Executive Q&A: Kevin Baldwin, Pacific Northwest market managing partner, PwC

March 21, 2014

Leslie Helm


Kevin Baldwins background is in health care consulting, but since arriving in Seattle three years ago, he has become heavily involved in the citys civic life, serving on the board of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce as well as the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association.

EARLY LIFE: I was raised in Oklahoma City by my mother and grandmother. My father wasnt part of our life. My mother started an electrical consulting business. I remember her doing customer bills at the kitchen table. We had adult conversations. I became an old soul at a young age.

GOLF: I got into golf at 13. I would leave school and head straight to the course and play until dark. I would get pickup games with business people. I learned about people significantly older than me. How did they handle adversity? Why did they respect the rules? How did they control their emotions in high-pressure situations? I learned the basic things like introducing yourself at the first tee, saying good shot and shaking hands at the end of a round.

EDUCATION: I got a golf scholarship to Oklahoma City University. It taught me a lot about teamwork. Since everyones performance counts, its to your benefit to teach, provide perspective and mentor others. I was inducted into OCUs sports Hall of Fame and spent a short time as a professional golfer before I realized I needed a real job. It was hard leaving what Id dreamed of doing and going to work.

CAREER: I started as a temp in the finance division of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. I was there when the Federal Building was bombed in 1995. A large number of injured children came to our hospital. Seeing these distraught parents who were frantically traveling from hospital to hospital in an effort to find their children is something I will never forget. This experience truly makes me appreciate what I have and how quickly it can be taken away. Those were hard days. I never forgot working there at minimum wage. I learned to have empathy for people doing that.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: While working, I returned to school to get my M.B.A Then I took a consulting job at Ernest & Young in Atlanta. When a lot of firms were selling off their consulting businesses, a group of us read the tea leaves and left in 1999 to form a health care consulting company. Theres nothing like having hundreds of people relying on you for a paycheck. Its one of the most rewarding and scary propositions any businessperson faces. It taught me focus, to get out there and get business. Nobody else is going to do it for you. The company had 166 people by the time we sold it to PwC [which was then PricewaterhouseCoopers] in 2002. I then worked with PwC in Atlanta, Dallas and, finally, San Francisco, where I was head of advisory services for all industries.

SEATTLE: I moved here in December 2011 to be managing partner for the Pacific Northwest, where we have 600 employees, of whom 450 are in Washington state covering core audit and risk assurance, tax and advisory business. The business environment here is fantastic. The business, civic and philanthropic leaders are among the best people I have worked with anywhere in the country: competent, authentic, open to ideas. There is a multi-industry ecosystem that makes this city thrive.

PwC: We are all about helping clients face complex problems, whether its cities, nations or companies. One of our key growth sectors is health care. There is tremendous uncertainty but also opportunity for success. Providers are being forced to be more transparent on price and quality. Part of it is the market focus from purchasing insurance on the health exchanges. But you are also seeing more pricing transparency with organizations beginning to promote their pricing to the general public. High-deductible health plans are putting the onus on consumers to make decisions about price and quality. When you have a co-pay of $20, you dont care as much. If you are on the hook for the first $5,000, its important to make good choices.

SERVICE: More health are organizations are emphasizing customer experience. Consider waiting rooms. Are they designed for the convenience of the patient or the providers? There arent a lot of services we partake in that require waiting rooms. And think of how we access a hospital. The entrance is great if you are going to the gift shop, but it might not be ideal if you are going for hip surgery. You need to look at it through the eyes
of the customer, whether its a 12-year-old with a broken arm or an elderly person on her 12th round of rehab on her knees.

RETAIL: There are a number of major brands here in retail like Starbucks, Costco, Nordstrom and Amazon. Once the ecosystem is populated, the flywheel takes effect. We just transferred in an expert in retail as the new leader of our advisory group.

TECHNOLOGY: We spend a great deal of time helping our clients not only to implement technology but also to help them understand the what. What should you be investing in and is tech an enabler in that area? You need to find one strategy [concept] that encompasses both business strategy and IT strategy.

CUSTOMERS: Whether you are talking about airlines or health care, its important to understand customers and the personas they represent, what drives their behavior that is important to the customer experience. We made two acquisitions that give us an ants-eye view of that. We show clients how to use the digital experience to get closer to the customer. Whether its a website, a Facebook page or Twitter, its not just developing the infrastructure to support it but also learning how to react to the information you get from customers.

PHILANTHROPY: Our cores skills are in finance. Numbers are important to us, so we work with grade schools to deliver youth education with a focus on financial literacy.