In the 1970s, corporate executives wore ties and played golf, and large accountancies served only the Fortune 500. Theresa Drew began her career with Deloitte in 1979, and reflects back on it now, from her perch as managing partner for the Carolinas practice of Deloitte.
On the day of our recent interview, however, she wore a feminine satin blouse, heels and a mother-of-pearl necklace, and talked about how the environment has changed for her and other ambitious women, and how Deloitte’s leadership toward greater workplace diversity has kept the firm in the lead on attracting, retaining, and developing some of the best talent in the industry.
We also talked about Deloitte’s long-term commitment to the growth company market—the value her firm brings to a vast array of companies with revenues under half a billion dollars—and how that talent is helping a wider diversity of clients access the depth and breadth of expertise only Deloitte can offer.
Accounting for Women
Drew graduated with a degree in accounting from Northern Arizona University in 1979 and immediately joined Deloitte, which was operating at the time as Touche Ross. She says there weren’t very many women role models for her, but she was determined to have a successful career and willing to do whatever it took.
Along the way, a number of individuals took her under their wing and provided mentorship and advancement opportunities. In 1991, she was admitted as a partner at a time when Deloitte led the accounting profession with women representing only 4 percent of its partners.
In 2001, Sharon Allen, a trailblazer in the profession and the first woman to ever hold one of the top three positions within a large accounting firm, asked Drew to lead the practice in San Diego as managing partner. “At that point, we didn’t have very many women in leadership roles, running offices or heading up a function,” recalls Drew. “So that was risky on her part, to ask me to do that.”
Thanks in part to the mentorship and opportunities Allen and others had afforded her, Drew was inspired to lead initiatives on behalf of all women in the firm. One of the first things she did as partner was to look systematically at the causes behind the lack of women leaders in the organization.
By that time, Deloitte had been hiring 50 percent women accountants into the firm for over a decade, but it was still seeing disproportionately low numbers of women promoted into leadership roles. The reason appeared to lie in retention—women simply were not staying with the firm long enough.
In 1993, a series of studies into the phenomenon confirmed some of the expected causes, including work/life balance. But at the same time, women were not leaving the profession to go home and raise families. They were leaving for other professions where they felt more welcome, better supported, and saw more opportunities to advance.
From the results of that study, Drew supported the women’s initiative still in operation within the organization, the first of its kind among Big Four players. The initiative provided clear paths to advancement, better work/life balance options, and formal mentorship opportunities, as well as benefits such as elder care, childcare, and work flexibility.
Deloitte now leads the industry in percentage of woman leadership, having raised their principals, partners, and directors percentage to 24 percent, and decreased the ratio gap between women versus men leaving the firm.
Drew’s leadership in women’s issues has won her and the firm abundant recognition. San Diego Magazine named her 2010 Woman of the Year, the accounting fraternity Beta Alpha Psi called her the 2005 Professional of the Year, and Athena San Diego awarded her their 2005 Pinnacle Award. The list goes on, but perhaps most telling was the award proffered by the San Diego Girl Scouts: Ten Coolest Women.
However, it was Drew’s track record in serving clients in the San Diego market that led the Carolinas to seek her leadership in 2011. The San Diego market is smaller, with only 200 people in the office versus the Carolina region’s 650. But in her ten years of service in that market, Drew had shown a forward-thinking approach and a leadership approach that promised to bring important new initiatives to help the Carolinas practice thrive.
Ability to Serve
Drew’s and Deloitte’s efforts have resulted in Fortune and BusinessWeek consistently ranking the firm among the best places to work. In 2011, Fortune listed the firm as #63 in the country, citing its focus on diversity and the fact that a third of its employees are nonwhite, the highest percentage in the Big Four. Drew says this helps Deloitte attract the best talent, and thereby better serve its hundreds of thousands of clients.
For instance, Deloitte has worked with Life Technologies, a $3.5 billion revenue public medical device and life insurance company in San Diego, for eight years, providing a range of services from consulting, to business integration and re-engineering. In 2008, they assisted Life Technologies with a multi-billion dollar global acquisition.
“Deloitte was a lead integration partner,” says Life Technologies CEO, Greg Lucier, “bringing the two companies together culturally, financially, and strategically.” He adds that working with Drew’s team underscores the fact that when you work with Deloitte, “you know you have the attention of the entire team, from the working person’s level all the way up to the top leadership. Client relationship is something they really excel at.”
Another thing that sets Deloitte apart is their commitment to bring the same level of service to companies with revenues under $1 billion. In fact, the middle market represents 80 percent of the firm’s Carolina audit clients, through Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services. Drew says middle market companies form the backbone of the American economy and also, “We think they will be the companies that will really bring us completely out of this recession.”
Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services provides clients like Bi-Lo, BC/BS of SC, and the Carolina Panthers—organizations traditionally served by smaller accountancies—a level of service usually reserved for the Fortune 500.
Deloitte reaches out to this segment through live events, signature reports, research publications, webcasts, podcasts, and other materials. Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services disseminates these materials through a section of its site called “Perspectives.”
One current report available through Perspectives details a survey of several hundred CEOs of middle market companies that uncovers insight into what executives are doing to compete more effectively in this uncertain economy. It found that most have accepted that the “low-hanging fruit” of an expanding economy is gone, and also that most have become increasingly pessimistic about emerging economic developments. Also, that most companies are cautious about hiring.
However, 70 percent of executives said that productivity has increased since the recession began. Improvements in business processes and new technology take most of the credit for the increases, plus most companies are investing in business analytics to target high-value customers.
To support these companies, Deloitte offers managed analytics services to help clients achieve consistent performance, proactively manage risk in a tough regulatory environment, and process the exponentially increasing volumes of data coming available. These services combine deep industry knowledge, broad functional capabilities, and a high degree of technical sophistication with strategy-level insights to help clients leverage analytics capabilities for greater profitability.
Deloitte’s tools and resources for mid-cap executives also include research and thought leadership in private company issues, emerging technologies, growth strategies, organizational performance, regulatory and legislative compliance, and risk intelligence.
Although Drew is bullish on serving the middle market, the firm continues also to serve the largest companies, providing the depth of service and expertise expected by Fortune 500 clients. In fact, Deloitte professionals are involved in almost every aspect of business—from corporate responsibility and sustainability, to advisory services on doing business in China and Japan.
Ambitions for Growth
In a 2007 article in bizSanDiego, Drew was asked what she would be doing if she weren’t heading up a region for Deloitte. Her answer: Directing a not-for-profit organization. In fact, she says it’s still something she’d like to do some day, when she retires from Deloitte.
In the meantime, she promotes volunteerism and serves on the board of the Arts & Science Council. As she sees it, business flourishes best in concert with a thriving arts community. “You can’t have one without the other,” she says, “just like you have to have good infrastructure, and a good school system.”
She is passionate about education as well, and says that in every community, she likes to be involved in at least one arts organization, one education organization, and one health and human services organization, “so I feel like I’m covering all my bases.” She has also joined the board of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and the YMCA of Greater Charlotte.
Her commitment to nonprofit work fits well within Deloitte’s own culture, which strongly encourages giving both financially and through volunteerism. One visible example of Deloitte’s commitment is the one day a year when they close their offices and send their people out into the community to volunteer.
“If you can imagine,” says Drew, “40,000 people, across the country, doing something positive and giving back to the community. Some may paint murals, plant trees, help write resumes, or provide a seminar on corporate governance for a not-for-profit. Whatever it is, people are making a difference in their communities. It’s a really neat day.”
During the rest of the year, the firm encourages employees to provide skills-based volunteer work, where they perform tax, audit, financial advisory and consulting services to not-for-profit organizations that may not have the resources to hire the same level of expertise. In Charlotte the project has served the Charlotte Center City Partnership, United Way, Hope Haven, and many others.
Despite challenging economic indicators, Drew is hopeful for the future of her firm and for Charlotte. “When you look at Charlotte,” she says, “it’s a really vibrant city. Over the past few years, there has been a renewed commitment to the arts, and steady development in the uptown area. We have the financial industry, the energy sector, and growth in life sciences. There is a lot of excitement here, a lot of opportunity, which includes the financial benefits of hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2012.”
In the Carolinas, she expects that Deloitte’s initiatives to better serve the middle market and its strong industry focus will combine to provide an economic buffer in the event of a double-dip recession.
Plus, she says, the country as a whole has made a lot of progress toward preventing the types of scandals that fed the current economic problems, though the resulting regulation has come with a price. Deloitte focuses on helping clients seize the opportunity inherent in economic reforms, while avoiding potential pitfalls. As their website says, “Reform can hold a company back or move it forward. It all depends on how you use it.”
Drew remains committed to moving forward—for the firm, for its clients, for women, and for Charlotte. She intends to continue building the firm’s track record and reputation as an employer of choice, to grow the practice, and to serve middle market and large clients with excellence. Golf and tie optional.