Many things changed from the time Alain Benedetti joined the firm in 1970 to his retirement in 2004. Technology revolutionized the way we do business. Reforms and regulations led to better governance. The world became more connected than ever before. And EY grew and became much more integrated globally. But one thing remained constant throughout Benedetti’s career — his focus on people.
The people piece is key to the business
“I was always impressed by the people around me at EY,” Benedetti recalls fondly. “I’d look at the partners and say, ‘Boy, isn’t he or she good?’ They became role models to me. I strived to be one of those people.”
An emphasis on the mentoring framework that sees EY people learn from one another is something he says the firm gets right.
Benedetti first joined Clarkson Gordon 43 years ago. Initially, he thought he’d get some experience and then move out into industry.
“I was hoping to get a job for two years, and I ended up spending almost my entire working career with the firm,” he laughs.
Following his first number of years in Montreal’s Assurance practice, Benedetti moved to Ottawa in the late 1970s where he worked in the Auditor General of Canada’s office for two years. After helping build and implement new “value for money” auditing systems, he returned to Montreal, where he was named a partner in 1979. He became Montreal Office Managing Partner in 1990.
By 1993, Benedetti was Regional Managing Partner for Quebec and Atlantic, and was named to the firm’s Management Committee. He finished his career as Canadian Vice Chairman in Toronto, and then returned home to Montreal when he retired in 2004.
Benedetti credits the people factor as a huge contributor not only to his own achievements, but to the firm’s continued success over the years.
“The firm teaches you teamwork — you very seldom do anything by yourself. Everything is based on collaboration, and you learn a lot,” he says. “Being a managing partner, whether of an office or a region, is really all about dealing with people, and ensuring not just that they’re doing the right thing, but that they’re properly motivated. I made lifelong friendships through those experiences.”
Community connection another critical pillar
Benedetti is also quick to connect that focus on people to EY’s purpose of building a better working world.
Always involved in the broader community, Benedetti says he can certainly relate to that purpose.
From education to health care, to culture and neighbourhood planning, he’s volunteered in countless ways over the years. Among his roles, Benedetti has chaired or served on the boards of the Loyola Alumni Association, Concordia University, St. Mary’s Hospital, the Canadian Club of Montreal, the St. Lambert Urban Planning Commission, the Marcil Museum and many more.
He highly recommends that kind of community involvement to others, too.
“You’ve got to get involved in outside activities,” notes Benedetti. “Get out there and meet some people outside the firm. The benefits go both ways.”
Values and culture help develop strong board members
Since retiring, Benedetti has served on the boards of directors of Dorel Industries, Imperial Tobacco and Russel Metals, and as chair of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.
While he cites transparency and keeping up with technology as the key challenges board members face today, Benedetti has seen major improvements in both areas over the last 20 years, changes that he says have created better governance overall.
“In my lifetime, I’ve seen tremendous change, and technology has really led that change — technology followed by transparency,” he says. “It’s a lot more of an open world today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and better transparency has led to stronger governance.
“To be a good board member, you have to be fully independent and skeptical,” Benedetti says. “You can’t be concerned about asking tough questions. We have some very tough board meetings where we deal with tough issues. You’ve got to stand up for what you believe is right — even if it makes you unpopular.”
Staying close to the people in his world
Benedetti has been married for 40 years to Lynda, a social worker who helped him develop his people philosophy. They have three children — two chartered accountants as well as one Ph.d. in bio statistics — and three grandchildren.
He exudes a passionate, go-for-it spirit that figures prominentlyin the advice he’s always given his children, and others he’s worked with or met along the way: “Don’t wait for the hand of God. If you want something, go for it, and get it.”