evolving and changing. And therefore, the need to get our people back in the office so that they can be inspired but also learn from each other and evolve that culture. I think that gives people the opportunity to progress but also as an organisation, it gives our culture the opportunity to progress and remain relevant. 

Moderator: This is your eighth year running the UK firm and it'll be your last annual report. How do you think the business is set for the future? 

Kevin Ellis: Next year we're 175 years old. We're a hugely resilient business. And we're strategically important to the whole UK economy. Our turnover is over £5 billion. We contribute over £1.5 billion in taxes. Probably more important than that, looking at our client base, a significant number of our clients work with us to make foreign direct investments into the UK, contributing to jobs and taxes. And therefore, as a result, we are really important to the wider UK economy and the growth story. 

Moderator: As such a large employer, what's your biggest takeaway from your time here? 

Kevin Ellis: I think our opportunity to be a multi-disciplinary firm. When I speak to new joiners, they don't want necessarily to join Audit, Tax, Deals, Consulting, Risk, they want to join PwC and get that business experience. They also want a portfolio career. And again we can offer that, because where they might join the firm might not be where they work in the future and they might move around as the world changes or their opportunities or skills or talents take them in different directions. So again, being the umbrella as a multi-disciplinary firm I think makes us more attractive to talent. At the same time, I do accept that people will want to use as a stepping stone to other things as well. But that's a positive. We've got over 70,000 alumni that are still in touch with us. And that again, and they always talk very positively about their experience with the firm and the stepping stone or the kind of social mobility escalator that we provided to them. So I think that's positive too. But again, when you look back on the business and how the business world is changing, I think being a multi-disciplinary firm gives us economic resilience because it has a portfolio of businesses moving at different speeds, depending on different economic circumstances. But also it's being that magnet for talent. Somewhere where people can come, they can learn, they can develop. And their opportunities are increased by it. 

Moderator: Kevin, thank you very much for your time today.

Kevin Ellis: Thank you. 

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