Voice of Experience: Kathy Hannan, National Managing Partner, Diversity and Corporate Responsibility, KPMG LLP

KPMG: Kathy Hannan. Tax department. Photo by Andrew Collings.By Robin Madell (San Francisco)

Ethics. Philanthropic partnerships. Stakeholder engagement. Environmental best practices. Diversity objectives. For Kathy Hannan, these are not just platitudes, but guiding principles. This is both because of what she does, and who she is.

Hannan currently serves multiple executive roles as the national managing partner, chief diversity officer, chief corporate responsibility officer, and global lead partner at KPMG LLP. She has spent nearly three decades at the Big Four tax and advisory firm, whose member firms are among the largest international professional services networks in the world, with 152,000 professionals – including more than 8,600 partners – in 156 countries.

Throughout her long tenure at KPMG, Hannan served in various leadership positions, including vice chair of human resources. She was also the first female area managing partner for the Midwest tax practice. “Throughout my career, I’ve focused on people-related strategic business decisions impacting recruiting, succession planning, career development, training, and benefits,” says Hannan.

Hannan’s list of notable achievements within KPMG include establishing the Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) and Diversity Advisory Board, which serve as counsel to firm leadership on workplace matters. She also established the KPMG Network of Women in 2003 to engage KPMG’s women professionals and deliver a wide array of women’s programs and activities that strengthen strategic alliances locally.

Up to the Challenge

In addition to her significant work responsibilities, Hannan is also a mother. Having taken on leadership roles at a young age in her career (she was admitted to the KPMG partnership at age 32), it has been imperative for her to find ways to bridge the gap between work and family.

“I traveled extensively for clients and had a husband and two very young children,” she explains. “My job and my family both required a lot of time and attention – and both were high personal priorities for me. I was, however, determined to find a way to successfully manage these priorities, and adopted a positive mindset that I could do this no matter what.”

To do so, Hannan says that she viewed “work” and “life” not as mutually exclusive, but as an integration between work and non-work priorities, which she describes as “challenging, but doable.”

“I’ve been successful in achieving this integration and am a strong believer that anyone can have it all,” says Hannan. “It is dependent on managing your personal priorities to make the integration work.”

Personal Priority Integration

Professionals are ever in search of answers of how to more effectively blend or harmonize work and family. Hannan terms her own personal strategy – which she recommends to other working parents as well – as “personal priority integration.”

“Work is a part of our lives,” she says. “In order to be effective in life, there needs to be an understanding that these work and non-work priorities will shift and it is your responsibility to identify and understand your own personal priorities, make time for them, and make them work together.”

Hannan explains that taking a positive approach in thinking about how to integrate priorities is a critical step in achieving success and high performance. “I’ve always considered my career as an investment, rather than making a sacrifice or paying my dues,” she says. “It is this type of language – ‘sacrifice,’ ‘demanding,’ ‘paying dues,’ and ‘work-life balance’ – that create negativity around managing priorities.”

In order to create a successful integration of work and non-work priorities, Hannan suggests that we need to move away from “negative language” and obstacles that could discourage success, and instead think positively about what is possible and what can be achieved.

As an example, Hannan says she understood that given her career investments and responsibilities, she would not be able to attend all of her daughters’ recitals, but she decided which ones were the most important. “I made it a point to put it on my calendar and be there for them – because that was a personal priority and I managed my time to make it work,” she says.

Similarly, when Hannan had extensive international travel commitments, she knew she couldn’t be physically with her children each day and night. So she made it a priority to touch base with them before school, after school, and before bed – no matter where she was in the world. “This was not easy for me and required significant planning,” she admits. “However, international travel for my job and connecting with my daughters were both personal priorities for me, so I made the investment – not sacrifice – to make them both work.”

Bridging the Gaps

The other piece of managing work-life effectively is making the work side “work.” To this end, Hannan recommends that working mothers and fathers offer honest and transparent communication with team members about family priorities that may need to be integrated into the workday.

“Staying connected and in touch with your team becomes so important to an effective work environment, whether you’re physically in the office or working remotely,” says Hannan. “High performance requires us to be highly effective in integrating our priorities, so if you are going to be offline for a time, that should be clearly communicated to team members. Take advantage of the technology we have today, which is a huge enabler for staying connected and ensuring we can integrate our personal priorities while maintaining effective work habits.”

She adds that it’s important to understand that while employers can help you manage your priorities, ultimately you need to take ownership of your career. “There will always be challenges and issues that arise,” she says. “But owning the management of your priorities will help lead to that successful integration of work and non-work priorities.”

Triple Duty

With all she does in the office to advance opportunities for women, you might guess that Hannan spends her weekends relaxing. But Hannan currently serves as a board member for Girl Scouts of America USA , the Adler Planetarium, Loras College, and the KPMG Foundation. She also sits on the Board of Advisors of Catalyst, the Board of Governors for the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association, and the Metropolitan Planning Council.

“I have always felt a civic obligation to improve the quality of life for others, whether within the work environment or in the community,” she says. “I actively support programs that address the needs of underserved communities and initiatives targeting workforce readiness, youth, and education.”