PwCs Pete Winkler Exploring Global Opportunities

PwC's Pete Winkler: Exploring Global Opportunities

8 minute read
Bill Sobel avatar

He's spent much of his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he has held several key positions.

He served as Global Marketing Director of PwC’'s Entertainment and Media Practice, leading all marketing and business development efforts and overseeing PwC’'s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook, a leading industry’ market forecast.

He was also a management consulting director in PwC’'s Entertainment and Media Advisory Practice, where he specialized in advising multinational companies on the impacts of digital technology and industry convergence. His clients included some of the leading international entertainment and media conglomerates, as well as top software, telecommunications and technology services companies.

Now he's Priority Clients Leader for PwC’s Central and Eastern European region, overseeing client relationships, market targeting and new business growth initiatives.

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Winkler is highly regarded as a business development and marketing professional, as well as one of PwC's preeminent entertainment industry experts. CMSWire sat down with him to discuss his career, global business and working abroad.

Sobel: You were an English major at Duke, and did your masters in American Literature at my alma mater, The University at Albany, State University of New York, before getting into advertising, marketing, media and entertainment. You and I met back in 2006 when you were advisory director in PwC’s Entertainment and Media Practice in New York City. Now you're the priority client lead for PwC in Prague. That’s quite a giant step. Can you elaborate?

Winkler: Well, it's been a long and interesting journey. I had a great liberal arts education at Duke, and I was interested in continuing with graduate school to get my PhD and teach American Literature at the university level. Meanwhile, during my time in grad school, I was working three days a week for a large public relations/marketing agency based in New York City called GCI Group, a subsidiary of Grey Advertising. At a certain point, I realized that business was more relevant and energizing to me than academia, so I took my master’s degree from U of Albany and headed back to New York City to pursue my PR and marketing career. 

As you noted in your introduction, there have been a lot of transitions in my career – from American literature to PR/marketing to management consulting to chief marketing officer and then into sales and business development leadership. So yes, a lot of movement, but they've always seemed pretty logical to me. Every move has helped me continue to evolve in my career and gain additional skills and experience.

Sobel: As Priority Clients Leader you focus on emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) — a generic term for the group of countries in Central, Southeast and Eastern Europe, often former communist states in Europe. Can you talk about the socio-political environment there, and its impact on businesses both in CEE and back here in the USA?

Winkler: In PwC’s structure, CEE includes 29 countries, all the way from Czech Republic in the western part of the region to Mongolia in the east. The two largest national economies are Russia and Poland, so I spend a lot of time traveling and visiting with our clients and partners in cities such as Moscow and Warsaw.

The CEE socio-political environment is definitely challenging and always seems to be in flux. Things have been even more unpredictable during 2014, driven by political issues in Russia and the Ukraine. Major economic impacts related to the socio-politics have included fallout from the US/EU sanctions on Russia and Russia‘s retaliatory sanctions, and the rapid decline of the Russian Ruble and the price of oil. It all has led to significant uncertainty for the region.

As far as the impact on CEE and US businesses from all of this upheaval goes — interestingly in Russia, we have not really seen business slowing down much at all, despite the sanctions and reduced growth of Russia’s overall economy. There are some instances where US companies and the European subsidiaries of large multinationals are pulling back on their investments in Russia, but it does not appear to be happening on a major scale. Beyond Russia, most of the other relatively large national economies in CEE — like Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania — are actually more impacted by the economic situation in Western Europe than in Russia. So, while the growth has been relatively slower during the last five years, there’s been more stability and consistency in those markets versus in Russia.

Sobel: You mentioned that you split your time between your CEE work and your other role as European Client Relationship Director for a “large multinational client” based here in the US but with significant operations around Europe. While you can’t mention that client’s name for confidentiality reasons, can you describe for us some of the key aspects of your work with this client? 

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Winkler: Sure. I spend about half of my time working with this client, which is a US-based industrial conglomerate with major operations all over Europe. I serve as PwC‘s Pan-European account client relationship director, developing and extending relationships with the client’s senior executives and introducing them to all kinds of PwC specialized resources and services. I am also very involved in proposals and negotiations to help win consulting, tax and assurance work with this client.

It’s fascinating work, given that the client’s business is big, high-powered and frequently in the news headlines. The client has a sophisticated, international senior executive group with whom I interact. The challenge is not only to build and maintain trusted relationships with so many client executives, it’s also to demonstrate PwC’s relevance by bringing fresh and innovative new ideas and approaches to help support the client’s business.

Historically PwC has been considered a traditional Big 4 accounting firm with a heavy focus on audit and tax services. However, over the past five to ten years, we’ve been transforming our business globally to enhance our management consulting capabilities. We’ve acquired major consulting firms such as BearingPoint, Diamond, PRTM and, most recently, Booz & Company, which we re-branded as Strategy&. So there’s a significant amount of my work focused on bringing PwC’s deep and diverse range of consulting expertise to client executives.

Sobel: You've been working in Prague since 2010. Without getting too political, what's the vibe you're getting about President Obama and the American people in general, considering how much has been going on in the world, particularly in the last four years you have been in the Czech Republic?

Winkler: Interestingly, with the exception of Russia, where the political sentiment is very negative toward the US and Obama these days, the vibe and view toward the US and our president is generally pretty positive around the CEE region. US economic success and resilience continues to be admired.

The fact that Obama has pulled back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has not started any new full-blown wars, has been a positive for our standing in the region. Even in Russia, when you get beyond the politics, most Russians I meet and get to know are very interested in America and positively disposed toward Americans and our country generally. Particularly those Russians who’ve visited and spent any real length of time in our country, they tend to really like the US generally and in particular enjoy New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Sobel: Finally, as mentioned earlier, you made a big decision to move from the US to the Czech Republic. Can you give any advice to our readers who either might be thinking about moving to CEE or opening an office there? 

Winkler: In the fall of 2010, I picked up and left Los Angeles, spent four months living in Moscow and then settled into Prague, where I’ve been living for almost four years. Prague is a fantastic city – tremendous history, great architecture, beautiful old-style European look, lots of things to see and do, and excellent beer to top it all off! The CEE markets have a significantly lower cost of labor and doing business than big western European markets, so a lot of multinational companies have back office shared service centers and/or technology outsourcing hubs in the region. Also the professional and financial services sectors are strong and growing in CEE.

Here are some tips I would give to readers considering a work-related move to CEE:

  • Build and nurture your personal network, both within and outside your current company 
  • Develop and hone some specialized expertise that you believe will be marketable internationally
  • Raise your hand and volunteer when you see a potential opportunity linked  to an international assignment
  • Be open to new things and try not to let it get you down when you have difficult experiences
  • Think long-term, but be flexible and don’t over plan