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An Unshakable Bedrock of Integrity

It’s good to be back at BYU. There’s not another campus in the world that I have visited half as often as BYU. For many years, EY has been the number one employer of BYU students, and most years BYU has been the number one source of candidates for EY. It’s a wonderful two-way relationship.

But for me, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s the quality of the education. It’s the maturity shown by BYU graduates. And, without question, it’s the morals they bring to EY.

James S. Turley

Tonight I will be honored by the Marriott School’s National Advisory Council as the International Executive of the Year for ethical and moral leadership. It is a very humbling day. But I wouldn’t be honored today if I hadn’t been extremely blessed to have led EY from 2001 to 2013. Throughout that time there were tough things to deal with: the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, the Enron scandal, the financial crisis, the Great Recession, and the economic recovery.

But there were also positives during that time. We built market share and tripled revenues. We became known as the most globally integrated firm in our profession. We were recognized as having the best people culture in the business. We became the biggest brand on college campuses—not just in the United States but around the world. And while all firms served a number of global businesses, EY also developed a unique relationship with entrepreneurs.

It was a nice run, but I would not have been successful without the values, ethics, and morals I learned from many people. For me, like most of us, it started with family. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mom and dad were the best role models. They were as devout, loving, caring, and demanding as could be.

Great Blessings

Stained glass window image of a house with sunlight streaming down on it

I remember going with my brother to my dad’s office when I was about six. My father ran the largest commercial industrial real estate firm in the Midwest. I’ll never forget pulling into the garage and seeing my dad talk to the parking attendant; they were friends. We got in the elevator and my dad chatted with the elevator attendant; they were friends. I watched how my father interacted with people who we might be tempted to think are not important. But he treated them the same way he treated his biggest clients.

Beyond family, I learned through church. I grew up in the Episcopalian Church, attending every Sunday year in and year out. My brother and I were both acolytes. I went to Bible study and youth activities. An enormous number of blessings came from church.

I was also a Scout. I am jealous of all of the Eagle Scouts at BYU because I am not one. Our family moved when I was just about to get my Star, and, silly me, I decided I didn’t want to start with a new troop. The lessons you learn in Scouts—to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent—stay with you your whole life. While I was dumb enough to not finish my Eagle, I have been smart enough to stay involved with Scouts as an officer on the national board.

In college the values I learned in early life were strengthened. I attended Rice University, which operates on an honor system. Every exam you take and every paper you turn in has a signed pledge: “On my honor, I have neither given nor received any unauthorized aid on this examination, quiz, or paper.” My education reinforced the things I had been taught by my family, my church, and Scouts.

Great Leaders

Sometimes people feel that great leaders become great in spite of their ethics and morals. In my former life, I met thousands of men and women who were leaders in business, government, and civil society.

A magazine reporter once asked me, “Jim, what characteristics do you think define great leadership?”

I paused. I had never really thought about it. I reflected on the people I had met and then said, “Any great leader I have ever met has an unshakable bedrock of integrity. Everything else they do is built on that foundation.”

Great leaders have the respect of all the women and men around them—their team, their stakeholders, their regulators, and their competitors. But that respect doesn’t come because of the leader’s title. It doesn’t come from job performance or how much they get paid. It comes because the leader gives respect to everyone they come in contact with—as my father demonstrated. Great leaders develop reciprocal respect.

Successful leaders don’t think it is all about them. We all know people who aren’t team players. We don’t like those people. We don’t want to hang out with those people. And we certainly don’t want to follow those people. Someone once said, “A leader who has no followers is nothing more than some lonely man who is out for a walk by himself.” Leadership is about integrity, respect, and teamwork.

These are things taught by all great religions. They are taught by Scouts and similar organizations. They are taught by families. And they are crucially important to breeding leadership. But personal views are not sufficient to enable great leadership. In times like these there will be winners and losers. To ensure you make the right decisions, you have also got to have the right mindset.

Great Entrepreneurs

Mindset is a funny thing. Let me give you an example. What do most companies do when a financial crisis strikes? Most hunker down and prepare to ride it out. They are worried more about what they might lose than what they could gain.

EY did a survey in the depths of the 2008 crisis, asking a battery of questions to two hundred mature multinational companies and two hundred entrepreneurial businesses of varying sizes. One question stood out: “Are you now, in the depths of the crisis, aggressively seeking new opportunities?”

Less than one in five of the mature multinationals said yes. At the same time, 67 percent of the entrepreneurial businesses said they were aggressively seeking opportunities. They were hurting just as much as the mature companies, but they had a different mindset. Instead of hunkering down, they were thinking, “Maybe our competitors are hurting worse. Maybe now’s the time to consolidate. Maybe now’s the time to introduce new products. Maybe we should enter a new market.”

Because EY celebrates successful men and women with the Entrepreneur of the Year Program, I’ve had the chance to meet hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the globe. At these events the media often asked me what the difference was between an entrepreneur in the United States and one in Latin America, Europe, or Africa. My answer was that there are more similarities than there are differences.

“Successful entrepeneurs risk everything to chase their dreams”

Successful entrepreneurs start by looking at the outside world and seeing the needs that exist. They then create a product or a service to fill the need they’ve identified. They risk everything to chase their dreams. Every one of the successful entrepreneurs I have met has unbelievable persistence. Most of them fail the first time around. But they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and do it again. The entrepreneurial mindset is crucial for success, in addition to the values of integrity, respect, and teamwork.

A stained glass window of flying birds

Great Futures

For the last fourteen years, I have carried a piece of paper with me. I took notes on it during a presentation about what the world would look like if the earth’s seven billion people were represented by just one hundred individuals. While these statistics have changed over time, they still fascinate me.

There would be fifty-one women and forty-nine men. There would be thirty-three Christians and sixty-seven non-Christians. Around eighty-five would be heterosexual and fifteen homosexual. Sixty-two people would hail from Asia, twelve from Europe, twelve from the Americas, and fourteen from Africa.

Nothing too surprising there. The next slide, however, was stunning. If the whole world was composed of one hundred people, about six would control 60 percent of the world’s wealth. Think about that. Around eighty would live in substandard housing. Two-thirds would not be able to read in their native language. Fifty would suffer from malnutrition. One or two would have a higher education. But things are changing.

Let me make this clear: the workers of tomorrow will not look like the workers of today. In the future all of us will rely on teams that are much more diverse in gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, and physical ability. If you can bring together all the ideas that originate from the rich and varied backgrounds of your teammates, sparks will fly and innovation will happen.

In a year or two you students will walk under a spotlight as you receive your diploma. When you step off the Marriott Center’s stage, that spotlight will stay on you. I had the pleasure of working at EY before the Enron crisis. At that time our profession was quiet. No one talked about us, and most thought we were just a bunch of boring accountants. But when Enron hit, everything changed. We were suddenly scrutinized by regulators, the media, our clients, and our next-door neighbors. But I would rather be heavily scrutinized than irrelevant. The spotlight will always be on you. Let it reveal your strengths.


Stained glass mountain

Following his address, Turley answered questions from Marriott School students.

Q. If you had to pick two words to summarize how you went from beginning accountant to CEO, what would those words be?

A. I would choose teamwork for my first word. I remember a point in my career when I wasn’t on any of the high-prestige accounts in my office. I was routinely asked by leadership to do the equivalent of taking out the trash. I wanted to rebel against that, but I realized that the things they were asking me to do needed to be done, and they were trusting me to do them.

Listening would probably be my second word. Too often people get caught up in what they want to say instead of trying to understand what someone else is saying.

Q. You said we shouldn’t see integrity as something that is setting us back. How have you been able to use faith and integrity in your career to combat pressure to compromise?

A. Sometimes people feel like they can’t bring their whole selves to work, but I want you to bring your whole self to work if you’ve got the kind of ethics and morals that BYU encourages. My profession is built on doing the right thing. It’s a profession built on making sure we provide the right information to capital-market participants. However, I can assure you that you will have many difficult decisions to make in your career. But if you make them on the side of what is right, it will always end up better for you long-term. You may have to drop a client who is doing something wrong. You may have to let a high-performing partner go for bad behavior. There will be gut-wrenching decisions, but as long as you do what’s right, you can always take comfort in your choices.

Q. Sometimes teams get off on the wrong foot and start to clash. As a leader, how would you suggest turning such a team around so the group can perform better?

A. Typically, there are two paths to take when confrontation happens. Let me use the example of going into a meeting with a client who is unhappy with what your team has done. You can try to convince the client that they’re wrong, which in my experience doesn’t usually play out very well. Or you can plead guilty and ask for a light sentence, taking more upon yourself than you probably deserve. Instead of pushing back, ask them to explain what they think caused the problem. That will change the whole dynamic. In a team setting, don’t fight with someone who is unhappy. Use the situation as a chance to learn more. The more you start listening, the more likely they’re going to ask for your perspective too.

Q. As you look back at the lessons you have learned, what do you wish you would have done differently?

A. I always used to say to the people at ey that if I could start over, I would live overseas. I have traveled the entire world, but I have never lived somewhere else. I have never been the isolated minority in a foreign land. I think the leaders of the future will have a more grounded understanding of the world than I have. They will have lived abroad, which is why I think so highly of the LDS mission experience. It’s one of the things that, in my mind, really contributes to the maturity of BYU graduates.


Address by James S. Turley, former chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young
2014 International Executive of the Year

Illustrations by Ben Hansen

About the Speech
This text is taken from remarks Turley gave to students, faculty, and National Advisory Council members before receiving the Marriott School’s International Executive of the Year Award on 26 September 2014.

About the Speaker
Jim Turley is the former chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, a leading global professional services organization that provides audit, risk advisory, tax, and transaction services. With 190,000 employees in more than 150 countries, EY is one of the largest professional services organizations in the world.

Turley began his career with EY in 1977 in the firm’s Houston office. He held a series of leadership positions at EY for twenty-eight years. Later Turley served as senior advisory partner for many of EY's largest global clients. He was named metropolitan New York area managing partner in 1998 and was appointed deputy chairman in 2000. In July 2001 he became chairman, and in October 2003 he assumed the role of CEO.

As chairman Turley set a strong tone from the top, focusing on quality, integrity, and professionalism. EY has been consistently recognized by Fortune as one of the best companies to work for.

Turley was actively engaged with many stakeholders as part of EY's commitment to enhance the public’s trust in professional services firms and in the quality of financial reporting. He encouraged dialogue with key stakeholders regarding the many changes facing capital markets, including the advent of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the United States, the introduction of international financial reporting standards in more than one hundred countries, and the overall movement toward greater convergence of global accounting standards and governance.

Throughout his career Turley actively supported numerous civic, cultural, and business organizations. He is on the board of directors for Boy Scouts of America, Catalyst, and the National Corporate Theatre Fund. He is also a member of the Business Roundtable, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, and Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue.

Turley holds a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Rice University in Houston. He enjoys sports, including golf and tennis. Turley and his wife, Lynne, have a twenty-one-year-old son.

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