Lessons on Leadership: In Conversation with Richard Collier-Keywood, Global Vice-Chairman of PwC

Ashoka’s Meera Patel met with Richard Collier-Keywood, Global Vice Chairman of PwC to discuss leadership in a changing world and how to build purpose and values in organisations.

Meera Patel (MP): PwC’s mission is quoted as ‘to build trust in society and solve important problems’. I just wanted to start by asking you what it means to build trust?

Richard Collier-Keywood (RCK): I think if you look back into our history, we started by being the essential link in the capital markets between the people who were investing money and the places where that money was invested. We provided a link of assurance between the investors and  the people managing companies and our work confirmed that the accounts produced at the end of the year were a fair representation of the business result and return on the money that had been invested. that was our starting point, but over the years, we’ve found that people trust us to bring an independent view and an independent voice in many different ways and with many different institutions of society, and we have come to adopt this as our purpose.

MP: It’s very clear that purpose is at the heart of what you’re doing in PWC, but where does that come from?

RCK: I think it comes from the leadership of PwC, from thinking about our relevance to society today and talking about that with our different stakeholders from our clients to our employees and people that work with us.

MP: And how do we build and grow leaders with a sense of purpose at the core of what they do?

 RCK: I think it first of all comes down to culture. It’s crucial for organisations to have the right culture, and culture is a tremendously unifying force. Culture I think starts at the top of an organisation,  it starts with the values and ambition of the people running the organisation. Culture is the thing that binds an organisation together. It provides the framework for how people should behave in that organisation, and I think that if you have a culture that has very clearly defined values of integrity and very clearly defined behavioural aspects to it, it makes it clear what’s expected of people who work within that business. When people are exposed to that culture, they see leaders and they are able to develop  themselves based on learnings from those leaders. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they become the same as those leaders, because that wouldn’t be right, but it means that they have the ability to experience different facets of leadership within a framework that works.

MP: I guess another way of thinking about leaders is people who mediate the relationship between inside and outside the organisation. How do you think a relationship with the public changes an understanding of purpose, or shapes the sense of values or culture?

RCK: A lot has changed over the last five years with the advent of social media. I’m not clear today that there is an inside and an outside to an organisation. In other words, I think that if organisations today are not totally transparent, there’s a good chance that social media forces them to be transparent. So, as a leader of an organisation, you strive for that transparency because that means you’re the same thing to the people who work with you, as you are to your clients, as you are to the whole outside world, to regulators, to governments. I think that would be my starting point: there is no difference today between inside and outside an organisation. Going back to your point on leadership I suppose, leaders have to be capable of being the same facing inside the organisation as facing outside the organisation. You can’t be one person on day one and then another person on day two when you’re doing different work.

MP: Is this a new form of leadership?

RCK: I’m not sure if it is a new form of leadership to be honest, I think it’s an evolution. One of the big changes that you see in corporate Britain in terms of leadership is an appreciation by leaders more and more over the last few years that they’ve got a variety of stakeholders to take account of, and it’s not just shareholders. So if you go back 15 or maybe 20 years, the only focus in corporate Britain was the shareholder, to make money for the shareholder. Shareholder value was the buzzword. You know today actually, people are talking about multiplicity of stakeholders, including society as a whole, including government, including, obviously clients, including employees. So leaders have had to evolve their style over a period of time to actually ensure that they deliver to all sets of stakeholders, not just to one single set. Leadership has got more complex over that period of time. It needs to be rebalanced to include broader obligations that business has in society.

This interview has been condensed and edited.