Ernst & Young is hosting a three-day leadership development event in New York this week to attract more young accounting students from minority backgrounds to join the firm.

E&Y’s seventh annual Discover Ernst & Young event includes more than 150 high-achieving college students from different ethnic backgrounds from 73 campuses across the U.S. It is taking place with a related event, the Campus Diversity and Inclusiveness Roundtable, where college and business leaders can hear about diversity and inclusiveness initiatives at their schools and other organizations.

The firm recruits about 10,000 new employees in the U.S. each year, including both campus hires and more experienced hires, according to Ken Bouyer, Americas director of inclusiveness recruiting at Ernst & Young. “About 6,000 are going to come from campus,” he said in an interview Friday. “That includes both full-time and interns. Our hope is that a lot of the students who are at this Discover E&Y event convert into interns and ultimately full-time hires.”

For the campus recruits, E&Y expects the ratio of new hires to be about 50/50 men and women. Approximately 36 percent will come from minority backgrounds. “When I look at the AICPA supply and demand report, we’re getting more than our fair share, which is great,” said Bouyer. “I’m proud of those numbers—a lot of growth over those years.”

Bouyer is chairing the AICPA’s new National Commission on Diversity. “Our focus at the National Commission on Diversity at the AICPA is advancement and retention for minorities,” he said. “Once they’ve come into the organization, how do we retain the very talented minorities that we’re bringing in earlier so they can become partners and leaders, broadly defined, in our profession? That’s going to be our focus. We’ll come out with best practices. We’ll create a playbook that will enable others to leverage the best practices that are occurring at Ernst & Young and other organizations. But we know it’s a profession-wide issue that we’ve got to deal with, and there’s strength in numbers, so collectively we’re trying to figure out how much investment and what kind of programs can we do to make our profession much better for the future.”

Students Preparing for Futures in the Profession
Akil Marrow, a junior at Auburn University in Alabama, is majoring in accounting. The Atlanta native visited New York City for the first time to attend the Discover Ernst & Young event. “What brought me here is I was really interested in what the Ernst & Young professionals had to offer,” he said. “So far they’ve done a great job of providing us with opportunities to network with professionals like [E&Y global chairman and CEO] Jim Turley. It’s been a great experience so far.”

He and Alexia Tandron, a junior at Florida State University in Tallahassee who is majoring in accounting and finance while minoring in Spanish, are both going to be interning with E&Y next summer in Atlanta. Tandron hopes to use some of the leadership skills she is learning at the conference during her internship.

Both she and Marrow were attracted to the accounting profession. “I’ve always liked numbers and I like planning, so to me that’s what I saw in accounting,” she said. “It [requires] focus, and I’m a really focused individual, so I enjoy that aspect.”

“I’m really good at numbers and I like the flexibility of the accounting degree,” said Marrow. “It drew me to major in accounting. For myself, I like the auditing aspect of it. Tax is fine too, but auditing really caught my attention.”

Tandron said she has enjoyed her cost accounting and managerial accounting classes. She and Marrow both plan to become CPAs one day. “I’m studying for it in my fifth year when I’m getting my master’s,” she said.

Marrow intends to study for the CPA as part of a program at his school. “At Auburn, there’s a program built into the master’s program that you take the CPA and you study for it during that fifth year,” he said.

FSU has clubs for accounting students like Tandron where E&Y recruiters come to speak. She is also the treasurer of the Women in Accounting group there where she met with E&Y representatives.

Marrow belongs to Beta Alpha Psi, an honors business fraternity for accounting, finance and information systems students. Ernst & Young hosts socials where he and other students can meet accounting professionals.

They have outside interests too. Tandron plays intramural volleyball, while Marrow plays intramural basketball.

While the event was geared toward recruiting students to the firm, Bouyer acknowledged that many of the firm’s accountants, including those with minority backgrounds, leave for jobs at clients and in industry. “We hire very talented people across our firm,” said Bouyer. “It’s no surprise that clients and industry and others want to hire that talent. That’s the nature of it. When we look at our firm, we talk about the experience while they’re with Ernst & Young. That’s critically important to us. Whoever you are and however long you stay, we’re going to make sure you leave this firm with better skills, qualities and attributes, and frankly a better future because of the time spent here. We have a lot of successful alumni who are CEOs, CFOs, running major industry groups because of their experience at the firm. And if you talked with them, they would say my experience at Ernst & Young enabled me to be a leader in this profession.”

He has been with the firm for 22 years, and he believes that mentoring and sponsorship can help minority accountants advance at their firms. The event also included E&Y’s Campus Diversity and Inclusiveness Roundtable, in which the firm hosted college faculty, deans and administrators.

“As part of our broad investment in diversity, in addition to our investment in students, we also work very closely with our priority schools,” said Bouyer. “These are the schools where we recruit heavily from their campuses. We have about 20 of those schools here today. It’s a two-day program where we speak about why diversity and inclusiveness matter to Ernst & Young and the profession. What we do is talk about best practices and they each share best practices on what they are doing to enhance or diversify their business school because they are part of our talent pipeline. We can’t continue to function as a firm unless we have these great universities produce this great talent that we ultimately recruit as interns and full-time. This is part of the firm’s investment in diversity extending to the universities, and we want them to know that we’re here to partner with them.”

Advice from Retiring E&Y Chair and CEO
E&Y chief Jim Turley discussed his experiences in the accounting profession and the firm’s philosophy during a presentation with Ernst & Young Americas director of EYU tax and resource management Dot Proux, taking questions from her and the students. Turley said he makes a point of meeting the new interns, managers and senior managers every year and asking them what they would do to make the firm better and more effective.

“It’s really important that we have that kind of culture where our young people, all of our people, know that it’s not just OK, but it’s their job to raise their hand and say here’s what I would do to make it better,” he said. “Lots of the best innovations we’ve done as a firm have not come from this head. They’ve come from the head of some staff accountant. They bring that news forward and say, respectfully I guess most of the time, ‘Jim, I think we’re screwing up. We’re doing it XYZ way. Why aren’t we doing it the other way?’ That happens a lot.”

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.”

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.”