“We moved into an unusual building and wanted furniture that emanated both innovation and stability. At Walter Knoll, we found what we were looking for.”
Koen Maerevoet from KPMG Belgium explains what furniture has to do with respect, team spirit and management – and why his clients like to visit him at his office so much. An interview on mindfulness.
Mr. Maerevoet, you just made a beeline for the 369 armchair by Walter Knoll. Is that a coincidence?
Not at all. This chair is my favorite model. It is compact, flexible and very comfortable, and its high quality is a way of showing respect to guests and employees alike.
Why did you choose furniture by Walter Knoll for your new headquarters?
We moved into an unusual building – and wanted unusual furniture. Furniture that would emanate the core values of our work: innovation, stability and trust. And at Walter Knoll we found what we were looking for. The architecture and furniture are in perfect harmony with one another and with the values of KPMG.
There are various meeting rooms here on the tenth floor. Almost all the tables are round. Does that have anything to do with your values?
Although we’re a big company, we’re essentially a family and communicate as such. Once a month I invite a dozen employees to lunch so we can have an open discussion. If we’re all sitting together in a big group, that makes the meeting easier.
What does management mean to you?
To guide a group towards achieving a shared goal. To effectively communicate a vision and be able to develop a strategy based on that.
What matters more? Managing or letting the employees do their thing?
Good question. Our employees are highly qualified individuals who want to make their own decisions. That’s why it’s important to us to always strike the right balance between autonomy and structure. On the one hand, there are employees who want to make their own decisions and, on the other, the team that is pursuing a shared goal. At KPMG, the team is ultimately more important than the individual.
How have managing styles changed?
Expertise used to be the main reason for hiring someone. Back then, managers had a scrutinizing role. Today, they focus more on motivating employees. That’s why we prioritize social skills when recruiting.
How has your managing style changed?
I do a lot more listening and communicating than I used to. My employees expect immediate feedback to their questions and suggestions. We are in constant contact with one another.
These days there is much debate about new work, agility and holacracy when it comes to leadership. How important are these things to you?
We talk about them. In my opinion, they are important prerequisites for good teamwork. And I see teamwork as the future. Decisions can be implemented more quickly and efficiently when the members of a team are working together – far more so than when they are just following orders from the top.
Did you want to reflect the corporate culture in the furniture?
Absolutely. When picking furniture, you must first understand the corporate culture. Ours is characterized by friendliness, transparency and intimacy.
How does the furniture show that?
Ultimately, it’s about quality and trust. And the furniture perfectly embodies those values: clear-cut shapes and great skill down to the last detail – those are also our brand values. I like to think about KPMG as a family-run business. Our tone of voice is less aggressive than at other companies – we try to motivate our employees. The furniture conveys the way our company treats people and the environment as well as the company’s approach to the future. In other words, our furniture is a way of showing respect to our employees and clients. And, naturally, the furniture is a part of our branding strategy.
How do visitors respond to the interior?
Our clients are very impressed by the building and the furniture. Lately, a number of clients have started to prefer meeting in our office. Which is, of course, a great compliment.
Koen Maerevoet is CEO of KPMG Belgium. In 2016, the lawyer and tax expert became a Senior Partner at the company.