By Joy Wiltermuth
Unlike most children, who want to be a firefighter or doctor, Carole Streicher, at 5 year’s old, knew she wanted to be a certified public accountant.
As funny as that might sound for a child to say, Streicher in the fourth grade also picked being a CPA for school dress-up day, and thus began explaining her future career path to friends.
“I loved math,” Streicher said. “And for me, I just had that in my mind and it actually worked out.”
Now Streicher heads KPMG’s deal advisory and strategy group, after taking the reins in the fall during an uber-hot period for corporate mergers and acquisitions. She’s the first woman at the firm to head that group, a team of about 2,300, and the only female from the big four accounting firms in that role in the U.S.
The following are highlights from a virtual Q&A with Streicher on her journey to the top of the world of deals, as well as how the pandemic changed the way corporate mashups happen. And yes, she is a CPA.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you in the deals advisory role over the past 12 months of the pandemic?
Where I spend my time is helping clients transact doing mergers and acquisitions. When you look back at the beginning of the pandemic, the deal market really simply shut down. It started to slowly ramp up toward the end of summer. But then there was a period of uncertainty around November’s elections and results. Then in January, February, March, we’ve been having record months in regards to the amount of work coming in. We go from record lows from a deal-market perspective at the beginning of the pandemic to now, completely the opposite.
It is definitely a challenge managing through the pandemic. The other thing I would just say is that with the people-side of the business, typically, our people were working shoulder-to-shoulder. And I’m very proud to say that we were able to adapt, really quickly, to doing remote work and videoconferencing. That is a new norm with our clients, and for the industry, which has been able to turn on a dime in this new era of virtual meetings.
How many airlines miles did you rack up in 2019 versus 2020? What might that say about the future of your profession?
I remember clearly in 2019 getting the highest-level of status on my airline of choice, flying well over 100,000 miles. Versus last year, I was racking up something like a whopping 15,000 miles. So, it is a huge difference in the kind of travel.
I think there are going to be elements of social-distancing protocols that remain in force in the business world. We’ve proven we can have Zoom /zigman2/quotes/211319643/composite ZM +6.11% meetings with our clients and get deals done in this virtual environment. And it will definitely, impact the amount of travel we need to do going forward.
But, there are things that are just done better face-to-face, even if some parts of the business can easily move to a more virtual environment. It will definitely change, but it won’t eliminate the need to be in person.
MarketWatch wrote about deals incorporating drones for due diligence last summer. Tell me more about that.
When you’re there in person, it is much easier to read the room. It isn’t so easy to be able to read the Zoom call. There are points in negotiations when you need to be able to really understand the dynamics of the people, what you’re buying and feel confident about the decision and investment. Sometimes there are millions or billions of dollars at stake.
But it is also about leveraging technology and insights from data effectively and efficiently. So, as you think about the drone model and being able to conduct due diligence more effectively and efficiently, resulting in it better data, there are some elements of that at play. But it is still very early stages, so it isn’t something that is going to change everything, completely overnight.
We have over 100 data scientists sitting in our team, within deal advisory and strategy. Data and analytics are so imperative to helping teams dive deeper and to attain better insights for clients. Ten years ago, it was hard to even get the data. Now, it is all about: OK, we’ve got the data, but how do we process it faster to help a client get better insights to be smarter in their investment thesis.
What would you tell a young woman who was thinking about wanting to be the head of a group in a very, male-dominated field, like finance?
I would say that anything is possible. Go ahead and dream big, and if you don’t see that person, that role model, above you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Push the boundaries and pave the path forward.
When I was coming up the ranks, there weren’t many female partners at the big accounting firms, particularly in the deal world. So, I was lucky enough to have great mentors and sponsors, outside of the deal world who were female and could help me see the path. And I had really, great mentors and sponsors who were male within the deal world saying: we want to make this work for you.
Also, when you think about climbing that ladder, you can climb on and off, or there are periods when you can climb slower. When I started having a family, I took six months off, which was unheard of back then. Then, I worked part time for two years. It wasn’t like I had to stop the advancement of my career, but it was OK to slow it down. And when I was back to climbing fast, sometimes I was able to leapfrog the time that I slowed down.
Has there been a shift in our workforce in how we think about work, including adding the experiences of the pandemic on top?
Absolutely, there is no question there have been significant changes in all of American corporations, including around how to support our employees. And, you know, really supporting diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m super proud of where we have moved over the last handful of years. And about 50% of my senior leadership team come from underrepresented groups. We have significant goals at KPMG to continue to advance that upward.