The 2016 Top 25 Consultants: Kelly Watson

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Kelly Watson KPMG Excellence in Leadership

One of Kelly Watson’s biggest strengths as a leader is her genuine desire to make her employees feel welcome and important. She’s articulated a forward-looking and compassionate vision for KPMG’s Risk Consulting practice, combining cross-functional teaming and quality growth with a cultural agenda, aiming to make the nearly 5,000 partners and professionals she leads feel “like family.”

In 2015, Watson became the National Service Group Leader of Risk Consulting, the largest practice in KPMG Advisory, with more than 4,800 partners and professionals under her leadership. Being named lead of this group, she says, is her second proudest accomplishment over the last year.

“That’s a career milestone, and a position with which I’m honored to be entrusted,” she says. “But what I’m proudest of is the people I lead – their hard work and commitment. As Service Group Leader, I’m proud of the way we are working to foster a sense of community in our practice. We’ve aligned the ambitious business goals I mentioned with a people-focused cultural agenda that aims to help our professionals have the careers they desire while finding meaning and purpose in their work.”

Previously, Watson spent six years as Office Managing Partner of KPMG’s New Jersey business unit in her third year as partner. When she started, it was an office of 300. When she was tapped to lead the RC practice, it had grown to 1,100 and become a hub of sizeable business both globally and locally.

Her opportunities to provide mentorship to young professionals, she says, have been the biggest factor to her own success.

“When I mentor or counsel young professionals, I tell them to “own your career”—advocate for yourself, form relationships not only with people like you but with people unlike you, take on projects outside of your usual role, and persevere until you achieve your goals. My other secret—and the source of much of my success in my own career—is this little-recognized business imperative: be ruthlessly nice and relentlessly pleasant. I call this a business imperative because happy, secure people work harder and better; they care more about being valued than they do about anything else, even compensation.”

As for the consulting profession itself, Watson says the ever-changing nature of the job is what keeps her coming back for more.

“Well, consulting is pretty exciting. It’s not a static profession. There are some fundamental skills that remain constants, but to remain competitive in the market, we are constantly adapting what we know to meet new demands in rapidly-changing environments—new regulations, new threats, and new technologies. It’s that constant pace of change that I enjoy most.”

What does winning the award mean to you, your firm and your clients?

“It’s a great honor, obviously, for me. But more than that, it’s a testament to the excellence of the people who make me look good, and to KPMG’s knack for attracting and retaining the best people, who provide the kind of client service that leads to awards like this. I share the credit for this with them, since we’re all in this together. And I’m proud to help lead a firm that is consistently listed as an employer of choice.”

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