Career path: KPMG's James Stewart

James Stewart, the chairman of global infrastructure at KPMG and the former CEO of Partnerships UK as well as Infrastructure UK, talks us through his rise to the top. He is also a keynote speaker at the forthcoming ACE international conference

How did you develop your career?

 At the time that I started there was not a set market for infrastructure, so I have been involved from the very beginning in the development of this market. In 1992 I had held a job related to infrastructure finance for seven years when the government announced the launch of the private finance initiative. When my company decided to engage, I was chosen to lead. Projects were funded through PFI until public-private partnership appeared. Since then the market has grown to incorporate all sectors. 

After leaving SG Hambros, I became chief executive of Partnerships UK, which was the PFI/ PPP agency for the UK government. Partnerships UK was succeeded by Infrastructure UK, of which I was also chief executive. Right now I don’t think there is a more exciting market to work in. I travel to major projects worldwide, and am pushed to learn new skills every day. 

What advice do you have for the leaders of tomorrow? 

Breadth of knowledge and experience is vital. Infrastructure encompasses a variety of topics and the market is now developing at the fastest rate I’ve seen during my career.

For PFI in particular two skills are needed: an in-depth knowledge of the sector, and capability. Many companies are now involved in infrastructure, so it is vital to ensure career flexibility by understanding geographic features, spot trends, the asset life cycle, and asset activities. It is crucial to be able to adapt and learn within new work situations. 

What challenges do you foresee in infrastructure, and what is the UK’s likely role going forward?

Whether the government or consumer pays for the project, cashflow generation is the key challenge. The significance of infrastructure to development and growth is now recognised across the world. Identified as a way to achieve the sustainable development goals of the UN, this shifts the focus from the establishment of economic infrastructure to achieving the sustainable development goals, increasing access to daily needs such as water, energy and more. The UK, with its substantial experience, is a global market leader and will continue to be seen as a centre for learning and professional services.