Episode 59: A Vision And A Subway: Surprising Recipe Brings KPMG Regional HQ to Vaughan, OntarioMay 29, 2019 | By: Patience Fairbrother
KPMG is one of the “big four” accounting firms and has over 200,000 employees across the globe. The firm’s practice in the Greater Toronto Area was growing and needed to find a new regional headquarters. At the same time KPMG was looking for a new headquarters, the city of Vaughan had a new Mayor who was focused on building a new and vibrant central business district. To get the story, we spoke with Sebastian Distefano, regional managing partner of KPMG, and Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, Vaughan’s mayor since 2010.
Andy Levine (DCI): Today’s story takes place in the city of Vaughan, Ontario. Just north of Toronto. With a population of about 300,000, Vaughan is one of the fastest growing cities in the Greater Toronto Area and Canada.
Patience Fairbrother (DCI): Our corporate focus today is on KPMG. KPMG is of course one of the “big four” accounting firms and has over 200,000 employees. The firm’s practice in the Greater Toronto Area was growing and needed to find a new regional headquarters.
Andy: At the same time KPMG was looking for a new headquarters, the city of Vaughan had a new Mayor who was focused on building a new and vibrant central business district. And that’s the backdrop of today’s story.
Andy: So welcome to episode 59 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.” I’m Andy Levine of Development Counsellors International.
Patience: And I’m Patience Fairbrother, also with DCI and Andy’s co-host of “The Project.”
So Andy, today’s podcast takes us to Canada and the GTA.
Andy: That’s right. And for our American listeners, GTA stands for Greater Toronto Area, not Grand Theft Auto.
Patience: So Andy you did the interviewers behind today’s story. Tell us about the two people that were interviewed.
Andy: The first is Sebastian Distefano, regional managing partner of KPMG for Greater Toronto Area. Sebastian has responsibility for managing 2,700 KPMG staff members in the region. He is the top dog in the region.
Our second interview is with Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua. Mayor Bevilacqua is a career politician who has held a range of leadership roles in Canada’s federal government. But in 2010 he left Ottawa and returned to his home in the city of Vaughan to work on the local level as Mayor. And creating a new central business district was a key priority for his new administration.
Patience: We’re going to start with Andy’s interview with Sebastian Distefano of KPMG
Andy: I want to go back to when KPMG started to look for a new regional headquarters in the Toronto area. Can you just paint a picture of what you were trying to achieve with that process?
Sebastian Distefano (KPMG): The city was changing and growing and we wanted to be positioned to be in the right market at the right time. And so we undertook a study with some advisors to really understand what our options looked like. We also undertook a study to understand where our clients were doing business and where our people resided in terms of where were our people living. Was there a trend that we were seeing?
So there was a lot of heavy lifting and work and analysis done prior to that decision. And those would be, you know, “Where was the city growing?” “Where were our clients?” and, “Where do our people reside?” and, “How easy would it be for them to commute?” were key factors that we weighed heavily in our decision.
Andy: How did Vaughan first get on KPMGs radar screen?
Sebastian: What really put Vaughan on the map was the vision for the city. And the connection to the subway line was a huge differentiator for Vaughan versus some of the other alternatives we were looking at. So that really, in my mind, put Vaughan on the map. And then when you understood the vision that the city had and where they were going to be, roll the clock forward in 10, 15, 20 years, it really helped make the decision quite easy.
Patience: So Andy, did I hear this right? KPMG was attracted by a vision and a subway?
But let’s keep this show moving. What’s takeaway #2?
Andy: The short answer is yes. And that’s a good transition to our interview with Mayor Bevilacqua. When I asked him what made Vaughan, Ontario different he spoke eloquently about the workforce, the educational institutions that surround it, the city’s new hospital, highway infrastructure and the collaborative spirit of the city – all things that you’d expect from a city’s mayor. But his summary comment focused on “the new subway.”
Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua (City of Vaughan): So what’s special about our community above and beyond the great economic indicators, right, and the fact that we have, like, we’re the only municipality with a subway outside of the city of Toronto.
Patience: So let’s go back with a short history lesson. In November, 2009, the official ground breaking ceremony was held for the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension which was to connect Vaughan to the city of Toronto. Tunneling was started in 2011 and the project was finally completed six years later in December 2017.
Andy: So using the subway as a magnet, Mayor Bevilacqua and his team sought to find an anchor tenant for the new downtown district also known as the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.
Mayor Bevilacqua: When you’re doing city building or when you’re building a downtown core, you always remember the pioneers and KPMG was indeed a pioneer company that believed in our city, a company that was willing to make the investment and obviously serve the business community here in the city of Vaughan, a very vibrant and dynamic community at that. But really, the important thing was for us to get a foothold, how important it was for us to have a strong presence by a strong company with an international network.
Patience: So the subway was the driver. And it allowed Mayor Bevilacqua to present a broader vision for the city.
Mayor Bevilacqua: Well, listen, city building for me is a labor of love and you’ve got to nurture it, you got to care for it. You’ve got to always present your vision very clearly to the company that you want to become a partner with. And I talked about partnerships in the broader sense. You don’t build a city on your own but as mayor my responsibility is to clearly present a vision, and I always say, and I enter into an exercise called bringing the future to the present where when I sit with people, I make them imagine what the future is going to look like.
Patience: KPMG bought into that vision.
Sebastian: We believed in the vision that was put forth for the city and we believed it was good for the broader GTA and our practice and our people and our clients. And so I think it showed that KPMG is not scared to make a bold move and be a leader in an area that is just developing.
Andy: I asked Mayor Bevilacqua what it was like when KPMG finally announced their decision to bring their regional headquarters – and 785 jobs – to the City of Vaughan in a brand-new office tower.
Mayor Bevilacqua: Well, it was, obviously, in many ways without sounding too dramatic, but it was sort of a dream come true. Because when you work for something for so long, and you really pour your heart into it and you’re working with people who deeply care about the project. To be underneath the tent there with premier and members of the KPMG team and to finally, signal to the entire GTA, that we’re going to build this outstanding building and have these incredible partners was one of the highlights of my years as mayor.
Patience: Other companies have followed KPMG’s lead including PriceWaterhouseCoopers, one of KPMG’s top competitors. We asked Sebastian about that recent announcement.
Sebastian: You know, I’m actually quite happy that the area is getting further developed. And I’m happy that our competitors are coming up. I think that further reinforces the decision we made was the right decision. And I would, you know, I’m pretty excited about what the development opportunities will create for our business. And so I actually see that as a very positive trend, a positive move towards this development continuing and hopefully accelerating.
Patience: We’re going to give the final word to Mayor Bevilacqua and allow him to share some guidance for other communities.
Andy: If you were speaking at a conference of other mayor’s, mayor’s that perhaps wanted to, similarly do something dramatic, like attract a major company that became an anchor tenant for a downtown initiative. What advice would you give them? What are some of the lessons learned that you’ve learned the last eight years?
Mayor Bevilacqua: First of all, you always have to play to your strengths. You have to have a clear vision. You have to really do what I said earlier, bring the future to the present. It’s an incredible envisioning exercise that is necessary. If you don’t know what you want and if you don’t know where you want to go, it is obvious to both of us that you won’t get there.
And make sure that people understand that you are all in and that you’re going to be there for them. And really, the pitch has to be partnership.
Patience: Well, first of all, Andy, Great job bringing “The Project” to the country of Canada for the first time. What were some of your key takeaways from this story?
Andy: This one was kind of different. So I think the first thing was, you know, infrastructure really, in this case, the new Subway, it was an attention grabber. It caught KPMG’s eye just as they happened to be looking for a new headquarters and it just seemed to be a really good fit.
Patience: And I think, Andy, this is probably the first time we’ve seen infrastructure play such a central role in a story.
Andy: It’s true. Almost everything we’ve been doing in the last six months has been talent, talent, talent. It was sort of different to see this here. The other side was…and it’s interesting. The mayor talked about this first and he talked about his vision and why the vision was important, and I’d expect a mayor to talk about that but I heard exactly the same words from KPMG. Saying that vision of Vaughan and what it was becoming was very important to them and they wanted to be part of that. So it was kind of eerie how the mayor’s words and the corporate executive’s words, Sebastian’s words, sort of mirrored each other so exactly.
And finally, I think it’s just kind of cool that KPMG leads the way. They’re the pioneer. Then they’re sort of quickly followed by one of their top competitors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, who also says, “We’re also going to build a tower here in Vaughan.” And so in a short amount of time, it’s really been a remarkable success.
Patience: So that is a wrap on episode 59 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.”
Andy: We’d like to thank both Mayor Bevilacqua as well as Sebastian Distefano for the chance to interview them for the podcast. I’d also like to thank Michelle Samson. She’s the economic development officer for the city of Vaughan. She worked really hard to set up these interviews. It wasn’t easy getting in both of their calendars but it was well worth the wait.
Patience: We’ve got some terrific stories coming up in the weeks ahead. If you are a company executive or an economic developer and have a suggested episode for “The Project,” we’d love to hear from you. You can reach me, the young and hip co-host of the podcast, at [email protected]
Andy: And if you prefer wisdom and depth over talking with a flighty millennial, then you can reach me at [email protected]
Patience: Finally, we want to give a shoutout to our DCI colleague Intisar Wilson, who does all of the mixing and production on “The Project.” Making the two of us sound good really isn’t easy and Intisar does a great job at it.
Andy: Thank you, Intisar. “The Project” is sponsored by DCI. We’re the leader in marketing places and have served over 450 different cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at aboutdci.com.