Bob Dohrer began his career in 1989 at RSM US. In 2012, he became RSM International’s first global leader of quality and risk, before becoming chief auditor at the AICPA in 2018. Zoya Malik spoke to Dohrer following the announcement of his return to RSM as COO.

Zoya Malik: What convinced you to return to RSM?

Bob Dohrer: In my first spell with RSM, I had the opportunity to interact with people from across the world, to experience their cultures, swap ideas and share perspectives. I think more than anything, I missed these interactions - the culture and people at the heart of RSM, and that sense of having a global family.

I have also been watching enviously as RSM’s advisers wrestled with some of the world’s most thorny issues; from how to navigate the patchwork of international tax rules, to helping clients navigate through Covid-19. I have learned a lot in my time away from RSM, but I also realised how rewarding it is to work directly with clients and colleagues to help them overcome these sorts of cross-border challenges.

ZM: What is your short-term focus and what are your key objectives as COO?

BD: I am looking forward to diving straight in and connecting with people across our network. Under Jean Stephens’s leadership, RSM has continued to thrive despite the challenging market conditions, so first and foremost, I have a lot of listening and catching up to do. Indeed, there is so much innovation and creativity within the network, that an important part of my role will be to bring it all together under structures and processes which maximise their impact.

I am convinced that we need to continue to invest in our capabilities as a network, be it in our people, our technology or our brand. This will be a core part of my role going forward. But we also need to ensure that investment is spent efficiently, and that new capabilities and resources are delivered to RSM member firms in accessible ways.

ZM: Since you were last with RSM, audit has continued to face pressure to reform. How do you see RSM navigating this new landscape?

BD: Too often in the audit debate, we forget what the purpose of audit ultimately is. I believe that, as auditors, our role is to serve the public by providing confidence in businesses and the wider economy.

Clearly the profession doesn’t always live up to this expectation, and that is driving regulatory change. Accountancy firms need to decide whether their response will be to fight against the change by lowering expectations, or embrace it and increase the trust of society. These are complex issues that need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but our instincts at RSM are always to move forward by embracing change rather than preserving the status quo – but always focusing on quality.

ZM: Has Covid-19 changed how networks like RSM will function?

BD: Some businesses are hunkering down, waiting for everything to return to normal. I think they will be sorely disappointed.

Our sector has changed forever, but that is no bad thing. Certainly, from a technological standpoint, we have transformed our ability to collaborate digitally, but I think the biggest shift has been psychological. When collaborating in person becomes impossible, the perceived barriers of creating international teams of experts suddenly evaporate. As we’ve become more comfortable living our lives on video conferences, we’ve become better at having meaningful, and sometimes difficult conversations remotely. All this means is that we will end 2020 as a closer, more collaborative network than we started. We have to make sure we build on that in the future.

Of course, videoconferencing comes with its flaws. There will always be a place for face-to-face relationship building and no amount of technology will solve time zone challenges, but the perceived drawbacks of videoconferencing no longer seem like the hurdles they once were.

ZM: You are getting to know many new faces in a remote environment. What has been most challenging about this?

BD: It has been great to get a chance to meet so many people in my first few weeks, although it has been a big disappointment to not be able to meet people in person and shake their hands.

As a leader, it has been tough trying to form new relationships remotely, but the fundamentals of building trust are the same no matter how you interact. I am a strong believer that the way to build relationships is to be open with people about who you are and what you believe in. To do this properly, I find it’s vital to have one-on-ones as much as possible. They provide an opportunity to get to know people away from the packed agendas of committees and working groups.

ZM: What are your ambitions for RSM in the months and years to come?

BD: With 120 member firms from across the world, RSM is a complex and vibrant organisation. The network is full of insight, data and expertise, and I want to make it easier and quicker to surface it all.

That means investing in a digital infrastructure which gives us an edge reacting to changing market conditions, allows us to use data to identify problems before they become crises, and which ensures each member firm continues to gain value from belonging to the RSM network.