C-Suite Q&A

HLB’s new strategic roadmap: Innovative people, brighter futures

IAB Editor-in-Chief, Zoya Malik, speaks to HLB’s Global Chairman, Bill Hagaman, and Global CEO, Marco Donzelli, about the key strategic objectives for the network and their roadmap for continued success.

In recent years, HLB has emerged as a formidable challenger brand, making waves in the global market, and securing a position among the top 8 global players. With persistent dedication to achieving its strategic aims, HLB’s revenue soared to US$5.46 billion in 2023, reflecting a 23% increase from 2022. Now, with the launch of a new strategy, Innovative People, Brighter Futures, the network aims to propel its growth trajectory even further. Zoya Malik, IAB Editor-in-Chief, sat down with Global Chairman, Bill Hagaman, and Global CEO, Marco Donzelli, to explore their key strategic objectives and roadmap for continued success.

Bill Hagaman,
Global Chairman

Marco Donzelli,
Global CEO

Zoya Malik (ZM): Can you tell us about HLB’s new strategy?

Marco Donzelli (MD): Innovative People, Brighter Futures outlines our key priorities and objectives for 2027. Innovation is at the core of this strategy and is embedded across five strategic dimensions: People, Advisory Culture, Marketing & Business Development, Technology, Network ESG.

To further boost cross-border collaboration, HLB plans to enhance network coordination through more standardised approaches and cutting-edge technologies including AI, data integration, and multilingual communications. External strategic partnerships and the expansion of the HLB Affinity Partnership programme will further bolster the execution of this strategy.

Bill Hagman (BH): This strategy aims to take HLB to the next level and as Marco said, innovation is key to making that happen. We will foster an atmosphere conducive to innovation, allocating resources effectively, integrating innovation into communication with clients and external stakeholders, and promoting an ongoing learning mindset for our people. We will know we’ve achieved it when we see consistent innovative behaviour across the entire organisation.

Dr. Karim Mansour, Director and Chief Trainer, Tadawul Academy

ZM: What is your view on the interest that is being shown by Private Equity entrants into the accounting sector? Have you been working with PE players at all? What is the motivation on both sides to partner?

MD: Several HLB firms are PE-funded, but for now it's a limited number. Their purpose is to finance their growth, especially through M&A, and their digital transformation to create more efficiencies. PE are probably investing in our space because there are plenty of opportunities to make things more efficient, and to generate growth and thus returns (including through M&A exits) in the mid-run.

BH: Private equity firms will continue to invest in our members. While this infusion of capital is rapidly changing the profession, we welcome the challenges and opportunities that will abound as a result. The partner and owner dynamic in our member firms will forever be changed by PE, creating opportunities for innovative firms both with and without PE investment to grow, flourish and gain market share. We welcome the challenge.

Dr. Karim Mansour, Director and Chief Trainer, Tadawul Academy

ZM: How does the strategy envision fostering an innovative culture within member firms?

BH: We want to empower people to drive innovation in their firms, ultimately moulding a culture where innovation thrives and contributes to sustained growth and success. Our approach involves not only encouraging new ideas but creating an environment that fosters experimentation and risk-taking. We aim to establish platforms for cross-functional collaboration, where diverse perspectives can connect to spark innovative solutions to complex challenges. Additionally, we prioritise continuous learning and development initiatives to equip our teams with the skills and knowledge necessary to innovate effectively in their roles.

MD: All our people have a role to play, and their contribution is the key to the success of the strategy.  

Through extensive research and consultation, our approach to Innovation is structured through Practice and Performance. Practice emphasises the necessity of a comprehensive and systematic approach to achieving sustainable innovation, integrating elements such as leadership, strategy, process, climate, resources, external linkages, and learning. We prioritise embedding innovation into our everyday operations, fostering an environment where innovative thinking is encouraged at all levels.

Performance places importance on assessing innovation performance to ensure the effectiveness of our strategies. By employing advanced data analytics and metrics, we evaluate not only the quantity but also the quality and impact of innovation initiatives, enabling continuous refinement and effective resource allocation to drive tangible outcomes and position our network as a leader in industry innovation.

Dr. Karim Mansour, Director and Chief Trainer, Tadawul Academy

ZM: What training and development courses have you put in place to futureproof HLB?

BH: The world is undergoing rapid change, and as already mentioned, it's crucial that we provide our people with the necessary resources to navigate these shifts. One of the ways HLB promotes innovation is by investing more in leadership development programmes aimed at both current and future leaders. These programmes emphasise a holistic approach to leadership, covering areas such as emotional intelligence, business development, strategic thinking, and effective communication. Enhancing our leadership capabilities allows us to attract and retain top talent, thereby reinforcing our commitment to fostering a culture of creativity and forward thinking.

MD: I’d like to mention two programmes in particular: HLB Engage for our future leaders and HLB Building the Future programme for our current partners.

We launched the HLB Building the Future executive leadership programme in 2023. It focuses on the challenging aspects of leading and managing professional services firms, with a curriculum developed and led by professors at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. The programme is built around three pillars: leadership, collaboration, and clients. It offers insight into building long-lasting innovation and understanding and implementing new business models and service designs. It also provides up-to-date frameworks for embedding a high-performance culture, maximising organisational effectiveness and supporting ESG initiatives.

ZM: Could you tell us about the ESG initiatives that will be implemented as part of the strategy?

BH: As we navigate towards a more responsible future, we are committed to implementing key initiatives that not only address pressing ESG challenges within our community but create positive and sustainable impact for all our HLB people.

MD: Allow me to elaborate further on these initiatives:  

On running a sustainable organisation:  In response to the climate crisis and increasing urgency around energy provision, clients increasingly prefer to work with service providers that can demonstrate their commitment to an environmentally sustainable business operation. HLB will create practical toolkits to support members in their ESG efforts, like a commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within a defined timeframe.

On being an inclusive organisation: In the upcoming period, our focus is on several key priorities. We aim to enhance workforce representation through allyship within a psychologically safe and healthy workplace environment that fosters a sense of belonging. We will provide HLB people with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) tools and training. Additionally, we will continue collaborating with our Global DEI council, who serve as our network ambassadors worldwide.

On an organisation grounded in the community: Developing meaningful relationships with local communities demonstrates HLB’s commitment and accountability as an employer and service provider. Therefore, we will coordinate various community projects, including pro bono work, and provide toolkits to members to support their local community activities. Another focus point will be the development of social guidelines for the organisations we want to do business with, encompassing both our clients and our suppliers.

On being a transparent organisation: The Governance element of the ESG component of our strategy aims to foster increased transparency and to mitigate HLB’s exposure to various risks. An example is promoting the use of Whistleblowing and Anti-Slavery guidelines. We will provide the members with best practice guides on improving independence of the board and courses on governance topics.

ZM: What technology-enabled tools are being implemented to enhance collaboration?

MD: Several technologies are being developed and implemented to enhance collaboration across various domains. For instance, we are re-shaping our global project management tools, including those which serve as centralised platforms for coordinating cross-border client collaboration, to include new automation and data insights features.

BH: By leveraging these tools, organisations can overcome geographical constraints, improve communication, streamline workflows, and ultimately enhance collaboration across diverse teams and projects.

ZM: In what ways are you using AI technology in decision making?

MD: One significant application we are working on is the use of AI in data analytics. We are implementing AI capabilities (Salesforce Einstein & Tableau GPT) to leverage on the data we collect for strategic purposes; to explain data and bring out data stories as well as to identify trends and gaps for decision making. The AI allows us to detect inconsistencies and provides better data governance. By employing AI in this manner, we enable the use of data for decision making.

BH: This approach not only saves time and resources but also enhances the quality of our decision-making by ensuring that we have access to the most relevant and cutting-edge technologies available in the market. By using AI in our decision-making processes, we can make more informed choices for complex scenarios which align with our strategic objectives.

ZM: Can you describe the collaborative efforts which are expected to contribute to the strategic growth objectives over the next few years?

MD: While we plan for the addition of new member firms, our growth will primarily be a combination of HLB firms’ organic growth and M&A activity. We recently appointed Coco Ke Liu as our new Chief Growth Officer. She will oversee our growth strategy and further increase stakeholders' engagement across the various network communities. Additionally, Coco will drive our external growth initiatives, forging strategic alliances and partnerships to fuel HLB's expansion and accelerate cross border business opportunities.

ZM: How do the network communities and conferences fit into the broader strategy, and what role do they play in fostering international collaboration among member firms?

MD: We take great pride in ensuring a seamless and interactive learning experience for HLB people. Our content is carefully crafted to align with the priorities set at both global and regional levels. These priorities are identified through regular strategic gap analyses conducted annually. Our approach integrates well with the diverse needs of our commercial, best practice, and regional communities, as well as our technology ecosystem.

ZM: How can individual member firms actively contribute to shaping the strategic action plan, and what mechanisms are in place to ensure effective communication and idea-sharing among the various firms?

MD: HLB Innovative People, Brighter Future with horizon 2027 is the result of a network-wide collaborative effort, which lasted for over two years. HLB member firms played an integral role in crafting our new strategy and action plan. They will continue to drive its implementation by contributing to the operational framework of the network, including communities, conferences, and enablers. Firms will also focus on their country roadmaps as outlined in the strategy, ensuring a unified and proactive approach towards achieving our shared goals.

BH: Furthermore, we have just established an exciting new group, HLB Brighter Futures Community. This was formed to champion emerging leaders within the HLB network and facilitate the dissemination and implementation of the HLB strategy across our operational framework. The community comprises a leadership team with representation from each market, and includes members who have completed either the HLB Building the Future Programme or HLB Engage. These guys will act as our champions, our cheerleaders even, reinforcing our message to the wider community and, of course, driving innovation along the way for our future success!

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