Trevor Brown was admitted as a partner of Deloitte in 1988 and has served the firm for over three decades. He was appointed partner-in-charge of the Johannesburg Audit office in 1997, and was appointed to the firm’s Executive Committee (Exco) in 1998 as the service line leader of Audit. During 2005, he was appointed as the Clients and Markets leader of the Southern African firm, continuing to serve on Exco. In 2011, Trevor was elected Chairman of the Board.
Trevor spoke to Saprofessionals.com in the winter of 2016.
What does it mean to you that your colleagues saw it fit to elect you to the position of chairman?
My election to the board was ideal at the time given that I had been involved in management of the firm and dealing with our big clients. From an age perspective it was also appropriate. I was 51 when I took over the position meaning that if I served three terms of three years each, I would be turning 60 by the time I stepped down. I think a professional services firm needs a chairman that is experienced in managing the various different services within the broader firm itself.
I act as a sounding board for the CEO and I have good relationships with many of our senior leaders and partners.
In my first term, I had responsibility for the Audit of Bidvest Group Limited as well my duties as Chairman. That kept me very busy, but now I have rotated off that client, coinciding with my second term and the integration of our Africa Member Firm. As this is more of an internal position, it means that I have less client engagements than before. As Chairman of Deloitte Africa, I travel around the continent a lot more. We are governed as one firm and we are in the process of finalising our financial integration plan which will be effective in June 2017. We comprise 366 partners from 15 countries across four different regions; East, West, Central and Southern Africa. The board behaves like a listed company board which oversees strategy, performance, accountability, compliance and risk. Besides Deloitte Africa firm’s top executives, the board has non-executive representatives of our key service areas, namely consulting, tax, audit and risk advisory as well as partners from the other African regions.
What would you like to have achieved by the time you step down from this position?
I would like to participate in moving the firm forward continuing with high quality and growth. It is an exciting time for us as we are in the process of integration within Africa. We find that a lot of our clients are beginning to do business across the continent and we want to be there with them. Although we are four regions, we are ideally one firm, premised on mobility such that we can transfer skills from one office to another when the need arises.
Secondly, I would like to see the transition to a new CEO done smoothly and transparently when Lwazi Bam’s term comes to an end in 2019.
Thirdly, I would like to see our South African operations continue along the path of transformation. We are currently 36% black owned and we aim to have 51% black ownership by 2020.
Finally, I would like to see the firm cope with a changing environment with all the amendments to legislation and regulation. I would like to see us continue to live out our values where we are a firm that is committed to each other, doing the right thing for our clients and our employees.
What highs and lows have you witnessed in your long career?
For our profession, I think the 2001 Enron event changed us forever. It is a low given that this resulted in the demise of one of the big firms. On the positive side, it resulted in increased regulation and self-regulation which has improved audit quality and independence.
A high would be how technology has transformed our lives. When I started out we used to do statistical sampling with a calculator manually and now you only need to press a button on your PC or smartphone and a much more effective sample is available. It has definitely improved the way we audit.
Our breadth of services now is much wider than before; we truly are a professional services firm.
I also think the success we have had in transformation is a high. In 1990, we had 220 partners and only six were black and four female. Today, there are 96 black and 70 female partners/directors of the 266 we have in South Africa. On top of that we have a homegrown black African CEO who started his career with us and rose up the ranks to the corner office.
What would you say is your leadership and management style?
I like to predicate my style on the situation. My role today puts me in a situation where I am leading leaders rather than before when I was managing people. It requires me to have trust in individuals to do things on their own. I can be very direct and I think people respond well to people who are direct and consistent, who are open, transparent and honest. Those are the values which I think I espouse as chairman of the board. I am a chairman with a human touch and personality; I think my colleagues would attest to my being approachable and in touch with what is happening at the operational level.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night?
I think I sleep better now than when I was an executive! As an executive, you are required to produce results and show growth. This position is different as I don’t have line responsibility.
What drives me is the desire to see Deloitte continue to be an admired firm, one that is professional in its service of clients, with quality as its cornerstone. I also want to leave the firm in a better place than I found it. I think this is an area where we have been very fortunate. Every past CEO and Chairman has taken the firm to a better place than his or her predecessor.
Do you take part in mentoring younger professionals?
Yes, I do. As chairman, I have about 8 – 10 mentees. Some I mentor via our lunchtime chats whereas others are part of a formal mentorship where I have had a specific request. We have this arrangement where partners across disciplines sit and talk about current affairs. I facilitate many of these engagements. It is good for partners to hear views outside of their area of expertise and discuss general matters like politics and the economy. It is important that they are knowledgeable about the world around them.
How has the firm performed in terms of meeting its business growth objectives?
I think our growth has been superb at both topline level and profitability. We aim to grow at the inflation rate at a minimum plus GDP growth in the markets in which we operate. We have been successful in most years and in terms of market share I think we are either first or second in every region in Africa.
What awards has Deloitte won recently?
At the Business Continuity Innovation Global Awards in 2014, Deloitte SA BCM Team was awarded the “Innovation of the Year” accolade. Internationally, we have also received awards as one of the best companies to work for.
Tell us more about how Deloitte is attending to its transformation objectives in South Africa?
We have a policy of recruiting black talent with investment in bursary spend and accelerating their growth within the firm. I am really glad that our investments are paying off. Our transformation journey began in 1980 when we were first acknowledged as an early adopter by the then Public Accountants & Auditors’ Board and 10 years later by the Association of Black Accountants of South Africa (ABASA) for our contribution to the transformation of the accounting profession. In the momentous year of 1994, our black staff were a mere 9% of the company and we had 4% black ownership. In 1996, two Deloitte trainees became the first African black accountants in the top 10 of the qualifying board exam and in 1998, Vassi Naidoo became the first black CEO of a major auditing firm. He was replaced by Grant Gelink who became our second black CEO in 2006. In 2004, Futhi Mtoba became the first African black female chairman of a Big 4 firm. In 2012, Lwazi Bam became the first black African CEO of Deloitte and our third consecutive black CEO. Today in 2016, we have 50% black staff and, as I said before, 36% black partners/directors. Our aim for the year 2020, is to have 51% black ownership of which 50% should be African black and at least 40% female ownership.
What has been your company’s contribution to the accounting profession?
A good number of our partners sit on the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) committees and have previously served on the auditors’ board. Some of our partners like our CEO have been instrumental to ABASA and as a firm we contribute significantly to the SAICA’s Thuthuka Programme which aims to produce more black chartered accountants. Since 2001, Deloitte has upskilled 4 153 candidates who have gone on to become CA(SA)s, and we are especially proud that 732 of all African Black CA(SA)s have qualified through Deloitte.
What has been Deloitte’s contribution to the community?
Our purpose internationally is to “make an impact that matters” meaning that we want to contribute to the community and not just our clients and people. We have a fully-fledged CSR department that ensures we do this. We have been active in the African Children Feeding Scheme which our CEOs have chaired for approximately 25 years. It has grown dramatically and we are proud to be a part of that. We also participate actively in education, where we teach accounting at both high school and university level. Those affected by AIDS, including orphans, are also close to our hearts and we attend to them through various education initiatives. We have a ‘Make an Impact Day’ which happens during ‘Impact week’ when we encourage every Deloittian to go out and make an impact in community.
How do you measure customer service?
We have a leader for the Clients and Industry position who sits on our Exco. His job is to ensure that client assessments are performed at our 60 – 70 top clients. These interviews are done by staff independent of the professional staff who serviced the client. They interview key people within the clients and compile a report which is shared with the Exco. The individual client reports are also shared with the client. If there are any issues, it is an opportunity to improve. I am happy to report that the vast majority of our clients rate the quality of our service very highly.
Are ethics and integrity important to your firm?
These are very important values for us. At board level, we have a chief ethics officer who also serves on the Exco. We also conduct an annual survey where each employee is asked to describe whether they think the organisation and its leadership are ethical. We have had good results and whenever there are any matters of concern, we take swift action.
Which individuals inspire you and what life changing books would you recommend to our readers?
Well, Christianity is my whole premise for living my life and therefore I would say that the Bible is the one book that I would choose. It would definitely be the best piece of literature to have if stranded on a desert island! Similarly, Jesus Christ would be the person I find most inspirational. His various sayings such as “do to others as you would have them do to you” are important teachings for me.
From a professional point of view, I would recommend “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson as well as “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.