Q&A with KPMG's Middle East advisory leader: Farhan Syed

27 July 2021 Consultancy-me.com 6 min. read
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Dubai-based Farhan Syed is Head of Advisory at KPMG for the Middle East and South Asia region, leading a team of over 2,000 consultants. Nearly a year into his role, ConsultancyME spoke with him on the division’s recent growth, how it is coming through the pandemic, what he’s most proud of, and the ambitions going forward.

Wherever Farhan Syed steps, business growth follows. Having grown the ranks at a consulting major, he joined KPMG Lower Gulf (UAE and Oman) as a partner in 2015, when the Advisory practice comprised only a handful of partners. Tasked with building the firm’s digital transformation practice from scratch, he successfully built out the unit to over 100 professionals.

Early 2020, Farhan was promoted to Head of Advisory for the Lower Gulf, and in October last year, he was elevated to Head of Advisory for the entire Middle East & South Asia region (comprising 20+ offices in 14 countries and territories).

Farhan Syed, Head of Advisory Middle East and South Asia, KPMG

You’ve been leading the Lower Gulf Advisory division for 1.5 years, what are some of the landmark projects the firm has worked on?

During this period, KPMG has been involved with several landmark projects. These contribute to the UAE’s growth story: helping diversify the economy, create wider opportunities and propel economic growth. We have supported the UAE government in its transformational agenda, providing large digital, organizational, operational transformation and experience design programs across a number of federal and emirate-level public sector entities.

In addition, our specialists are working with one of the leading energy and financial services companies on projects to develop resilient, preventative and proactive cyber security programs.

We have also been proud to assist our clients in responding to Covid-19 through UAE government-support programs. Projects include assisting an organization in meeting the increased demand for medical supplies and establishing a framework to enhance health & safety protocols that helped reopen the economy.

We have also supported – and continue to support – some of the largest merger & acquisition deals in the region.

At the same time, you’ve had to lead the division through one of its most challenging periods in history (and still are). From a resilience perspective, what are you most proud of?

Within months of my becoming Head of Advisory, the world changed and Covid-19 became our new reality. This had an impact on the market, our clients, our operations and our people. In the consulting space, however, you need to be agile and quick to respond to changing demands and moving forces.

We established a series of committees comprising our own partners. These included one focusing on how we can support our clients and another focused on business continuity. We also established a committee focused on our people and how we could ensure their mental and physical well-being. As partners in the firm we agreed to take on the financial burden of running the business, so the majority of our people’s jobs and salaries could be guaranteed.

I’m most proud of how quickly we pulled together and acted. This enabled us to not only survive, but to continue to grow and support our clients, people and community in a difficult climate.

There’s much talk about the Advisory practices of the Big Four. Where do you believe KPMG differentiates itself?

KPMG is founded on three pillars: exceptional quality of service, an unwavering commitment to the public interest, and building empowered teams.

We want to remain essential to the firm’s clients for life – trusted advisors clients think about in whatever situation they face. To help with this and to deliver in the current market, we further differentiate ourselves in two ways:

  • First, we bring among the best talent and solutions needed to deliver them benefits. This may mean going outside our traditional offerings, even partnering with our competitors, or engaging our strategic alliances.
  • Second, we seek to deliver among the best client experience centered around our core values. With every client or prospect, we act with integrity. We have the courage to tell them what needs to be heard – not what is easiest to say. We drive excellence and quality in what we deliver, and look to add value at every opportunity, together and for better (we do what matters).

You have a background in digital and innovation – two key priorities for companies in any sector. What are KPMG’s sweet spots in this space?

Given the advances we are seeing in technology, there is no situation and no business problem that technology can’t help solve. Unlike the constraints of the past, the only limiting factor is our imagination. I see every industry pushing the boundaries of possibility and using technology to fulfil their ambitions.

Supporting our clients in bringing their vision to life are a number of digital and innovation solutions we can offer. This includes experience and service design, data and applied intelligence, security and privacy, cloud and enterprise solutions, all of which have seen extensive year-on-year growth. And we believe this will continue to grow.

What are the ambitions for KPMG Advisory in the region going forward?

Our ambition is in line with the economy and how our sector is expecting to grow. Politically, the region is stabilizing. Vaccination roll-out is boosting economic recovery. Simultaneously, we are seeing social and environmental priorities come to the fore.

We see KPMG as one of the dominant players in the region and we will continue prioritizing areas where our clients need the most help. The key to our success is based on three imperatives: continue to listen to our clients; remain agile; and build a culture we are all proud of. We have doubled our business in the past five years, and I can see us doubling our business again in the next three years.

You’re an avid supporter of KPMG’s CSR initiatives in the region. What are the initiatives you’re most connected to?

As a firm, we strongly believe in supporting the community and we are involved in several initiatives.

We are enthusiastic about our mission, begun in 2019, to empower People of Determination. We are an official sponsor of the Special Olympics UAE and are committed to supporting athletes in the region. We do this through funding, in-kind donations, and volunteering.

We are also proud to have contributed to the 100 Million Meals campaign this year, one of the leading humanitarian campaigns in the Muslim world. This program provided food parcels for the disadvantaged across 30 countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa during the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Outside of work, Farhan is a proud father of three daughters and an avid scuba diver. He is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), a global leadership community of about 29,000 members in 130 countries.