In Conversation with
Stephen Tjoa
People Performance & Culture
KPMG Advisory LLP

What is one trait you look for in an interview candidate?

Apart from a list of behavioural skills and competencies required of KPMG professionals, the one trait that forms the basis of everything else is a positive mindset and attitude. To me, there are many capabilities which are innate, learnt or developed, but without the right attitude, the other attributes would simply be meaningless. A positive attitude typically reflects a person’s willingness to learn, openness to try different things and a constructive mindset when faced with difficult challenges.

How can employees make a lasting impression on you at work?

An employee can make a lasting impression by contributing positively to problem-solving. There are usually two kinds of people at work when they are confronted by problems: those who react to problems, but provide nothing constructive to the “solutioning” process; and those who step back, analyse the problem, present various ideas and options, and help the team to arrive at certain assumptions which have been systematically thought through. The latter is obviously the better of the two. On the flip side, employees who make the least positive impressions are those who react emotionally to a situation, blame everyone else for the problem, and those who add to the complexity by making negative statements and influencing others with his or her negativity

What is the biggest business challenge you see in your industry now?

In my view, one of the biggest business challenges has not changed dramatically over the years. This challenge remains our ability to attract, develop and retain our most talented people. As my industry relies heavily on intellectual capital, the ability to service our clients is dependent on the quality of people we have in our firm. In more specific terms, it is about how capable we are in delivering our professional service offerings, delighting our customers and inspiring confidence in the extremely competitive marketplace. These would include providing deep sector knowledge and guidance, possessing the necessary client relationship skills and working effectively in teams across service lines and geographies. Our competitive advantage is about having the right people as that would significantly impact our goal of being the preferred supplier of professional and consultancy services.

Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?

I foresee that in five years, my focus will remain on our people and talent agenda, but I would certainly like to see further innovations in our ability to engage with our people and build a successful leadership pipeline to secure the firm’s future as a preferred employer and supplier. Most importantly, I would like to leave behind a legacy of progressive talent practices which will significantly impact our people. Once this is achieved, I believe the future will be in the capable hands of leaders who will bring our business ambitions to even greater levels of success, provide the best career opportunities for our people and those who will continue to positively contribute to the communities we touch.

What is your definition of a lifelong learner?

A lifelong learner is someone who embraces the philosophy of continuous learning. It does not matter if it benefi ts his or her professional or personal life. Lifelong learners are those who embrace change and are willing to open their minds to knowledge or conventions which are often outside their comfort levels. As we age, we risk forming fixed assumptions about the world.  We stick to old conventions because they are tried and proven, and avoid the road less travelled. Finally, we pass down prescriptive advice on many things because we embrace familiarity and believe we know it all. The reality is that knowledge is compounding at such an amazing rate due to technological advances in networking and connectivity that it is virtually impossible to exhaust your learning opportunities. I believe that lifelong learning will no longer be a choice but a matter of survival – especially if we aim to be on this earth for a long, long time.