After more than 20 years at KPMG, working for the Big Four accounting firm’s auditing and consulting services, Michelle Wroan has developed a keen appreciation for what it takes to weather adversity. “Resilience is one of my favorite words,” she said.
Before she was named managing director of KPMG’s Los Angeles office in October 2020, Wroan had spent two years as national media industry leader for KPMG’s media division. In that time, Wroan counseled media and entertainment companies on how to navigate disruptions “and remain productive without getting stuck in the negativity or difficulty of it,” she said. KPMG’s clients include film, TV, broadcast, entertainment, advertising and publishing companies, both startups and legacy firms, publicly and privately held.
When COVID abruptly shut down entertainment venues and productions last year, Wroan and her team encouraged their media clients to brace for a long lockdown by focusing on “the 4 Cs:” costs, cash, capital and customers. “It was about preserving the cash you had and finding the liquidity you needed,” she said. That meant trimming costs or pausing capital improvements. To improve customer relations, they reviewed clients’ subscription and renewal plans.
One client, a company focused on ecommerce and streaming services, has experienced “phenomenal growth,” Wroan said, but increased demand presented its own challenges. “That direct-to-consumer relationship is new for many of these companies,” she noted. “When you are talking about such a high volume, how can you effectively engage with all these new consumers?”
Understanding the challenges that face clients of “all shapes and sizes” is the part of the job that Wroan most enjoys. “We’re always having to flex and change as the industry is evolving and our clients are evolving,” she said. “We have to stay one step ahead of them.”
Wroan studied economics at UCLA and got her MBA at the Wharton School, but said joining KPMG’s audit services in 1993 gave her a different kind of business education. Conducting audits give her a window into many job functions and corporate cultures.
“I can walk in and pretty quickly assess what the tone at the top is,” she said. “If you have leaders at the top who exude a certain tone, it creates a different mood. Employees and teams react to those explicit messages and the implicit messages, too.”
An inflection point in her career came when she was offered a three-year rotation in KPMG’s New York office. “It was the best decision for me professionally,” said the Los Angeles native. Learning new job skills in a new city provided a lesson in resilience. “I came back to an L.A. with an open mind, and was willing to raise my hand for other opportunities.” Soon after, she became industry leader of the media division.
When she succeeded the retiring partner Mark Hutchins as the head of the L.A. office, he praised Wroan as “a mentor to countless professionals, and a compassionate and strong leader.” Wroan believes that forging personal connections among employees is essential to creating a place where people want to work. “It’s everyone’s job to be a mentor,” she said. “That’s advice I’d give any organization.”
A Passion for Mentoring
Wroan’s love of mentoring inspires her volunteer work for women’s organizations. Since convincing KPMG to sponsor the Women Founders Network, she has judged the nonprofit’s annual Fast Pitch competition, where female entrepreneurs practice pitching to venture capital investors, and coached female business founders. She is on the board of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles and heads its finance committee. A former Girl Scout herself and the mother of two boys, Wroan enjoys giving back to a program that helps girls develop “self-reliance and resilience — to use my favorite word again.”
After a year that tested everyone’s resilience, Wroan believes the clients who put effort into crisis management last year are now well-positioned to accelerate growth during the economic recovery. As businesses cautiously reopen, Wroan said she and her team are working “to understand the new world.” She added, “I think we have a lot of change management processes to go through.”
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