He had advice for the students in the audience. “Find something you love to do,” he said. “If you’re waking up every day doing something you enjoy and love doing, it doesn’t feel like work at all.”
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Turley said he spends 75 percent of his time traveling, and his wife sometimes complains that he enjoys his work too much. But he believes it is important to go out and meet directly with staff and clients. “You cannot get a culture just by sending out an email,” he said. “You have to be able to look people eyeball to eyeball, take their questions, have them believe it, or else you’re dead. After the Enron crisis, when our profession went through hell and back, we had to really commit to the delivery of quality and integrity, because demonstrably back in the 90s, we as a firm, we as a profession, were not doing the kind of quality work that was expected of us. We only get our people to believe all of this by looking at them. We want 170,000 people to wake up every day knowing that nothing is more important than their own integrity and their own commitment to quality, and that if something smells funny at a client, or if something smells funny inside our house, they ought to raise their hand and ask about it. And you don’t get that believability without being with our people eyeball to eyeball.”
He discussed how he had some setbacks in his career, not getting the biggest clients sometimes and not being picked to manage the St. Louis office. But he persevered in working hard on whatever assignments he got, and eventually became global chairman and CEO. Turley plans to retire in about six months and he helped recruit his successor, Mark Weinberger, who served with the firm before leaving to work in the federal government as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy.
Turley said he turned down the job of becoming CEO of a public company after he leaves Ernst & Young, but he plans to serve on the boards of several not-for-profits and corporations. Before turning down the CEO job, he received some helpful advice from the lead director of the board.
“He said, ‘Jim, put the word retirement out of your vocabulary,’” Turley recalled. “He said, ‘Because you’re not the type of person who is going to sit around and do nothing. Think about it as what you want your next chapter to look like. The question you need to ask yourself is do you want to do one thing for your next chapter, in which case this CEO job could be it, or do you want to do a portfolio of things?’ So I thought about it and it will likely be a portfolio of things, probably continuing on some not-for-profit boards I’m involved in today, but also joining some corporate boards.”