Ronan Murphy Senior Partner, PwC Talks about the Challenges of Change
After more than ten years of sustained growth, most economists are predicting a slowdown in 2008. That presents new challenges for Irish business. Accountancy Ireland asked Ronan Murphy, recently elected Senior Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, about what this will mean for his firm and clients in the coming year.
Tell me a bit about your role as senior partner.
The role of senior partner has a lot of aspects. Firstly, there is the management of the firm, then there is the leadership aspect and thirdly, and probably most importantly, there is the client aspect. To explain each of those; on the management side you really are running a very big business. We have 91 partners and over 2,100 people in the Republic of Ireland and the scale of operations requires a full time management team. Part of the senior partner’s role is to give direction to the various service lines and also the support areas, such as HR, Finance, IT. The senior partner also provides strategic direction to our client-facing business – our audit practice, our tax practice and our advisory practice.
Prior to being appointed senior partner, you were head of Audit and Assurance which would have involved a lot of interaction with clients. Do you have any time for clients in your new role?
My job has changed somewhat in terms of clients. Now it is more about dealing with clients from a relationship perspective – such as meeting with the chairmen of audit committees, the chief executives, the members of the board, and the chief financial officers of our clients to really make sure that they’re satisfied with the service we are providing and with the way in which we are interacting with them.
Do you have much interaction internationally?
We have a huge amount. Our client base is very international and we have a lot of what we call ‘referred in work’ – where we work with subsidiaries of international companies.
Also, many of our Irish clients have operations overseas so we deal with PwC firms in other countries.
What do you think are the key business challenges in the next few years?
I think we have been very fortunate over the last ten years with the growth we have seen in the economy. It has given the country a huge boost. We have had great opportunities for people coming into the work force. What we are seeing at the moment is that things are changing. Our own economic study is predicting a growth rate for the current year of 5% and is forecasting a growth rate for 2008 of 4%. That would be consistent with the other economic reports coming through now. So there is a definite slow down and that means that companies will have to become sharper in the areas of cost control, focusing on the core business and making sure that they retain the best people.
The challenges are slightly different from before when there were higher growth levels. Then it was about getting as many people as you could. Now everything will become more focused.
Do you think businesses that you deal with are responding well to these challenges?
I think they are. Most clients that I have spoken with over the last 6/9 months are very alert to the changing environment. Our challenge is to help them through this and to be able to advise them how to focus more on cost control, process improvement, and on retention of their best people. I believe we are well positioned to do that.
What will the change in emphasis mean for your own firm?
Internally we have redirected some of our experienced resources because of these changes and in response to demand from our clients. For example, a number of our people have now been re-trained and are specialising in areas like process improvement and cost control, which is where the demand for the services is at present.
Which service areas do you expect to grow during your term as senior partner?
I believe that areas like audit and tax compliance work will grow at moderate levels in terms of demand over the period but I expect to see a lot of growth in process improvement, in transaction services, in tax advisory services, and in M&A activity.
Business and wealth services are also likely to grow, with indigenous Irish companies that have done well over the last ten to fifteen years looking to see where they can invest going forward.
You made the news recently when you moved to a new state of the art facility in Spencer Dock. It was the biggest move in Ireland in one weekend. So, you’re in the record books, are you?
We are! We moved over the Easter weekend this year. We had been planning it for a number of years because we were spread across three buildings in the city. We felt that it was desirable both from the client perspective and for our own people to be in one building. We have achieved that and moved into a state of the art premises that is almost a quarter of a million square feet. It was the biggest move in Ireland in the 12-month period. It involved a lot of planning but it worked very well and the reaction from our clients and our people has been very positive.
Would you say that Spencer Dock is a reflection of the economic growth in Ireland and of Dublin in particular?
Indeed it is. When you are in our premises and you look around and see the number of cranes in the area at the moment you can visualize what it is going to be like in 4 to 5 years’ time. It will be spectacular once it is built out all the way from the Customs House down to The Point. It will certainly be a showcase for the country, reflecting a modern city in a modern Ireland.
Finally, what are your hopes for your term as Senior Partner?
What I’d like to do is to ensure we maintain our current position as number one in the Irish market place. My challenge is to make sure that our clients continue to have confidence in us, continue to appoint us to carry out work and that we retain our position as a great place for our clients to do business and for our people to work.
Accountancy Ireland December 2007 Vol.39 No.6