Phil Cotton, South Chairman at KPMG

Phil Cotton, South Chairman at KPMG, tells us about the growing positivity in financial services, the diversity and vibrance of the South West economy and his holiday boat races.

Hello Phil, tell us about the KPMG South Region and your role as Chairman

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The KPMG South Region covers Bristol, Cardiff, Plymouth, Reading and Southampton offices and comprises around 1,000 members of staff. We are one of the largest professional services firms in the region, serving mid-sized companies and blue chip corporates, together with a growing base of not-for-profit and public sector organisations. We provide audit, tax, pensions, corporate finance and transaction services along with an increasingly popular consultancy offering. 

I’m senior partner for the KPMG Bristol office and in charge of operations here. The role is high-profile and public facing: my job is to promote KPMG wherever possible in the regional business community to make sure that we are being heard and winning work. 

How is the current economic climate impacting on your activities?

For us, the first turnaround point was the first quarter of 2013, bringing an end to five years of challenging times. Things are looking much more confident now and in the year to date we have posted double digit growth in several departments. Overall there is an increase in growth across the board. The corporate finance market is increasingly positive. Interest rates are low, investors have access to cash, and the confidence to invest it, and deal volumes are up. There is a large amount of churn in audit due to regulatory changes. 

What particular challenges are you facing over the next 12 months?

The big challenge is how to effectively manage our growth strategy. We need to expand our business carefully and manage our costs so overheads do not stifle growth. This is especially true for recruitment, where we need to focus on getting the right kind of people into the business and not get carried away with volume. It’s a balancing act to make sure capacity matches demand. 

Do you think that the government is doing enough to support your business?

As one of the big four firms, I don’t think we expected any help from the government! We have the capability to take care of ourselves and grow and manage our own business.

What is your view on the South West business scene?

The South West economy is diverse and vibrant. There is lots going on and many positive signs, encouraged by the good work of the West of England LEP, Business West and the Regional Growth Fund. In the last few years, the South West has genuinely established itself as a good place to do business and the rest of the country is taking notice. We have exceptional aerospace, high-tech and creative industries and I believe we are on the crest of a wave right now.

Do you have any Non-Executive Directorships? If so, what have you learned from the experience?

My options for Non-Executive roles are limited because of possible conflicts of interest. Most executives in my profession take charity roles, which is exactly what I have done. I’m on the board of Business in the Community and do a lot of work with the Prince’s Trust.

Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?

Firstly, make the time to stand back and reflect on your strategic plans. What are you trying to achieve? It’s very easy to get caught up in the operational side of things and get stuck fire-fighting. Secondly, don’t be afraid to hire people better than you. A business needs a highly talented senior management team to succeed. I have seen directors reluctant to hire the best candidates because they feel threatened. It’s your duty as a director to put the welfare of the business first. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy sailing and racing boats, which I do whenever I have the time. I also enjoy skiing, cycling and socialising.

Who is your hero/personal inspiration?

I’m inspired by people who can overcome extreme adversity to make a successful life. My economics teacher in school was born in poverty, raised in orphanages, was the first black man to play rugby for Britain, founded his own successful business and then became a great teacher. He was an unconventional and inspiring teacher who kindled my interest in economics and I wouldn’t be in my current position without him. His name was Cec Thompson. He sadly died recently, but you can learn more about him in his autobiography ‘Born on the Wrong Side of the Tracks’. 

What is on your I-Pod and what are you reading right now?

I’m probably the last person in the world to discover Spotify, so I’m having a good time exploring it. I enjoy rock music from the 80s, so artists like The Jam, The Police and Eric Clapton. My favourite album is Graceland by Paul Simon. I generally only have time to read while on holiday and I’m currently working my way through my John Le Carre collection again.

What has been your experience of working with our company?

Moon Consulting have an impressive network and run high profile events in the business community which I have attended and enjoyed.