EY Chairman and CEO Jim Turley talks about what it means to connect with our alumni
What does it mean to be EY alumni?
Turley: Well, it is pretty simple to say but harder to execute — alumni should be considered a part of the family. We ought to think about and care about and help them in much the same way that we thought about and helped and cared about them when they were actively employed by EY. It will certainly be a bit different than when they were employed, but the feeling should be very similar. We know that our alumni are going to be highly successful in whatever they choose to do. And when they consider themselves to still be part of our family, that’s very good for us. They might become clients; they might refer other people or clients to us; they might become boomerangs and rejoin EY; or they might simply give us suggestions to help us improve. It’s all good when our alumni stay in the extended family.
When you think about building an alumni network, are there other successful models you look to?
Turley: Actually there is one model I think a lot about — and it hits me every time I visit my university campus (I’m a trustee of my alma mater, Rice University). Just think about it. You go to a place for four years — and you’re committed to it for the rest of your life. What a model! I’d like that to happen at EY. Many people are here well more than four years. They probably learn more here than they learned at their university. And we need to have the same kind of commitment to keeping that feeling alive. We’re not going to go ask them for contributions like the university does (I’m sure our alumni are glad of that), and we don’t have a sports program that is easy to connect with. But we want to keep them involved and included.
Focusing on quality
EY alumni are on the forefront of promoting quality in their organizations and in the profession. Some are involved with the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ), an autonomous public policy organization with a mission “to foster confidence in the audit process and to aid investors and the capital markets by advancing constructive suggestions for change rooted in the profession’s core values of integrity, objectivity, honesty and trust.” Jim Turley, in addition to his role as leader of EY, is chair of the CAQ. He spoke about CAQ and his leadership role on public policy matters:
“The government and the regulatory sectors are more important to business than they’ve ever been — in the US and around the world. I’ve been committed to building our presence in public policy for quite some time. CAQ is about bringing the profession together to deliver an investor-oriented view to public policy-makers, and to have an impact on more than the profession. We have a strong belief that we, as a profession, must have a stronger voice on public policy matters. We also think it’s much better to work together than work apart. There’s no question that people outside our profession look to us for confidence. We give them confidence that the rules are being complied with, confidence that the playing field is level and confidence that the right transactions are being entered into and being dealt with fairly. When they have confidence, you get growth.”
Think about how universities build that feeling. The day you graduate from university is a celebration. The day you leave EY, let’s face it, it is not always seen that way. But it should be. And to get to that stage, we can’t start things when people leave — we have to start our alumni relationship the day people start working for us. Every person who comes through our doors, including me, will some day become a graduate — one of our alumni.
Building these lifelong relationships will come down to how we manage people, how we treat people and what we expect from people. And if we expect everyone to be an alum one day, we need to act that way. We need to make sure alumni are always valued and that everyone knows it. And when you do that right, the relationship continues, and it’s a good relationship.
Does it happen?
Turley: Not consistently enough, either within the firm or with our alumni. Certainly there are many within EY who are world-class at making sure that our alumni feel valued, and who continue to help our alumni throughout their post-EY careers. But not enough of our people demonstrate that, and it is not deeply enough embedded in our culture. And on the alumni side, there are many who hear their neighbor’s kid is graduating from an accounting program, and say: “I want you to talk to EY.” Or they hear about their friend down the street who’s a CFO who needs a new auditor, or tax services provider or advisory firm. And they think, “Why don’t you talk to EY?” Again, many think of us as a great place to work, a great place for service. But I would hope we can deepen that relationship and extend it to all of our alumni.
In what way?
Turley: Well, I think about our values, and what we try to do every day in our organization, supporting people who demonstrate integrity, respect and teaming; people who have energy, enthusiasm and courage; and people who build relationships based on doing the right things. And I want those values to be very much at work with our alumni. We are still on the same team with our alumni. We are still building relationships based on doing the right thing. Those relationships are very important to us.
It doesn’t matter whether someone works here for 30 years and retires from here, or whether someone is here for a couple of years and goes elsewhere. Both of those people are going to be actively living the values we hope they have made their own while at EY. And we want to always be part of their lives.
EY focuses a lot of energy on mentoring, so that its people gain insights that will guide their careers and improve their work. But when people leave the firm, does it mean they can’t be mentors to people inside the firm anymore?
Turley: No, we want that insight, and hope it continues. But just as importantly, I’d flip that point 180˚. When someone leaves, especially if he or she is younger and has been a recipient of excellent mentoring, I want that mentoring relationship to continue. We should continue to be a source of advice and counsel to the person who’s left.
USA Today called EY a “leadership factory” because of the people who have left the firm and gone on to major roles in corporate America and in the policy world. What is it about EY that’s helping to produce that?
Turley: Well, I think it’s the values we instill and support, and the way we push each other to always improve and get better. The people of EY succeed. Period. It is only a question of how and where and when they will succeed. Some are going to create great success in long-term careers within EY. Others are going to have great success in careers outside of EY. It’s really a sum of a lot of factors — the people we hire, the learning and development they receive and how we team together and support each other. It’s a great model and a great culture.
When you encounter people in far-flung places in different roles, and you find that EY link, is there the equivalent of a secret handshake?
Turley: Not enough — yet. But that’s because of two things: You know, in previous years, we were not as connected globally nor were we as consistent around the world as we are today. And so there wasn’t that bond. But today, quite literally, our senior accountants in Beijing do the same things that our people are doing in Berlin and in Baltimore. So there is now a commonality as far as methodology, process, technology and learning go. And there’s increasingly the same kind of positive experience when you literally walk into offices around the world. You walk in and you feel at home.
I heard this great story: one of our partners was talking about her son going to travel through Europe for a summer. She and her husband were a bit worried; the kid’s going to be gone, how can they make sure everything’s OK? And so she gave her son an EY directory, and said: “You have a problem, call the managing partner wherever you are, and they’ll take care of it.” That’s what family’s about. Now, 10 to 15 years ago, that might not have been possible, but it is today. So we have made progress.
You have spent a lot of time on creating a common global standard of service around the world. But that’s been so recent that many alumni may not understand it. What do they need to know?
Turley: Our global integration has been incredibly positive. The clients directly see the benefit as we are more effective in delivering service to them. It’s easier to build teams, to direct people on the right projects. Our people see this as expanding their horizons and opportunities. They are no longer told, “You’re working for this city or country and it doesn’t matter what you want.” They have new opportunities around the globe. Our regulators see it, and they recognize what we can do in driving consistent quality around the world. They like it. But I think our alumni also ought to think about how they are now part of a much bigger and more integrated network: a bigger and more integrated family of people that can help them and support them if they have needs.