In this interview, Hugo Burgos Sánchez, RSM Puerto Rico Audit Partner and RSM Global Quality Committee Board Member for Latin America, talks about the value of mentorship, leveraging technology, and shares some of his new hobbies.
Could you start by telling us a little bit more about yourself?My life journey starts in barrio Playitas (Little Beaches neighbourhood), in Yabucoa. Funny enough, there are no beaches there! (Laughs.) My family later moved to Caguas, and I started attending college in the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. That’s where I met my wife, Karen. Back then, I had a motorcycle that I used to drive myself to college and to go visit Karen! Fun fact, she proposed to me! (Laughs.) We have now been married 31 years; have three kids and two grandkids. We have also had some furry pets throughout the years. At this point in our lives, we are looking forward to the next stage in our relationship. Karen and I prepared our kids for life, to be independent. Now that they have embraced it, we have the opposite of empty nest syndrome (laughs)!
Tell us the story of how you came to work in the firm and your career path to partnership.
To answer that, we need to go back to how I started in accounting. Before even knowing that accounting existed, I was certain that I wanted to become a civil engineer. I saw myself in construction, as I have always been very handy and a craftsman. Accounting was not even a thought! In college, I met Professor Aida Kalil, who took me under her wing and pointed me towards the accounting profession. She became my mentor and helped me through the CPA certification process. I graduated college already a Certified Public Accountant. Early on, I really understood the power of mentorship, and how the right guidance can change your life, which is why I strongly believe that everyone should find a mentor, particularly in those formative years.
My first public accounting challenge came in 2002, when my employer at the time, Arthur Andersen, ceased operations. As that firm was shutting down, Luis Ocasio, a mentor and friend (now a retired partner from RSM Puerto Rico), and another firm contacted me. With both offers on the table, my managing partner at the time advised me to go with RSM Puerto Rico. Again, the power of mentorship! A mentor sees things that a mentee cannot, and with the right collaboration, they can guide you in the right direction. A few months later, I started working here as a manager and became partner in 2008.
In the past few years, RSM Puerto Rico has managed to overcome three natural disasters, two hurricanes (María and Fiona) and an earthquake—all of which devastated the island—and a pandemic that changed the way business is done. What has been your strategy to lead your team through such challenging times?
As a firm, everything operates with a group mentality that we call “the working partners style,” which is working hand in hand with both employees and clients. With that framework and knowing that our most important resource is our people, we truly have an understanding of what our teams need. Once challenging times started, we sat down to identify what was best for the collective, brainstorming how we could improve the situation and make the right choices moving forward. Therefore, before the pandemic, we were already investing in technology for hybrid work in order to provide flexibility to our employees, because we saw the benefits for our teams. In a few months, the pandemic hit and accelerated that process, so I would say that the key is to work steadfast with your team and the times. I believe that if you do not support your staff, you cannot expect a supportive team.
What do you uniquely contribute to the team of partners?
(Laughs.) I think that I am one to always think strategically and outside the box. I question and challenge everything to make sure that we see things from all possible angles, which prompts us to make better decisions. Besides that, quality control! I was recently appointed as a member of the RSM Global Quality Committee, representing the Latin American region. There is only nine of us in the board worldwide. There, we not only look at the quality of the work that firms in the global network deliver, but also how they operate as a whole. To achieve RSM standards, all the firms in the network must abide to the same criteria and practices from the inside out. Quality control is not easy, but it is what keeps our standards sharp and how we provide the highest quality of service. However, it requires us to constantly work those muscles, and when you work out you get sore, but you grow!
How are things changing in the practice of your specialization that is reshaping businesses?
Assurance as an industry has a very developed and mature market, meaning that it’s hard to stand out from the competition. This is why I am always advocating for the leverage of technology and other resources to constantly improve our agility. The day only has 24 hours, so we have to put all of our resources and energy into getting the most efficient results.
This applies to everything. Let’s say, staffing…You want to build well-rounded teams with employees from all levels and experience, while trying to keep things fair and prevent burn out. To help us do that quickly and consistently, we brought a tool that helps with the staffing process and it has been a game changer. I believe in the power of technology to propel us forward.
Keeping that in mind, however, assurance at its core is the constant concretization of abstract terms, for example risk assessment. To bring abstract terms to life and explain them, one must use their fine professional judgement. I do not think AI (artificial intelligence) can do that yet, but it can help speed up some processes and maximize our efforts. Therefore, the challenge as the business keeps changing and implementing new technologies is making sure that employees are well versed in them and know how to use them to their full advantage.
How do you envision the future of the firm?
Vibrant! This firm is growing and will continue to grow and adapt to market needs. We are constantly working to leverage technology and becoming more agile every day. At the core, we build trust and abide to the highest standards of quality. As advisors, we are there for businesses throughout their lifecycle stages, whether it be expanding, restructuring, or even downsizing. As a firm, our common differentiator is the ability to provide confidence to our clients and the markets.
And what about you as a person outside of work – what do you like to do in your free time?
(Laughs.) How do I say this? In this period of my life, I am making a transition into becoming “less nerdy”. Most of my free time, over the years, I have spent studying for my different certifications. [He has 5 credentials in his signature! CPA, CVA, CFE, CIA, and ESQ.] I was already partner when I became a lawyer! (Laughs) I really do enjoy studying, but now it’s time to get out of the books and into some leisure!
I have taken up boating and have been exploring the ropes as a rookie captain, and I am trying to travel more often, and spend more time with my grandkids. I am setting aside more time for sports, too, like playing golf and watching Formula 1 races. The most recent addition to my hobby list is that I have taken up direct and indirect cooking, which is the art and science of cooking by controlling temperatures through kettle grills and slow cookers, so I guess the nerd in me will always prevail! (Laughs.) Oh! And I dusted off my chess books, because my son has started to play, and he is not going to beat me! (Laughs harder.)going to beat me! (Laughs harder.)
This is the tenth delivery in a series of interviews to our partners and leadership, in lieu of the firm’s 45th anniversary celebration and inspired by an internal communication initiative by RSM International.