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KPMG executive reflects on ND, career

Marisa Iati | Monday, March 5, 2012

When he received a degree in accounting from Notre Dame in 1977, John Veihmeyer, chairman and chief executive officer of KPMG LLP, did not anticipate being an accountant his entire career. Thirty-five years later, he’s still in the business.

“I had been convinced that joining a firm like KPMG was going to give me a lot of opportunities to be exposed to a whole host of things that would help me decide what I did want to do,” Veihmeyer said. “The important thing is joining a firm that’s going to be open to challenging you in different ways.”

Veihmeyer visited campus Monday to speak about careers in public accounting and the world marketplace. He met with several faculty members, as well as current students who will work at branches of the Big Four accounting firm this summer.

Veihmeyer said he makes career decisions by predicting where he will be in five years if he chooses a given option, rather than solely considering short-term goals.

“Every time I came to that decision, I clearly decided that the path I was on [at KPMG] was going to advance my career faster and further,” he said. “I think everybody’s career is a winding road … I think your best decisions are decisions that are made with a three to five year horizon, not with a 12-month horizon.”

Veihmeyer said people should seek enjoyable careers by eliminating options that do not interest them.

“What I love to see people do is join organizations that are going to give them that opportunity to explore a little bit, see what they like,” Veihmeyer said. “If you don’t enjoy it, you’d better find something else to do because you spend too much time in your career to not really love what it is you’re doing. But … I think that’s a journey, not an overnight decision.”

Young professionals should take responsibility for managing their careers without trying to predict every step along the way, Veihmeyer said. Additionally, they should collaborate with other people, seek out mentors and develop global perspectives by studying abroad or interacting with students from other countries.

Veihmeyer said his Notre Dame experience taught him how to succeed in business while maintaining a high level of personal integrity.

“Notre Dame is a natural extension of my family, and I think that … prepared me very well for the career that I’ve had,” he said. “[At KPMG], how you treat other people is as important as the result that you ultimately drive toward, and I think a lot of that was really reinforced here at Notre Dame.”

In the more than three decades that have passed since Veihmeyer graduated, he said the University has stayed the same in some ways, but flipped in others.

“When I was here, we were No. 1 in football and unranked in the business school, and now it’s kind of the other way around,” Veihmeyer said.

Veihmeyer said he loves visiting campus and supporting the University because of its unique spirit and culture.

“If you have to try to explain what makes Notre Dame special, then they’ve already missed the point,” he said. “I feel really lucky that I had Notre Dame and KPMG, both of which are great places … There’s a special feeling and a special culture that’s hard to explain. If you’re part of it, you’ll understand it, and if you’re not part of it, you’ll never understand it, so there’s no sense trying to explain it.”