Harry Goddard is slaloming his way between meeting rooms, endeavouring to recall the nuances of what he has just said while simultaneously priming himself for what he is about to say next.

It is late 2018 and Goddard is one of several candidates vying to replace the outgoing Brendan Jennings as managing partner of Deloitte, the Big Four accountancy firm with 2,700 staff and a reach into every industry and sector on the island.

The process is physically intense and mentally penetrating; it is more election than corporate interview, and the constituency extends to the 90 partners within the firm. To become managing partner, you must convince your peers you are up to the job.

Given that he led the firm’s profitable and expanding consultancy division, there was an expectation that he would enter the race. Yet, Goddard was initially not sure, arguing privately that his time and energy was best spent driving the consulting business.

Eventually, some of his colleagues hauled him into a meeting room and set him straight, joking that his division might be better off without him.

He relented. Indeed, the decision was not his alone. Unlike in a number of other firms, partners cannot nominate themselves in Deloitte, and must instead receive nominations from their colleagues.

Shortlisted candidates are then invited to participate in the process. It is at this point the shuttle diplomacy and electioneering begins in earnest.

First, candidates are asked to produce a short form manifesto and a CV. They then must stand up and present to the other partners.

Round two is where the slaloming through the meeting rooms comes into play. All candidates must produce a vision document and in-depth plan to support their candidacy, and then present it to four rooms of 20-odd partners. You are quizzed on management style, growth strategy and all aspects of the business.

There is further feedback from partners and further interviews with select groups. In between, all the candidate have one-on-one meetings with each of the partners individually. The long list of candidates is whittled down, and eventually, following a three month process, one name comes forward to lead the firm for a four-year term, with the possibility of a second stint.

Last year, following this process, the name that came forward was Harry Goddard.

Recalling the ballot process months later, Goddard says it was both intense and self-reflective.

“It makes you think about what you really actually want to do, where you want to spend your time, why you think you are fit for the role,” he tells me. “You get past the cliché reasons and you really get into sort of person who you are.”


I meet Harry Goddard on the sixth floor of Deloitte’s headquarters on Dublin’s Earlsfort Terrace, a short stroll from the National Concert Hall. The sixth floor is what marketing professionals call ‘the consumer facing space’ – the place where clients and visitors are guided to, away from the hustle and the action of the main office area.

The floor is modern, bright and serene, with its own reception area leading to a warren of various sized meeting rooms. This reception is dotted with art works; for effect there is an eye-catching server housed behind a glass wall, which Goddard happily poses in front of for pictures for this interview.

He is tall, lean and athletic, and happily takes the interview without an adviser or public relations specialist. A consultant, it is no surprise that he has a firm grasp of his message. Yet, as the interview proceeds, and we stray into areas outside of Deloitte and into the wider economic framework, he gives a greater sense of himself and his views.

Having gone through the three months process at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019, Goddard formally took command at the start of June, having completed a handover period with Jennings.

“They call that period ‘transition’, which is a complete lie,” he says. “Because it is actually a period of information accumulation. You have really no idea what you’re supposed to be doing until after the first of June. You are sitting in the seat and you suddenly realise that there’s nobody behind you. You are in it now, but you have all this information.”

I suggest that June is an unusual time to change leaders, but Goddard says the timing is actually perfect, providing a number of quieter months to get steadied and to get a new team in place. In this case, Goddard appointed a leadership team of 13 people – a kitchen cabinet to drive various divisions within the firm.

“There’s no doubt I could run the business with a smaller leadership team, but actually I really see that I need to use the executive of this organisation as a platform to support high potential partners to develop the leadership skills and to build their brand and create opportunities for themselves in the future firm,” he says.

“So, what is my job?  My job is to create the future firm and the future firm in the context of the change in regulation, the potential with technology and the potential that we now have being part of a larger organisation.”

That larger organisation that Goddard is referring to relates to a wide-ranging overhaul of how Deloitte is structured – and consequently owned. Until recently, Deloitte in Ireland was owned by the Irish partners, a private enterprise linked to the wider Deloitte group but owned and operated by those appointed to partner level.

“I now find myself sitting in front of the mirror having exactly that conversation with myself.”

That has now changed, and the firm is now part of a much bigger franchise that covers half of Europe; the ultimately plan is that the firm will become a pan European entity. The net result is that the Irish partners now own a smaller piece of a much larger pie.

“That’s a very significant change in our environment and it creates a great opportunity for us, because it means that the partners in the firm don’t need to just see the Irish leadership team as the pinnacle of their careers,” says Goddard.

“They have the opportunity to provide leadership, particularly to significant clients of the firm across Europe, which I think is a real opportunity. It also means we have much greater opportunity to bring capability of value to Europe.  So those two things alone create a fundamental shift in how we think about our business and how we think about our marketplace.”

According to Goddard, there are multiple benefits to the new structure aside from offering more options to ambitious staff.

“So, one of the big opportunities is ensuring that we are equipped – and the partners are equipped and enabled – to take advantage of that and it’s a very practical thing. The second thing I would say is that no more than every other business in the world, we are going through a period of digital transformation and disruption arising from digital technology and I think ensuring that we are equipped again to take advantage of the benefits of technology within our business is important.  And the third element is regulation. You’ve a lot of regulation, particularly coming from the UK, and that will influence our business.

“In my role as a consultant, I was advising clients on how they deal with digital transformation, the impact of regulation and the changing nature of the workforce. I now find myself sitting in front of the mirror having exactly that conversation with myself.”


“I personally would worry more about what happens in the US than what I would with Brexit”

“Depending on the sector that you are in, it is cautious optimism or cautious pessimism”

The data and the metrics point to an increasingly robust economy. The flow of foreign direct investment continues, while tax revenues for 2019 came in ahead of expectations. Unemployment has fallen to almost negligible rates and the number of young companies launching continues to rise. Indeed, it says much that the main parties all based their manifesto around an additional €11 billion for funding being available over the next five years. The indicators point to something almost unthinkable a decade ago: economic overheating.

But the numbers does not tell the full story.  Indeed, in our series of pre-election interview with the finance spokespeople of the main parties, all pointed to brewing international trade tensions and global economic instability.

Writing on this site in recent weeks, Patrick Honohan, the economist who was previously a Governor of the Central Bank said: “Despite the relief following the removal of the threat of a physical border in Ireland, the economic costs of Brexit for Ireland still look considerable.”

From Brexit to global tax reform, the global outlook is squally. Indeed, Paschal Donohoe has argued here and elsewhere that the impact of an imminent reconstruction of global tax structures could be more detrimental to the Irish economy than Brexit.

Given his firm has a ringside view of the economy, these are issues I want to discuss with Goddard. Deloitte’s vast international network gives him a sense of the international mood music, while its access to companies of all sizes adds perspective to the domestic economy.

We begin with an overview of the economic outlook.

Ian Kehoe (IK): Depending on who you talk to, the economy is either at risk of overheating or subject to a Brexit induced crisis.  From your perspective, what is the mood music of Irish business?

Harry Goddard (HG): Depending on the sector that you are in, it is cautious optimism or cautious pessimism. And I think it gets pretty nuanced. Overall, I think there is a certain amount of cautious optimism and people are really mindful of where we’ve come from. There’s no doubt that Brexit is definitely unhelpful and if you’re a business that has significant exposure to the UK, or in a supply chain that’s linked to the UK, you’re not going to be optimistic.

It’s not just the potential friction cost associated with the UK leaving the EU, but the risk of a recession in the UK economy. I think that is the real concern. Outside of that though, you know when we look at deals from an M&A point of view, we look at investment levels from our clients, and businesses are performing well across most sectors. You feel like the harbinger of potential bad news, but it’s coming back to organisations really being ready for the what if scenario.

IK: A lot of the attention has been on Brexit. But I have spoken to lots of businesspeople and it is the perilous state of the US economy that is really troubling them.

HG: I personally would worry more about what happens in the US than what I would with Brexit. I see that as a much greater potential risk to our economy, just given the configuration of our economy.  It is also hard to be optimistic about some of the economies in Europe. So, Germany, France, Italy are all on various sides of a fault line. In my own mind and the way we sort of think about it is that if the UK, the US and Europe is heading into a slow down or a downturn, it is unavoidable for us not to be affected by that. But that is the price of being an integral part of the global economy. 

We can’t step out of it. We can’t control it. We will be in it and it will be all about what we do when we’re in it. I think the real trick for us is to ensure that we don’t do something to ourselves that results in us being out of cycle with those global economies on whom we are so dependent.

“There are things on a social level that we do, and we probably don’t even realise it.”

IK: Such as?

HG: I mean that will come down to the sort of policy we put in place in response to Brexit. I think particularly in relation to the SME sector. I think it will be how we deal with the next round of changes from the OECD in relation to tax. I think some of the tactics that will become really interesting in the future. If you think about the UK leaving the EU, there is the discussions that they may have with the US and/or China and the consequences as to how those discussions evolve depending on who’s in which seat actually could be quite significant to us as an open economy – positively and negatively – depending on how they fall out.

So, I think the thing that we have done successfully for over 100 years; we have this skill for soft diplomacy. That will become so crucially important for us.

IK: You touched upon the issue of corporation tax and the ongoing work of the OECD to reform the global tax system. This could have massive consequences on the tax take. Paschal Donohoe and Ibec have both said it could be more harmful than Brexit in the long term.

HG: I would wholly agree. I mean the US has become number two silently in terms of value to our economy, so it is a huge deal for us. If I put on my optimistic hat; I met with some of the multinationals probably three or four months ago when they were over in Dublin Castle and, you know, provocatively I would ask them ‘So Ireland, it’s all about the tax and the talent, right?’  And in fairness to them the US guys in particular would say ‘Actually it’s about the talent.’

IK: And that is the difference between brass plates and companies and people doing real economic activity.

HG: Real people doing real things, and actually the open economy, the skill level, the educated workforce. There are things on a social level that we do, and we probably don’t even realise it. The fact that we invite in and accommodate people from all over the world, that we have that open and inclusive culture, the fact that we have such a well-educated workforce. I mean the decision to make free education was so transformative in our economy and it’s so valuable to us today it’s incredible. So, there are things like that, which are just so fundamentally important to our future success.

Harry Goddard on winning customers…

“The secret sauce is? It is very boring, but it comes down to trust of relationships. At the end of the day, if somebody wants to have a serious conversation with you or wants you to do something that’s really important to their business, you know the brand may or may not give you permission to have the conversation. But they want to talk to somebody that they trust and trust is a complicated thing.  You’ve got credibility, reliability, intimacy, self-orientation, personal style, are all components of trust and being able to have relationships with senior executives that reflects that well is really the key to being able to build customers.”

“Courage, entrepreneurship, inclusivity”

Sometimes it is the little things that make the big impression. And for Harry Goddard, that little thing happened a during a mingler with potential graduate recruits.

Each year, some 5,000 people apply for a graduate position in Deloitte. They run events for those that are selected to go for interview; it is a chance for the firm to get a sense of the person, but, increasingly, it is also a chance for the potential hire to get a sense of the firm.

The world of work has changed, and this was hammered home to Goddard as he chatted to a number of young students at one recent event.

“They are always very engaging and it is brilliant. But this was the first time ever I was asked two questions by a number of people. The first was ‘What’s your opinion on the climate crisis?’ and the next was ‘What’s Deloitte doing about the climate crisis?’ And what was different about that wasn’t that it was about the climate crisis. What was different was that they wanted to know my opinion personally.”

According to Goddard, the expectation paradigm of what people expect from a career and from the company they work for has changed. And this means the company must also change how it deals with issues such as attracting, retaining and recruiting people in the future.

Goddard’s own journey is testament to that. He worked with both KPMG and BearingPoint, plus did stints with a number of smaller consulting and technology businesses. Indeed, he only joined Deloitte 12 years before coming managing partner.

“They’re what make us distinctive in the Deloitte network and, in the Irish market – they are courage, entrepreneurship and inclusivity.”

Harry Goddard

But, Goddard believes that sort of portfolio career will become more common, and that means firms like Deloitte must adjust. In particular, he says it will become more common for people to leave a firm for a period – only to return.

“We used to have a situation, and we still do have a situation today, whereby people join us out of college. They stay with us for a while and they leave, particularly very talented people,” he says.

“Traditionally, we would have mull it over and said, ‘They’ll regret that’ or ‘Can’t believe they’ve left and what a bad mistake they’ve made.’ But what I absorbed over a number of years is that a number of people came back and were called ‘The Boomerangs’, and we got very excited about that and we patted ourselves on the back and said ‘We were right.’  

“The reality is that isn’t the case at all.  The reality is people expect to have a portfolio career and the question for us actually is how are we going to support people that will want to spend, in their lifetime of work, two, or three, or four careers with Deloitte and how will we recognise the experiences out of Deloitte in a way that is incremental to their experience in Deloitte.”

A key part of that, he argues, comes down to culture. And this something that Goddard has thought a lot about since winning the election.

During the months after he took over, he carried out his own research to determine how Deloitte was perceived – both internally and externally.

First, he went to the market, speaking with clients, chief executives and other stakeholders to get their perspective on what they believed was Deloitte’s culture and values. He then interviewed retired partners of the firm to try and understand the legacy that had been created. He also sought historians and economists about Deloitte’s place in Irish history.

The aim, he says, was to pin down what made Deloitte unique and distinctive. “We did an exercise to look at our own values internally and they are obviously exactly the same as our global values, but what we have in Ireland that we’ve identified with is three values that are the right values, but which we amplify, because they’re what make us Deloitte Ireland,” he says.

“They’re what make us distinctive in the Deloitte network and, in the Irish market – they are courage, entrepreneurship and inclusivity.”


“It does feel like sort of the lonely middle child”

“There are really strong, well-managed, private businesses in Ireland that are who are quietly getting on with things incredibly successfully.”

There is long been a perception among Irish entrepreneurs of a two-tier system, where multinationals get the support and affection that Irish firms can only dream of – until they attain the necessary scale.

The campaign has started to gain sone traction. Sitting in her office in the Department of Business days after Budget 2020, Heather Humphries acknowledged to me that indigenous Irish businesses, particularly smaller firms, have felt overlooked by government in the past in favour of multinationals.

Indeed, many of the manifestos in the election acknowledged the fact, with promises of new schemes and reliefs to help domestic business. Fianna Fáil went as far as to pledge an eight-point drop to Capital Gains Tax, a move Paschal Donohoe felt was irresponsible and a threat to deal flow.

Given his role working across both multinationals and domestic business, Goddard is well placed to discuss this issue.

IK: A lot of good companies feel that the indigenous business have been left behind by official policy.

HG: It does feel like sort of the lonely middle child. And many of these companies are exposed to the global problems we discussed earlier. There are smaller companies in sectors where their distribution is into the UK and their margins are tight. Their capacity therefore to invest, to move to another market, is incredibly low.  In the event that there’s either friction to trade, or recession in the UK economy, the risk to their business is extremely high. 

But there are really strong, well-managed, private businesses in Ireland that are who are quietly getting on with things incredibly successfully.

“One of the things that made the IFSC successful was that we said ‘We have a physical centre for international financial services organisations’. But actually, it sounds so straightforward it’s almost overlooked.”

Harry Goddard

IK: But there is very little talk about them. When people say ‘The Irish economy’, we automatically think of the silicon docks and the shimmering Googles and Facebooks. But there are great Irish companies in rural Ireland – Combilift, Dairymaster. How do we break that mindset of thinking about multinationals coming first?

HG: How do we break that? It is a great question.  I mean I feel confident that organ of the state that looks at those organisations would say ‘More funding’.

IK: But it has to be about more than funding?

HG: I think that some of those organisations probably live in fantastic areas. Take agri-food for example. When I see what was happening, for example, in the beef sector in relation to pricing, one of the opportunities you feel exists there, and particularly getting to this discussion about Irish beef versus Brazilian, I mean it just doesn’t make sense.  We’re actually having the wrong conversation. And how do you take what we’ve done, for example, in that sector with Kerrygold, and apply that to Irish beef and change the conversation about the brand that we have and identify the products and capabilities?  Because it’s very difficult to set out a stall that says ‘I’m brilliant at everything’ but there are certain things that we do incredibly well. How do we create those clusters and then put some sort of branding around them, such that we can support them as platforms into the global economy? 

One of the things that made the IFSC successful was that we said ‘We have a physical centre for international financial services organisations’. But actually, it sounds so straightforward it’s almost overlooked.

So how do you do that in reverse? How do you create a platform? If I meet with colleagues from around the world and they say ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Ireland’ they always say ‘Irish beef.’ So, I’m sitting there thinking ‘They say that, why aren’t we saying that?’ 

IK: But instead we’re fighting the Brazilians and arguing for increased subsidies.

HG: So, the question I have is how do you identify the themes that we could take global? And then how would we brand those themes such that we can take them to the international marketplace?  If you think about that, that’s the problem that you want to solve and then think ‘Well where’s the infrastructure internally in the country to facilitate that, to create those themes and then help to create those platforms?’  Because, as I say, that’s what we’re doing in reverse.  We’ve got a big financial services, technology and pharma footprint. Ireland is known as having those three clusters to come into the country, to support Europe, but it’s not quite as clear what we have coming out of the country. 


The interview is drawing to a close, and the conversation has turned to the future. Goddard has a fixed term as managing partner – barring an unforeseen event, his run will last either four years or eight years.

I ask him what the firm will look like when he moves on. “When I think about the ambition I have for the business, there’s only two things, there are two things fundamentally I’d like us to have achieved, and we spent a lot of time thinking about this, but there’s only two things. One is that we would be the leading professional services firm in Ireland.

“And the second is that we would be a leading firm in the network. Deloitte is the largest professional services firm in the world. We would be a leading firm in its network, which is to say that the Irish business is relevant to the clients and businesses of Deloitte all over the world.”

Can he do it within eight years. “I am going to try,” he says. “Come back and ask me at the end.”