The mission? To be the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for the reconstruction of Southern Iraq and head of the Basra Development Commission – a brand new post aimed at supporting economic development in the region.
Prior to his appointment, the UK government’s involvement with post-conflict regions was typically as a donor country but Gordon Brown, then, Prime Minister felt that involving the private sector in supporting economic development and encouraging foreign investment in Iraq would improve their chances of success. And this is what Mike’s role was created to do.
You might wonder how the skills of a CEO in a global professional services firm could have any bearing on a role like this.” We asked Mike just that question. “I think one of the things you don’t realize when you’re working at KPMG, and I realized through my responsibilities since I have left, is just how varied an experience it is and how well it equips you with dealing with a wide variety of different circumstances”.
Mike’s work at KPMG – including prioritization, the handling of sensitive meetings and working with large international companies considering investment decisions – equipped him well for his role in Iraq. His first job in Iraq was to engage the private sector. No, comfortable lunch time meetings around the Boardroom lent themselves to this task. Instead he had to conduct his meetings on an airbase just four miles from war-torn Basra – a venue he was soon to become very familiar with after the base was attacked on his first night there and he was barred from setting foot outside the base for the next six months. If anyone wanted to visit Mike, and many did, they had to make the arduous and dangerous journey to visit him. Local business people, politicians and the governor himself all made the journey, keen to discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
He quickly prioritized activities and arranged and hosted a number of investment conferences. One of the main challenges for governments in developing countries is to design institutional, organizational and regulatory frameworks that are conducive to private sector development. Therefore, as well as liaising with investors, he set about assisting the establishment of new and capacity-building existing investment agencies in Iraq.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, Mike held receptions at Number 10 Downing Street for businesses looking for opportunities in Iraq. The spread of interest was amazing from tapping into oil and construction resources to professional services, banking and insurance, architecture, quantity surveying and the travel industry.
Shortly after, a significant pipeline of inward investing companies was established, with tenders in process and signed contracts worth around US$9 billion.
With the withdrawal of troops and the handover of British military responsibility in the region to the American forces, Mike stepped down and is now facing a new challenge – developing a roadmap for attracting foreign direct investment into Afghanistan.
Commenting on the skill sets that have helped Mike in his new capacity he emphasized how important he finds a global mindset. Not only in ensuring he has a global outlook in the work he does, but also through encouraging the people he worked with to exhibit the same globalized thinking to their careers and the work they do.
A valuable lesson to us all in this increasingly globalized world.
If you’d like to learn more about the work that KPMG is doing in Global Development including assisting private sector development in the Millennium Cities Initiative please visit here www.kpmg.com/citizenship.