Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — “The people of Pittsburgh have a lot of character and we have a hard-working nature that’s embedded in most everybody’s DNA,” Leon Hoffman, Pittsburgh’s office managing partner for EY, told Invest: when describing what makes Pittsburgh a great market for his organization. He also discussed current fundamentals that are driving the M&A market, as well as his general outlook for the next few years.
What makes Pittsburgh a great market for EY to be involved in?
The people of Pittsburgh have a lot of character and we have a hard-working nature that’s embedded in most everybody’s DNA. It shows when you work in this business community. Much of that goes back to the rich history of our hard-working industrial roots that are very deep. However, there is considerable excitement about the future of Pittsburgh launched over the past couple of decades. It has shifted from a highly industrial city to several new, exciting sectors, such as robotics, that are attracting a lot of attention without forgetting its industrial roots. Our future is also directly linked to the great universities we have here, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University being at the top of the list. Great ideas come out of these institutions and ultimately manifest themselves in startup companies that attract significant investments to the region. In addition to robotics, we are also seeing increased investment in the biotech and software space as well.
How has demand for your services shifted from pre-pandemic levels to today?
It has been quite a roller coaster since the lockdowns due to COVID in March of last year. The first three-to-six months were incredibly challenging for pretty much every company on the planet. Locally and across the country, the economy certainly held up much stronger than anybody would have anticipated when COVID first hit. Stimulus packages are a significant part, as well as the speed in which vaccinations were rolled out.
Our service demand tends to follow economic trends and the confidence business leaders have going forward. Economic data and confidence have remained relatively strong in 2021 which has been a tailwind for companies to grow organically and through M&A. Pittsburgh is experiencing an increase in M&A activity which is an area where we help companies with conducting due diligence, integration, and other M&A activities.
The focus on ESG continues to gain momentum as stakeholders, including investors, are demanding it. Stakeholders want to understand how companies are thinking about themselves for the broader good of society — greenhouse gas emissions, workplace safety, diversity and inclusion to name a few. The SEC is also focused on this and is in favor of increased disclosures in public filings. We’re in a position where we can help companies as they think through that strategically, as well as tactically, as they get ready for this increased disclosure.
We are also closely following any future tax legislation that may impact corporate tax rates. Most companies were just getting comfortable with the last tax reform bill and now that may all change again – we’ll see.
What are some of the fundamentals that are driving the robust M&A market?
There is no shortage of liquidity and financing, which certainly helps with these deals getting done. There is still quite a lot of dry powder on the sidelines, whether we look at private equity, corporate balance sheets or SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies). Recent data shows there are over 400 SPACs across the country that have raised capital but have yet to find an acquisition. That is a significant amount of capital to drive M&A activity.
What are some technological innovations that EY is looking to implement?
Technology is changing at an increasingly fast pace across the globe. As a firm, we’ve invested significantly in both our internal technology as well as the technology our clients experience on a daily basis. We’re strongly focusing on robotics and automation, driving that throughout everything we do on our software platforms. We’ve done a good job of being able to automate internally, and the market is going to continue to demand it. Additionally, the tools we now have to analyze our clients’ data across all of our service lines are best-in-class and really have made us faster, smarter and better at what we do.
What is your general outlook for EY and the business community in Pittsburgh?
EY has been in Pittsburgh for over 100 years, and we are looking forward to the next 100. We are fortunate to have a rich history here in Pittsburgh including companies that are continuing to grow. These companies are the foundation of our local economy and will be a big part of leading us into the future. We are also really excited about our tech sector which is continuing to grow. That growth and maturation was on full display with the first tech IPO in a number of years – Duolingo. We’re also witnessing significant amounts of capital being invested in emerging technologies, like autonomous vehicles, locally which is starting to get to the point of commercialization becoming possible in a big way. There’s no doubt in our minds that the great people of Pittsburgh will continue the tradition of those of the past, making Pittsburgh a place where people want to be.
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