New at the Top: John Veihmeyer, KPMG

Monday, April 26, 2010

John Veihmeyer

Position: Chairman and chief executive of KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm in the District.

When John Veihmeyer accepted a position at an accounting firm after college, it was the beginning of a 33-year career there. He started as a public accountant and worked his way up the company to become it's chairman and chief executive. He attributes much of his success to mentors.

What do you think is the most common mistake people make in their careers?

One of the most common mistakes an accountant, or any professional for that matter, can make is to fail to identify a mentor early on in their career. A professional colleague, a boss, a teacher, a good friend in the business -- people who understand you and your profession -- can be an invaluable asset to you as you build your career. Mentoring provides a constant learning experience. You learn from your mentor, and your mentor learns from you. This relationship can help guide and shape many of the professional decisions that you may have to make and, in turn, allows you to share your expertise with others. The role of a mentor is critical to good business both in and out of the boardroom.

What is the best advice you've ever received from a mentor? How did it help advance you in your career?

One of the very best pieces of mentoring advice I ever received was to "view a challenge as an opportunity" and then "take it on and do it better than anybody else." I recall one specific moment, when KPMG's leadership asked me to consider accepting a particular position that, at the time, I thought would be something of a roadblock to achieving one of the goals I had set for my career in public accounting. I shared my concerns with a trusted colleague, who I have long considered to be my professional mentor, and his response has stayed with me over the course of my 33 years with KPMG. He said, "look at this challenge as an opportunity, accept it, and then do it better than anybody before you ever has." I took his advice, and he was right. In hindsight, the experience I gained in that role did more to prepare me for the rest of my career than anything else I could have done.

More often than not, the professional experience and finely honed perception that a mentor can provide allows a person to see things in their crystal ball a bit differently and, often, for the better.

-- Vanessa Mizell

See Monday's Washington Post Business pages for Veihmeyer's "New at the Top" profile. Send nominations for others to

© 2010 The Washington Post Company