Ray Groves and Bill Gladstone did a masterful job in establishing the spirit of partnership that became EY. We all recognized early that the long-term legacy of this firm would be its culture, and so we tended to sow those seeds very carefully.
Early in my chairmanship, we needed to truly integrate the firm. We had to look at the big picture — in terms of where we wanted to go — and then focus on the nuances and small steps that would allow us to take the big steps towards a bold vision. It is impossible to overstate just how important it was to get the little things right; for example, integrating our offices, rotating seating assignments and creating teaming on accounts. This allowed camaraderie and trust to develop in our teams, and our great culture was born. It is funny to look back and think about how much joy we took in each of those critically important moments. It was important to set this right early; otherwise the bigger possibilities could not be realized.
From a bigger perspective, we began to look at our global footprint and we dramatically increased our international presence. Already in the 1990s, some of our largest clients were rapidly expanding into international markets, and we needed the capabilities on the ground to support their expansions. Our service line capabilities, both domestically and internationally, became a main focus. Mike Henning and Bill Kimsey played critical roles in helping us outline the possibilities for growth and realize our international expansion vision.
As we grew, we recognized the need for a strong market focus and a winning sales culture. We developed tremendous momentum in our market efforts. Teams were highly focused when it came to winning the big opportunities. The client relationships expanded and we soon became the dominant player across multiple industries — high technology, airlines, asset management — and we focused on the industries of tomorrow with our strong entrepreneurial practice.
It all comes down to people
I grew up in this firm with a focus on people, because you realize the true strength of our firm is the quality and dedication of its people, the sense of teaming and the culture of respect. We could not achieve greatness as a team or as a firm if we did not fully help people achieve their potential. I knew that would make an indelible impact on our culture.
We recognized that we were losing some of our most talented women because they believed the culture was not compatible with their needs. We pushed to understand why — this meant talking very candidly about what we needed to change. We made some bold choices and did not back down. There was nothing more important to me than ensuring that we were fair and equitable, no matter what someone’s background, gender or ethnicity.
We changed and we became an environment that valued the individual and harnessed collective talent. Here, we sowed seeds of the culture that EY is known for today — and we began to realize our first awards in recognition of our culture as one of Fortune’s best places to work and on the top company list of Working Mother magazine.
Over the period of the 1990s through early 2001, the firm grew dramatically. The top and bottom lines more than doubled. We achieved leadership of Fortune 1000 audit market share in 2002. Our Tax practice became the envy of the profession.
I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to have been surrounded by such amazing talent. There was such energy, optimism and possibility generated by our people. I have had the opportunity to gain a broad perspective into some of the leading companies across the globe — and our culture, the EY culture — stands out above all. It is special. I knew it then, and I know it now. It is just great to see how far we have come.
Where is he now?
Things have not slowed down for Laskawy at all. Today, he keeps busy on some of the most complex assignments in business. In 2008, he was requested by the Department of Treasury to serve as the Non-Executive Chairman of Fannie Mae when it was put into conservatorship. Additionally, he serves as a director for General Motors, Inc., Henry Schein, Inc., Loews Corporation and Lazard, Ltd.
Also, Laskawy is staying very involved with philanthropic and civic activities. He has served as Chairman of the Board of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT). He describes this as an amazing experience in realizing the creative talents and energies of extraordinary people. The AAADT has performed for an estimated 21 million people in 48 states, as well as in 71 countries on six continents. Among these performances are two South African residencies after the collapse of apartheid. The company and its dancers and artistic staff have been recognized as one of America's most important cultural ambassadors and won the 2002 National Medal of Arts.