Article: Ewan Clarkson of PwC: In the business of building trust


Ewan Clarkson of PwC: In the business of building trust

Leadership is meant to inspire, empower and evolve people even in the most challenging times. That's how you build trust in the face of uncertainty.
Ewan Clarkson of PwC: In the business of building trust

In modern business, the role of chief people officer carries with it a profound responsibility and opportunity to shape the workforce of the future.

In the latest episode of the podcast People Matters Unplugged, Ewan Clarkson, chief people officer at PwC in Mainland China and Hong Kong, shares his reflections on two decades of business transformation and the role of leadership in nurturing talent. "It's an absolute privilege to be a chief people officer," he said.

In times of uncertainty, leaders need to listen to their people

For Clarkson, business success is built around creating a meaningful work environment.

His journey, spanning the globe from London to New York to Asia, reveals a universal truth: the workplace as a social environment doesn't exist independently of the realities affecting our wider communities.

"From a business perspective, we take an outside-in approach, really understanding the external environment, what [current events] mean to our business and our clients, and then putting people at the heart of the solution," Clarkson said. 

Aligning the firm’s objectives with the evolving needs of the broader market is paramount to his work. It’s a testament to how businesses thrive when they place their people at the core of their solutions, especially in times of uncertainty.

"Our purpose is about building trust in society and solving important problems. In recent years, we've seen the very best and worst in leadership as we came through COVID, [as well as] the difficult environment that we've seen with the cost of living and inflation and some geopolitical challenges," he said.

"We are redefining what leadership looks like regarding leading in this uncertain and different environment. What's enabled us to be successful in the past won't necessarily be the same in the future. And so, we focused on [building] a trusted leadership and looking at how we can empower everybody at every level with the skills and the capabilities we believe are important."

Inspiring, empowering and evolving talent

Clarkson sees the role of leadership in three ways: inspiring, empowering and evolving people in the face of uncertainty.

People leaders are responsible for "enabling a place where people are respected, and voices are heard" while being comfortable listening, empathising, and putting people first when they don't have all the answers.

"By doing all of that, we inspire those around us to be the best version of themselves. Inspiration is critical moving forward," he said.

"Second is empowering our people to embrace challenges. [Leaders] trust others to make decisions, but also to be flexible in helping others move through difficult times and instilling confidence in our people. But they also speak the truth even when it's hard.

"Finally, the role of leadership evolves in terms of building inclusive communities where diverse people can grow, and ideas can thrive. Ultimately, we focus on helping people learn and stay curious. If we can ensure that people are inspired and empowered and help them evolve, we'll be in a better shape to help our clients and broader society within this uncertain environment," he said. 

"Our business is all about trust. And every interaction we have every day is all about trust and ensuring that our people are operating with integrity."

Rising with the best

Clarkson shared some critical elements of PwC's employer value proposition, including its work environment. "[We] build an environment where people can impact society and ensure that they're working with some of the most well-respected and prestigious brands is a fantastic proposition," he said.

"The notion of rising with the best, working with smart and top-talented professionals, and offering challenging and meaningful work by creating a great environment for people to live, learn and effectively develop. It's also about upskilling for the future, creating an opportunity where people get the right experience and build skills relevant for the future."

Tune into Season 2 of the podcast People Matters Unplugged: A Kaleidoscope of Culture

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Topics: Leadership, Business

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