Deloitte Day keynote encourages Foster students to ask “why”

Ed Thomas, managing partner of Deloitte’s Seattle office, talks to Foster students at Deloitte Day.

The 1st of March was Heroes’ Day in Paraguay, Patriots’ Day in Mongolia, Independence Day in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Samiljeol (Independence Movement Day) in South Korea. It was Purim in Israel, Yap Day in Micronesia, Baba Marta in Bulgaria, Beer Day in Iceland, and Zero Discrimination Day around the world.

At the UW Foster School of Business, March 1st was Deloitte Day. The longstanding partnership between Foster and the global provider of professional services is certainly cause for celebration.

During the lunchtime keynote—catered by Dick’s Hamburgers, no less—Ed Thomas, the managing partner of Deloitte’s Seattle office, delivered some basic accounting. Deloitte has invested more than $2 million in the Foster school over the past five years. It employs more than 400 UW alumni. And, last year, it extended full-time and internship offers to 64 Foster students.

“The University of Washington is really important to us,” Thomas said.

He shared a few more figures. Deloitte employs 84,000 people across the United States and 236,000 around the world. It serves 85 percent of the Fortune 500—and 100 percent of Seattle’s contingent of Fortune 500 firms, including Boeing, Nordstrom, Microsoft and Starbucks from their creation (or nearly).

People business

But such facts and figures are evidence of the real secret to Deloitte’s success. For a company that provides audit, tax, consulting and advisory services at a high level and global scale, Thomas revealed the company’s secret sauce to be… people.

“At Deloitte, we don’t have many assets beyond computers and some real estate,” he said. “What we have are great people.”

They also have an ethic of cultivating those people into something even greater. This development takes shape in formal programs such as the new “Deloitte University” in Texas and a company-wide commitment to greater diversity and inclusion, and in more organic efforts to empower employees to find and follow their passions.

Deloitte is a fixture in the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

“We’re always trying to find opportunities for people to use their strengths,” Thomas said. “And strengths, as we define them, are not necessarily things you’re best at. They are the things that give you energy.”

The model appears to work. Deloitte has been a fixture of Fortune’s100 Best Companies to Work For” for the past 18 years, and it was named to People’s inaugural “50 Companies That Care.”

Client-focused

This unwavering focus on its people, Thomas explained, translates into an equally unwavering focus on clients.

“At Deloitte,” Thomas said, “our mission is to help our clients, our people and our communities excel. It’s not about me or my partners or my colleagues. It’s about what can we do to help others achieve their objectives. It’s a Sherpa mentality. Or, if you’re a golfer, a caddy mentality.”

Citing the work of Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, Thomas said that anyone in an organization can describe what they do, and the better organizations can describe what’s unique about how they do it. But few people and few organizations are able to articulate why they do it.

Deloitte, he said, is full of great people who intrinsically understand and embrace the company’s mission of professional service—it’s why.

Words to live by

Thomas advised the Foster students packing Anthony’s Forum to strive for the same sense of enlightenment in their careers.

Why is an important question for you to ask future employers, and an important question to ask yourself,” he said. “What motivates you to do what you do? I hope you associate yourself with organizations and causes that you care deeply about”

Thomas closed with another pearl of wisdom, this time emanating from no less authority than his own father who once posed an illuminating question to his son as he practiced law in the early days of his career.

“My dad said, ‘Now that you’ve practiced law for two years, do you have two years of experience? Or do you have one year of experience repeated twice?’

“It’s another a profound question that I’d like you to consider. Wherever you go to work, think about whether you are getting the kind of experience that will help you continue to grow as a professional and as a human being.”

Corporate Days are offered as a benefit to Foster’s Chair Level Corporate Partners, who invest more than $100K in Foster in a fiscal year.