Carl Allegretti, U.S. CEO and chairman of Deloitte Tax LLP, the vast tax practice at Deloitte LLP, has personal experience with the importance of finding time for family in the midst of a busy work schedule.

He was appointed to his current job in May 2011, but back in 2007, as he was rising through the ranks of the firm as a line partner, his oldest son Joey was diagnosed with leukemia.

“In December 2006, my oldest son Joey was having a difficult time breathing,” he recalled in an interview last week. “We lived in Chicago and he kept going back and forth to the doctor.”

Joey was a junior high school wrestler who was ranked number one in the state at the time and he kept wrestling despite the constant doctor visits. The family thought his breathing problems and bronchitis could be blamed on the Chicago winter weather. But during a family trip to the Orange Bowl in Florida in January 2007, he took a turn for the worse. “He literally could not breathe walking down the ramp,” Allegretti recalled. “I took him to Miami Children’s Hospital at 2 am. At 6 am that morning, four hours later, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Cancer, a parent’s worst nightmare. I called my wife, who was back at the hotel and she brought my youngest son Nicky to the hospital, and we started this journey. By 10:00 that night he was on chemotherapy.”

Allegretti recalls that the firm was very supportive of him during this trying period, including the CEO and managing partner. “Leukemia is a three-year protocol of chemotherapy,” he said. “It was not something that was going to be done quickly. But I was at every treatment. For the first eight months, we were in the hospital every week for some form of treatment. Then after that the protocol changes and you go into maintenance mode, which is every month. And we still go every year now. But it gave me tremendous perspective. I thought I had perspective going into this, but it gave me even more perspective on the importance of family and spending time with them.”

Up to then, Allegretti felt he had always made time for both his family and his job. While he had a demanding work schedule, he also coached his two sons in various sports, including track, soccer, wrestling, football and baseball, from the time they were four or five years old, with help from his wife of 25 years, Tammy. But during his son’s illness, he found he was neglecting his own health.

“I didn’t take care of myself,” he said. “It was overwhelming. I managed what I had to do at the office and I managed him at home. Not that I ever want to live through this again, but I’ve coached other people who have had to go through it since then—partners within the firm that are on a similar journey—and I tell them to make sure that they take care of themselves. It will manage some of the stress. It will make them stronger.”

His son Joey eventually recuperated and became the state wrestling champion in junior high school, and an all-conference wrestler in high school. Now he is a sophomore honors student at the University of Illinois.

Finding the Right Balance
Allegretti advises other members of the firm to try to find the right balance between work and their personal lives.

“Life is about choices and I am very happy with my balance,” he said. “Spend the time with whatever is important to you. My release is working out in the gym. Other people’s release may be traveling, golf or reading. Whatever it is, it’s incredibly important for them to take that time. I try to lead by example. I try to coach our people to take what time is out there.”

He recalls that years ago, one of his senior managers told him she wanted to resign. “She said, ‘I’m leaving because I’m doing a terrible job at home and I’m doing a terrible job in the office and I need to find something else.’ We took a step back and I told her to take whatever time she needed for her family and for herself, and I’ll take whatever’s left. We managed it, and today she is a very successful partner.”

Allegretti points out that the accounting profession is a people business, and it is important to find time outside the office for whatever matters to the individual. “There is not a national program or regional program that’s really going to help people manage through stress in life and through their professional careers,” he said. “It’s communicating to them that they need to define it for themselves and to work through it, and stick to it.”

He pointed out that employees and managers will feel better about themselves and set an example for their co-workers if they demonstrate that it’s OK to have what Deloitte refers to as a “work/life fit.”

“Whatever makes sense for you, fit it in,” Allegretti explained. “It’s important in both physical and mental aspects. You have to have a life outside the office. It makes you more interesting when you talk to people. I always find a way to connect things together that I’m passionate about. For example, whenever I entertain clients, I try to bring their families along. If we went to a game or an outing, I would invite the client’s spouse and/or family. You build that relationship with the family. You allow them to spend time with their family because we’re all busy. That’s one way to approach it.”

He also has become an avid fundraiser for the hospital he credits with saving his son’s life, Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Allegretti regular runs in the Chicago Marathon, and for the past three years he has raised about $150,000 on behalf of the hospital. “Get involved with things that you’re very, very passionate about,” he advises.

Even during busy season at tax time, he encourages employees to take advantage of the gym that most of Deloitte’s offices have. “When you take a break, it clears your mind,” said Allegretti. “I’m a firm believer that with a clear mind, however you clear it, it will make you more productive and effective at work. Some people take a walk around the block. Some people go out to eat. Whatever it is, decompress and you will be more focused and effective at work.”

Advice for Success
To be successful, Allegretti advises accountants in large firms to concentrate on building their team. “No one person is good enough,” he said. “We have talented people everywhere. Those that are successful are those that that are able to build teams and create followership. It is incredible to build a strong team. The other overall career advice is to follow your passion, follow what you enjoy doing. There are a number of different ways to be successful in a large organization, in an accounting firm. There are different disciplines, but focus on what you enjoy doing.”

Allegretti recalled growing up in the blue collar town of Gary, Indiana. “I loved working with entrepreneurs,” he said. “My dad was an entrepreneur. So I worked with middle-market clients like large construction firms and distributors, but they were all privately held. I didn’t work with the Fortune 500 companies because I focused on what I enjoyed doing. I took a lot of advice and I listened to people throughout my career, but l really enjoyed dealing with the owners. I followed my passion.”

He pointed out that in the accounting business, relationships are critical. “A lot of things change in the profession, but there are two things that don’t change. I need clients and I need people,” he said. “I need people to build internal relationships as well as market relationships. Build your team and build your relationships with clients.”

Deloitte’s U.S. tax practice hires 2,000 people a year, he noted. “Our business is based on turnover,” said Allegretti. “People leave. They leave for opportunities. I coach and preach, ‘Take care of your team. Develop them. Build a relationship with them. Because they are going to end up either being your partner at the firm or they’re going to be in the marketplace in a position of possibly buying your services.” You’ve got to build and cultivate relationships over your career. I try never to let a relationship die.”

Allegretti has been in the accounting profession for 30 years and he still keeps a manual Rolodex, along with his old contact management software, Lotus Organizer. “Now with social media, these kids have so many different ways to stay connected,” he pointed out. “When I speak on campuses, I say, ‘Right here is your first networking group. Stay in touch with each other as you move across the country and move across the globe because there is a lot of power in networking and relationships.’”

Giving Back
Allegretti said he also advises people to “give back.”

Besides raising money for Lurie Hospital, he supports the United Way and has spoken at the White House on the importance of volunteerism. “Deloitte is a huge supporter in the community,” he added. “We have what’s called Impact Day. One day a year, the first Friday in June, we pretty much take all of our people and put them in the marketplace volunteering in different cities in whatever’s important to the city. Education is a big platform for us. We teach in the schools. I’ve painted in the schools. We give back our talent from a labor perspective. And we’ve just committed the firm to a $60 million pro bono commitment for community service.”

Allegretti didn’t start out wanting to become an accountant. He started as a pharmacy major in Butler University in 1979 and eventually planned to attend medical school once he completed the five-year pharmacy study program. “After my first year, I decided I’ve got to do something different and I changed over to accounting,” he said. “I finished my degree in three years. I crammed four years of accounting into three years. I went to Arthur Andersen in 1983 and hoped to join my dad’s business, but he sold it in 1985. It was the right business decision and the right family decision, so I stayed at Arthur Andersen.”

At Andersen, he started in the audit function, but after spending a year and a half as an auditor, he transferred into tax. “This goes to my advice—always do what you enjoy doing,” he said. “Don’t do it for promotions. Things work out over time. When I transferred from audit into tax, I lost a year of my career. They were promoting people to senior after two years. It took me three because I was in tax and I didn’t have the experience. When they were promoting people to manager in three to four years, it took me five years to make manager. I was the last person in my start class to get promoted to senior, and I was the last person in my start class to get promoted to manager, and the first person ultimately to get promoted to partner. Things shake out over time if you stay focused on what you enjoy doing. Lead with your passion because you’re not going to do a good job if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing.”

Allegretti said he never really worried about making partner. “I worried about learning each and every year, working with some of the best tax partners out there,” he said. “I just really focused on learning each and every year, and it probably wasn’t until when I was about two years out of making partner that I really figured that I could do this. I just worried about learning. I never worried about much else.”