By Tom Hanlon
Asking for a show of hands, Rob Arning, vice chair of market development for KPMG, found that he was speaking to primarily seniors at a recent Department of Accountancy Lyceum. The information and advice he shared with them was invaluable as they contemplate career choices.
“Today’s environment is highly competitive,” he said. “Wherever you choose to work, you’ll find a tremendous amount of competition. You have to be at the top of your game. After all, if it’s a good job, someone else wants it as well. So you have to ask yourself, ‘What am I bringing to the table? Am I bringing something valuable?’ “
Arning also spoke to four other issues surrounding working in today’s environment:
- Uncertain economic conditions. “The economy is pretty good right now, but we’re not in a boom. There’s still some uncertainty out there.”
- Innovation. “The world is so innovative. The solutions being developed are mind-numbing. You have to bring a willingness to suggest new ideas. Employers want better, faster, smarter.”
- Operating globally. “What are you going to bring to your employer that shows you know what global means? Does my skill set look like someone who’s going to be relevant in a global economy?”
- Regulatory and political influences. “The landscape here is radically different from five to ten years ago. There will be more regulatory and political influences in the coming years. You need to understand and appreciate the role of regulators, and show your employer that you are someone who ‘gets it.’ “
“These four buckets,” Arning said, “create tremendous opportunity for you. But you have to be smart about it, think about where you want to be, and be in control of yourself. We’re not in a boom, but there is opportunity.”
Five greatest challenges of companies
Citing the Conference Board CEO Challenge 2013 report, Arning also shared with the students the greatest challenges companies face. In order of importance, he said, those challenges are:
- Human capital. “CEOs are focused on the people equation. They want to get better people and hang onto them longer. They deliberate on who they choose and how they invest in their people. This is the top priority today.”
- Operational excellence. “It doesn’t matter if you make widgets, bank loans, or provide health care. You need to do it better. You have to run your place better, faster, smarter.” • Innovation. “Nobody wants to be caught as the second or third firm to come up with a good idea. You want to be first, or a close second as you learn from somebody. Everyone wants innovation.”
- Customer relationships. “Companies want people who know how to take care of a customer. The people who deliver good customer service are very successful. The people who don’t get pushed aside. The customer is always right. Do you serve and treat people the way you want to be treated?”
- Global political and economic risk. Arning noted that companies are observant of both political and economic risks, and weigh the benefits of entering into such situations against the risks involved.
He also named industries and sectors that are hot right now, including financial services, energy, healthcare, government and infrastructure, diversified industrials, high-growth emerging markets, and private equity. “Even if you’re not sure where you want to work,” he said, “the riptides will pull you in. The question is, where do you want to be, where do you want to plant your feet and get started?”
Similarly, Arning named hot services and solutions: cloud computing, IT transformation, regulatory change, risk management (“Everyone is focused on risk”), data and analysis, the supply chain, and process improvement.
Keys to success
Arning told the students what it takes to be successful in today’s environment. Of prime importance, he said, are building relationships, having a good attitude, exuding energy, and communicating well. These areas, along with skills, presence, grades, and experience, work together to build a person’s brand.
“What’s your attitude?” he said. “Are you the kind of person who, when you walk into a room, people are happy? Your energy is huge. Do you light up the room and make people around you feel good? If so, it’s going to really move you in business.
“We all prefer to work with people we know, like, and trust. When you can choose between two individuals or two companies, you want to be with the people you like. Business is the same. You can control the relationship piece of this.”
Arning told the students to work relationships to be connected in the business world. “Proactively invest in people,” he said. “This doesn’t just happen. Make an effort. Just like you made a decision to get great grades, make a decision to build relationships.”
For students, he said, the keys to success are good grades, a solid resume, communication skills, and relationships. When you are in business, communication skills and relationships remain important, as do technical skills and credentials.
“Make sure you take your first job and hang in there for awhile. Hang in for about five years,” he advised. “Because you’ll develop in ways you can’t imagine. This is your career launch. Stay there. That shows character. After five years, you can make a decision about going elsewhere.”
Finally, Arning cautioned students to continue to work hard. “You are coming out of a world-class institution, you are head and shoulders above many students, but you have to keep pushing,” he said. “If you get a good job, you have to keep pushing, because someone else wants your job.”