Deloitte’s goal is to no longer be part of the Big 4 grouping, but rather to become ‘a category of one’, says Anis Sadek, the Dubai office Managing Partner.
A FIRM believer in innovation, adaptability, diversity, and the value of learning from one’s mistakes, Anis Sadek is the Managing Partner at the Dubai office of Deloitte.
A Chartered Accountant since 1980, he is also a member of the Middle East Members Advisory Board for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). He was recently appointed to the ICAEW’s governing body, the Council, as the Representative for the Middle East.
In 2000, after 20 years of working in large international professional firms, Anis took a plunge into start-up entrepreneurship, following the disposal by the then Ernst & Young of its global Consulting practice, including the Middle East EY Consulting practice which Anis had headed.
He was soon to realise that entrepreneurship was not for him. It led to recognition that his global-minded nature and extensive experience in channeling global resources towards local and regional businesses had given him a unique value in the market.
Working as a solo consultant didn’t enable him to use his talents fully without access to the many resources that a large international firm provides. His flexibility and ability to generate innovative solutions which leverage global capabilities have been key assets in becoming the success he is today at Deloitte in Dubai.
A Worldly Start
Anis was born in Egypt in 1955 the year before the Suez crisis. At that time his Irish mother had to make a critical decision – whether to evacuate from Egypt as other foreigners were doing or stay with her Egyptian husband and become an Egyptian citizen. The choice was to remain in Egypt.
Anis spent his childhood travelling with his father around the world on business trips and vacations. He developed a love for adventure and cultural diversity which has remained throughout his life. Anis was educated in the prestigious Victoria College in Alexandria until he was 14 years old, then Lenana High School (Duke of York) in Nairobi, Kenya before he finally completed his schooling at St Columba’s College in Dublin, Ireland.
“My father, who worked for the World Health Organisation, had a PhD in statistics and couldn’t fathom why I was unable to grasp many of the complex mathematical concepts he found so simple. The problem was that he was far too intelligent for me! Thankfully I did end up going to Trinity College, Dublin where I discovered a love of Economics and consequently graduated with an Honours Degree in Economics – much to my father’s delight!”
On his father’s recommendation, Anis moved to London in 1977 and joined Binder Hamlyn (later a part of Arthur Anderson) to train as a Chartered Accountant. It was during that period that Current Cost Accounting became a hot item due to high inflation affecting the markets.
“People felt that accounts based on historic costs no longer truly reflected the results of the business. It was an interesting time in the profession where we were looking at different ways of reporting and measuring profitability,” he recounts. During this time Anis qualified as a Chartered accountant with the ICAEW.
However the wanderlust from his childhood soon led him to seek work further afield. Anis married in 1978 and he moved to Dubai with his new wife to join Ernst & Whinney in Dubai in 1981, partly driven by a desire to revive his Arabic language skills.
After seven years in the UAE he was transferred to Riyadh where he became a Senior Manager and subsequently a Partner in 1989. In Riyadh his clients were Saudi British Bank, Saudi American Bank, Saudi Hollandi Bank and Al Rajhi Bank among others.
He developed grass-roots banking industry expertise that would serve him well throughout his career. In 1994 he led – and won – a major consulting proposal to redesign the business infrastructure at Riyad Bank which afforded him the opportunity to become familiar with bank strategy, marketing, products and processes including IT and HR processes – virtually all the important aspects of the banking business. Anis subsequently moved into the Consulting business full-time.
Over the next several years, Anis grew his career in consulting, ultimately leading the Consulting practice for Ernst & Young in the region. He stayed with EY until 2000 when the big professional firms began to dispose of their consulting operations. He was given the choice to go back to the audit practice or leave and continue his consulting career elsewhere.
“I chose the latter,” he says.
“I think about that point in time where I left what was a very large professional services background and I had many staff and partners, a global brand to work with, and resources to pull on, and I decided to go at it alone, both as an individual consultant and a start-up entrepreneur,” he reminisces.
It was a little like jumping off an aircraft carrier into a sailboat, and Anis soon realised that the entrepreneurship route was not for him.
“I discovered fairly quickly it wasn’t for me, and that I really belonged and felt happier in an environment where you have a lot of depth and the support of many very knowledgeable people with capabilities that you can call on when you need to deliver high value to your clients,” he says.
“What you can do with the knowledge, experience and capability of thousands of people who are able to combine together to deliver something of great value to the client is so much better and, to me, ultimately much more satisfying than delivering only what you are capable of alone,” he adds.
During the year of going at it solo, Anis took up the role of CEO for a startup business funded by a well-known venture capital firm in Dubai, to establish an internet banking platform that would serve multiple smaller banks.
The idea was to build a ‘white-label’ platform and let other banks pay to use it for their own transactions. That job only lasted six months as it became clear that the project was going to be an enormous challenge, with mounting costs and unsustainable transaction volumes required to make it a success, and also because he was approached by KPMG Consulting (later becoming Bearing Point).
He was hired as the COO of their Middle East Consulting business and was tasked with preparing it for sale by consolidating its operations across the region and growing its capabilities. When Atos Origin finally purchased the business three years later, Anis encountered Deloitte for the first time.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says.
During Ramadan, following the sale to Atos Origin, Anis met with Omar Fahoum, the CEO of Deloitte Middle East. Omar told Anis that he didn’t have a consulting role for him, but that he needed an experienced and seasoned practice leader in Dubai. So in 2003 he began with Deloitte, which was at the very time when business in the area was taking off like a rocket ship.
“The opportunities were coming in faster than we could field them,” Anis says.
The challenge that faced him in his new job in Dubai became one of both maintaining the company’s long heritage and culture in the region while combining it with the benefits of being recognised as an integral part of the global network, assuring clients of the consistent high quality they expected from Deloitte.
By enhancing the Deloitte brand presence, finding good partners and hiring the right people, the firm grew from 2003 to 2008 at a breakneck speed.
Anis reflects on delivering quality service while handling the revenue growth: “The most difficult thing was recruiting the best talent and making sure that we were able to absorb people and train them well while building a culture of high quality service that was sustainable. We needed the new people coming in to be quickly imbued with the same culture and deliver consistent standards of quality while minimising risk levels,” he says.
Anis admits that Deloitte had not historically been the top-paying firm for certain levels in the organisation but after recognising this and based on some research, the firm soon created a desirable, stable place to work and a total rewards strategy which made Deloitte one of the most diverse firms in terms of nationality and gender and earned it the Hewitt Best Employer Award in the Middle East in 2009.
Another issue facing Deloitte at that time was the shortage of skill and the reliance on the recruitment of expats to work in the region. After Anis was hired he decided to change this and put together a training programme so that the firm could build its own staff.
They sourced the top graduates from UAE universities and offered them the opportunity for professional development through a three year training programme that was the equivalent of what Deloitte would offer in the UK or elsewhere, and soon the firm became a leader in providing this type of local training programme – including a special ‘Fellowship’ scheme aimed at attracting Emirati recruits by offering them a clear and attractive career path. His firm was the first in the area to offer such a programme and now many firms have adopted this strategy.
However, Anis is proud of the results of a recent study by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants ( CIMA), where Deloitte was named as the most preferred employer amongst Generation Y respondents in the UAE, earning 10 per cent of the votes, well ahead of its competitors.
“It seems we are getting this right,” he proudly says, adding that “No client can be too big to lose.”
Anis remarks on the importance of reducing risk in his business; “We must maintain a high level of ethical standards and independence. Unlike many other businesses, where you have to treat the customers as being always right and always do what they want, we have to – at times – stand up and be prepared to tell our clients where they are wrong. And that’s what differentiates the profession that I’m in from other businesses. You have to be able, in a very nice way of course, to say to a client ‘We think you’re getting it wrong, and you need to fix it so that we can report it in the correct way’.”
In order to do that, Anis says that a professional must have a certain level of knowledge, confidence, grace, and “be independent in his or her mindset.”
Reducing the risks from errors, litigation, and undue influence while upholding the highest standards of service to the business community to enable it to rely on reported results are matters that “are always top of mind and paramount to how we do things.”
“We’re a partnership, at the end of the day,” he says.
While all of the firm’s many departments have different responsibilities, each partner is a co-owner. Anis goes on to describe his job as Dubai office Managing Partner as one that works with a team collectively, maximises the values from individual talents by placing people in the right environments, enabling focused industry and service specialisation to develop and composes a team with a broad range of deep specialist skills.
Anis cites Deloitte’s Financial Advisory Service practice as a good example of this – in 2008, when business in the region was slowing down, Deloitte embarked on an initiative to build new advisory capabilities in the region by relocating some of its top talent from the UK – an initiative that has resulted in Deloitte being recognised today as the pre-eminent financial advisory firm in the region.
In response to the rapid rate of change in the world (not just in technology), Anis says Deloitte has appointed a Head of Innovation to create a culture that enables the team to capitalise on new opportunities as they arise.
He asks, “Do we believe that as a business Deloitte can continue doing business the same way, and expect to grow at the rate we want to grow at? The answer to that is ‘no’. We have to come up with new ways of doing things that are more efficient and effective and allow us to move with the times.”
Deloitte is now in many respects the most successful of the ‘Big Four’ and the challenge it faces is to maintain that position and to continue to grow at a faster rate than its competitors.
Anis himself has worked for three of the Big Four firms in the Middle East, and he remarks that Deloitte’s goal is to no longer be part of this grouping, but rather to become “a category of one.”
His sense, after having worked for the competition, is that Deloitte has the most collegiate and positive internal culture, which facilitates change and allows the firm to grow.
“Our culture is to provide individuals the space to do what they want to do and are best at, and to be fair and equitable in a way that makes people feel they truly belong to the Deloitte ‘family’.”
Instead of instilling a punitive environment, Anis says, “if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn,” and adds that Deloitte gives its employees space to create and change.
He acknowledges the paradox of such a statement, the idea of an audit firm that prizes process, discipline and standards but also seeks innovation and creativity.
He asks, “Are we going to be doing audits ten or twenty years from now the same way as we do today; I think not …There’s got to be more clever ways of doing things.”
“I’m a strong believer in having a mix of people: a mix of personalities, cultures, nationalities, of gender, everything. I think that good people working together will spark off each other…The joyful thing about Deloitte is that in our culture we allow people to be individuals, and collectively they create something better than they would do if they all thought the same,” Sadek says.
He describes how he believes it’s important to motivate people to improve their skills so that they can contribute in meaningful ways.
Anis defines his working style as characterised by accessibility and commitment to his clients and colleagues and his conviction that an auditor should pro-actively offer constructive advice and support of value to his clients, building on the intimate knowledge gained by virtue of the role.
He considers adaptability and flexibility to be his strong traits and does not let setbacks affect him for long. He urges ambitious professionals to remain positive, have confidence in themselves, and maintain a good work-life balance.
He credits his wife and family for supporting him when times are rough and trying. Finally, he says that one must build on one’s strengths to succeed in the diverse working environment, and cultivate a deep knowledge base so it comes through to your clients and team.