Today, KPMG in Brazil has a headcount of around 4,000. Back in 1993, when Cristina joined the firm, its employees numbered just 700. Cristina, whose background is in teacher training, was working as a training consultant in a bank when KPMG in Brazil invited her to join their team. Her new HR role involved a little bit of everything, “administration, training, helping to organize HR issues,” she explains. “I was hired because the leader of Audit wanted to make some changes and the first involved training.”
Cristina acted as a coach for the technical trainers, helping them develop their training style and materials. Promoted to manager after a year, Cristina continued to help develop KPMG’s training provision, focusing on softer skills such as those associated with leadership.
“It was an interesting time because Brazil was growing in business terms,” she says. KPMG’s Brazil firm was developing too, reflected in the separating out of the Tax department, which had previously been absorbed within Audit.
Understanding the business
Such was Cristina’s impact that four years after joining KPMG, in 1997, she was invited to head up the HR function, becoming the HR manager for the Brazil firm. “I was appointed because of my knowledge of the firm,” she says. “In training you get to understand the business and are in touch with what’s going on in the firm.”
Cristina thoroughly enjoyed the role, working alongside KPMG in Brazil’s chairman to develop HR practices. “We implemented new benefits and we revisited many HR issues,” she says. One key development was the introduction of what Cristina calls “a strong policy regarding English”. In future, individuals promoted to manager, director and partner were expected to have a high level of English ability.
This became “really important” Cristina explains, because it increased the number of people who could participate in the firm’s Global Opportunities program, through which employees and partners can apply for secondments to member firms elsewhere in the world.
Participation in the Global Opportunities program increased dramatically among Brazil personnel. Numbers of secondments available in the US, for example, increased from one to around 12. More possibilities were also opened up in Spain, Portugal and elsewhere in Europe and the world. “We had good people and we didn’t want to lose them,” says Cristina. “We wanted them to rotate, to get international exposure and then to come back to Brazil and work for us, an international company.”
Cristina points out how she wanted to help build a stronger, more independent member firm. “At the time, a lot of foreign investors were looking at Brazil, and we didn’t want to be dependent on foreigners developing business opportunities here,” she says. “We wanted to develop our people.” Investing in English training therefore opened up greater possibilities for KPMG Brazil personnel to develop themselves, while simultaneously driving the firm’s growth. The secondments were two-way, of course. One example is an American who came to Brazil and enjoyed the experience so much that he stayed, becoming director.
Cristina was also influential in developing the potential for internal transfers within KPMG in Brazil. Originally, individuals who had been trained in Audit either stayed there or left the firm. “I asked why,” Cristina says. “We invested a lot in these guys, so why not give them the possibility to do something else? We started having internal transfers and this worked very well.”
An individual may not thrive in Audit, for example, but could be very successful in Risk Advisory or Financial Advisory. “The challenge was to look at the people and develop their possibilities,” Cristina says. “This is the real skill that you have in HR. You have to work close to the partners and close to the people. You have to understand the business needs and align the people with them.”
As well as helping others, Cristina also developed her own skills. “I gained my MBA degree,” she says. “I had very strong support from KPMG to do that.” She also worked hard to develop her own language skills, using her vacations to attend English courses overseas, in the US, Canada, and the UK. She also started learning Spanish. “That was more for fun,” she says, although her Spanish ability did open the door to a later career opportunity.
Cristina’s abilities and her impact on KPMG’s HR offering in Brazil did not go unnoticed. “In ten years we won three awards as the best company to work for,” Cristina says. “It was really nice to be recognized by employees and the market, that we were doing the right thing for our people and at the same time for our business.” Internally, Cristina’s achievements were also recognized when she became one of the first people in Brazil to be promoted to director, a position introduced to provide senior career opportunities for administrative and technical personnel.
After 11 years in an HR role, Cristina felt she needed a new challenge. In 2008 she became director of Learning and Development (L&D) in Brazil. “The chairman invited me to return to training, to rethink the way we were delivering training,” she explains. “So we have been rethinking the training we provide face to face, rethinking the investment we are making. It’s been an interesting time.”
A new opportunity
Last year Cristina took up her latest challenge, as head of L&D for the South America region. “My decision to learn Spanish led to this invitation,” she says. Though she modestly describes her Spanish as “poor,” she says it enables her to “understand the business needs of the senior partners and to coordinate in a better way the region’s approach to training”. As part of this role, Cristina is implementing new technology across the region and thinking about the way the firm implements learning paths. She is keen to draw closely on contacts and experience within the global firm. “We have to be part of the global firm, not reinvent the wheel,” she says.
Looking back over her KPMG career, Cristina feels she has been prepared to take the opportunities that arose as the firm grew. “I am proud of the way it happened,” she says. “And the way in which I accepted the opportunities and the challenges.”