Shaun Kelly, global chief operating officer for KPMG International, was born in 1959 and grew up in the Catholic Falls Road section of Belfast during the worst of the Troubles. One of his uncles was shot and killed by the British Army, which mistakenly believed he was holding a gun. Kelly said he didn’t meet a Protestant until he was 19.
“You didn’t realize what you were going through,” he said during a 25 October Irish Network-DC event. “It’s really only when you look back” that the turmoil of the period can be put in perspective.
Kelly attended University College Dublin with the help of a British government scholarship Ironically, it allowed him to continue playing Gaelic football, though he acknowledged being much smaller than the lads from Cork and Kerry.
“Dublin in the late 1970s was not quite third world, but it was still developing,” Kelly said. “The cars and roads were not as good as in Northern Ireland.”
Kelly qualified as an accountant in Ireland and joined KPMG in 1980, soon relocating to the firm’s San Francisco office. His tenure included a return to Belfast during an upsurge of violence in the 1990s. At the time, KPMG managed the Europa Hotel, known as the most bombed hotel in Europe.
After one of those bombings, Kelly said he discussed the possibility of shuttering the operation with hotel staff. They would hear none of it. “The IRA didn’t close this hotel, some short accountant is not going to close it,” Kelly quoted one of the workers saying to him.
His global travels and experiences with his native city have convinced him that economic development helps reduce violence by creating opportunities on both side of the sectarian divide. He acknowledged that Brexit will challenges both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“That border makes no sense from a business perspective,” he said. “There is much more to be gained from an open economy.”
Here’s a more lengthy profile of Kelly from the October/November 2015 issue of Irish America.