Posted on Wednesday 4 December 2019 by Ulster Business

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Fresh from a three month sabbatical travelling with his family, KPMG’s new partner in charge, Johnny Hanna, sits down with Ulster Business to discuss growing an already-strong local professional services firm with global reach, developing the next generation and what’s needed to set Northern Ireland apart on the world stage

Johnny Hanna’s new role as partner in charge at KPMG in Northern Ireland sees him take the helm of an organisation already in a strong position, but also one which is very much in growth mode.

And with more than 20 years under his belt working across KPMG, he’s now been tasked with taking the next leap forward – building on its strong client base, tackling the new business landscape which lies around the corner, and growing the next generation of top talent.

While a global firm, KPMG works with a host of Northern Ireland businesses of all shapes and sizes – having life-long relationships with indigenous success stories such as First Derivatives and Norbrook – while also working with global businesses with connections to the UK and Ireland.

KPMG now boasts a Belfast workforce of nearly 300 staff. But as the intake of top new graduates and experienced hires grows, that number looks set to expand and develop further still. Johnny’s confident that the company will continue to grow at its offices at the Soloist building in Belfast city centre.

He points to the benefits for KPMG staff of significant collaboration and shared working opportunities with Dublin as part a successful all-island business now employing over 3000 people. The firm’s Corporate Finance team, for example, led by Russell Smyth are the go-to advisors in the renewables sector when it comes to fundraising for new assets north and south.

“It’s an exciting time for the firm,” Johnny says. “We have done a lot in the last few years, working with many new clients, investing in our new office and increasing our graduate numbers. In addition there has been a record number of promotions. I’ve been working closely with our previous partner in charge John Hansen on all of that as well as continuing to grow and drive our large tax team, an area of expertise which we’ve always been renowned for.

“My focus will be about maintaining this momentum and ensuring we continue to offer the expertise and solutions which our clients need, which will drive our growth. That means being alive to changing trading conditions, increased regulation and a business environment increasingly uncertain, disruptive and complex”.

A law graduate from Queen’s University Belfast, Johnny’s also a fellow of Chartered Accountants Ireland, and a Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) – starting his career in Dublin with the former Arthur Andersen, which was later merged with KPMG.

The Newry man became a partner with KPMG in 2006 and has been head of tax in Northern Ireland since 2016. The tax practice boasts around 90 tax professionals, most of which are dual qualified in tax and accountancy. “It’s a key differentiator for us,” he says.

“And while tax and audit represent the more traditional strands of business, KPMG has invested significantly in new skills, specialisms and services arising from technological advances such as articifical intelligence and cyber-security.”

Johnny takes over his role at a time when Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the UK and Ireland, is undergoing arguably its biggest business and economic shift in a generation.

“Brexit is just one part of it. We have been working closely with companies to prepare for Brexit, whether there is a ‘no deal’ or some sort of deal here.

“We have had a lot of engagement with business groups and other stakeholders over the last three years to highlight our concerns and those of our clients. Wherever we end up on Brexit will definitely dictate the future trading conditions. Our role will be to help clients navigate their way around any new barriers they could face, as well as examining the potential opportunities which may arise from the UK’s exit from the EU.”

Attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) is something which cannot be ignored here, and a differentiator for Northern Ireland could help bolster that – whether it’s a deal which moulds Northern Ireland as a unique business destination in the UK and Ireland, finally introducing a lower devolved rate of corporation tax or ideally a package of measures.

“Not long after I took over the head of Tax role in 2016 we co-hosted a breakfast in our KPMG New York office with various international businesses. At that time there was a lot of talk around the reduced corporation tax rate. There was a lot of positivity and enthusiasm in the room that morning around the opportunity for Northern Ireland, and I’m looking forward to getting back to those types of discussions.

“Northern Ireland requires a range of tools to help drive economic success in the post-Brexit era. It’s investment in infrastructure and skills, initiatives on export-led growth, delivering a 12.5% tax rate and some sort of devolution of income tax powers – we need step change initiatives which can really turbocharge the private sector.”

Getting the right talent is also key for KPMG, building and developing a workforce which is increasingly diverse, as well as giving back to the community. That includes a range of initiatives, including the recent launch of a skills-based scheme which has seen KPMG staff volunteering to help children, from a wide variety of backgrounds, with their literacy and numeracy skills.

“Our graduates want to do more than get their qualifications and service clients. They want to know that what they are doing has a broader purpose and objective. They want to know about our commitment to the local community and on environmental issues and be proud to work for KPMG”.  

“We are ambitious to keep growing the practice and have a fantastic pool of talent in Belfast at all levels to help us realise those ambitions.

“Ensuring we maintain the right culture within the firm for our people to reach their full potential and achieve their career aspirations is incredibly important. I was delighted we were able to add to our already strong team with the recent addition of four new partners in Ashleen Feeney, Paddy Doherty, Neil O’Hare and Dominic Mudge within our Deal Advisory, Tax and Audit teams.
“My role is to ensure that when I hand over to the next partner in charge, we are in an even stronger position than we are today. That’s the challenge and the goal but given the strong team and our market position, I know that I will relish the opportunity”.


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