Election at PwC India: 5 candidates in fray for the top job

The race for PwC corner office is set to be a hotly contested affair after 5 candidates have thrown their hats in the ring as the Big Four firm prepares to formally kick-off the election process to elect a successor to the current incumbent Shyamal Mukherjee whose tenure comes to an end in December 2020.

According to multiple sources, the leaders in the fray are Gautam Mehra, the head of tax and regulatory business, Deepankar Sanwalka, the firm’s advisory business leader, Sanjeev Krishan, who oversees the deals and transactions-related businesses, Sanjay Tolia, who currently drives the markets and outreach initiatives and S Vivek, the audit head.

This will be the third election in PwC after 2007 in which the local partners will choose their leader.

According to PwC website and Linkedin, Mehra has spent 17 years in PwC and last 6 as the leader of its tax practice, Tolia has spent nearly 22 years with the firm including last 8 years in leadership positions and Krishan has spent 29 years in PwC taking over as firm’s private equity leader in 2011 and then leading the firm’s deals platform.

Out of the five candidates, two have done stints at rival firm, KPMG: Sanwalka joined PwC from rival firm KPMG in 2014 as leader of PwC’s risk advisory business and S Vivek took over PwC’s audit business last year from Russell Parera.

Amongst the current candidates, Sanwalka, Mehra, Tolia and Krishan are all members of PwC’s India leadership team, as per the firm’s website.

PwC did not reply to the ET questionnaire on the election candidates and process.

The current Chairman and CEO, Shyamal Mukherjee took over from his predecessor Deepak Kapoor on January 1, 2017.

While Kapoor not only steadied the firm after the Satyam debacle, he brought the fractured partnership together and also revived growth.

In his term, Mukherjee has consolidated PwC’s number two position, created new growth verticals and bit the bullet on issues like dropping high-profile but risky clients to carve out a sustainable long-term business.

And even during Mukherjee’s election, the contest started with five candidates initially but later three candidates dropped out or were eliminated in a screening process and in a two-way contest, Mukherjee pipped the firm’s South India leader Pradip Kanakia for the top job.

Given that PwC has had a history of tumultuous elections which have sometimes brought the firm’s factionalism to the fore, the election will be a keenly tracked one by the professional services fraternity.

In 2007 elections, Deepak Kapoor, then the interim CEO and the favourite candidate, lost to Ramesh Rajan by a couple of votes in a shock verdict.

The election saw a bitter fight within the factions of the firm with large scale interference from outside by some old hands who were forced out by PwC global management.

However, after the Satyam fiasco, Chairman Ramesh Rajan was replaced by Gautam Banerjee who was brought in by the PwC headquarters from Singapore to lead the firm.

After Banerjee, the widely popular Kapoor then made a comeback as the Chairman and CEO for two terms.

In PwC, the election process kicks off by a vetting process of the candidates by the firm’s partner oversight committee. Then there is an 10 day long online voting process in which firm’s partners vote.

As the election process starts, the new leader will have to steer the firm probably through the toughest time in the history of firm in India as revenues are set to plunge due to stalled economic activity after the Covid19 lockdown and tough cost decisions will have to be taken during the next couple of years. Also the sceptre of Satyam continues to hang over the firm as the litigation with SEBI continues after the market regulator debarred the firm from auditing books of listed companies for two years.

PwC in March had deferred promotions, increments and bonuses of India employees and asked partners to take a25% pay cut as Covid19 pandemic and the lockdown had impacted the firm’s working capital.