Life lessons

A belief in the transformative power of education inspires KPMG in the US’s Milford McGuirt's volunteer efforts.

As the first in his family to finish college, Milford McGuirt has some vivid memories of the importance placed on study by his parents.

“Like many youngsters, my brother and I both loved sports. But my dad insisted that if we wanted to play, we first had to get good grades in class. As I look back on my career, those principles are a strong reminder of how education can change your life for the better.”

Fast forward several years and Milford, Managing Partner in KPMG in the US’s Atlanta office, continues to espouse his father's philosophy. He's heavily involved as Board Chairman of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving educational opportunities across the state.

Strictly non-political, the Georgia Partnership attempts to shape policy and reform education, carrying out research and interacting closely with the state's policy and decision makers. It has brought Milford into contact with a wide range of people.

“What's unique about the board is its amazing mix of leaders from business, education, community and government. We all share a common sense of purpose and are united in our desire to bring about change. It's really exciting to think we've played a part in moving Georgia from being one of the lowest performing states to one that is now ranked closer to the national average. Our next goal is to raise student performance to the upper quartiles.”

Not surprisingly, given his KPMG role as an audit partner, Milford was quickly assigned to work on the finance and audit committees.

“I've helped the US firm with classical accounting tasks like analyzing operational results, forecasting, budget planning and resource allocation. My experience working with clients across many different industries means I can also strategically assess stakeholder impacts and return on investment.”

This isn't Milford's only extra-curricular activity. He devotes time to other nonprofits, with positions on the executive committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the audit committee of Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center, and United Way of Greater Atlanta, where he is chair of the finance committee. The latter is a hugely influential organization tackling complex community issues impacting the well-being of children, families and individuals.

Continuing his commitment to education, Milford serves as a director on the PhD Project, a charity committed to helping minority students attain doctorates. He's also recently completed his term on the board of the KPMG Foundation.

His impressive efforts have not gone unrecognized, with the Atlanta Business Chronicle naming him one of Atlanta's Most Admired CEOs of 2017.

“I believe business is about more than just profits and place a high priority on values and culture. As a partner and a family man, I think it's vital to be an active member of my community. Atlanta has given so much to me and I feel it's only right to try, in a small way, to give something back.”

The theme of family extends into his approach to volunteering and work, as he explains, “I'm a firm believer in getting my family involved in both my work and my outside interests. When they meet my colleagues and other families, it makes them realize how connected we all are.”

Over the years, Milford has encountered many challenges in his work with nonprofits, in particular the need to recognize the boundaries between non-executive and executives responsibilities.

“You must stay in your governance lane without imposing on the role of management - even if you think you know better. Our role is to guide and steer, not to `do'. I also stress the importance of continually re-evaluating the organizational mission as community needs evolve over time.”

There's also the thorny issue of reputation in the wake of some high-profile examples of charities falling short of the high standards expected of them.

“We rely on the generosity of our donors, so transparency is a huge imperative. By acting ethically and being prudent with spending money efficiently and effectively, we can help maintain a pipeline for future funding.”

Ultimately, it all comes down to your heart. As Milford explains, “My advice to anyone considering joining a board is to find a cause that you're truly passionate about and immerse yourself in the mission. Think about what you can bring - which is probably more than you realize - and be prepared to contribute your time and talents to making a difference in your community.”

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