Kailesh Karavadra didn’t always want to be an accountant. In school he studied electronic engineering and later decided he wanted to try his hand at accounting. He fell in love with the profession and first joined EY in the U.K.
A few years later, the $24 billion accounting firm asked Karavadra if he’d be interested in moving to Silicon Valley.
“With my background in engineering and computers and business background in accounting, it made a lot of sense with what the Valley was going through in the early ’90s,” says Karavadra, managing principal of EY’s San Jose office. “So I came here, and I loved it, and have been here ever since.”
Karavadra has been with EY for more than 20 years, but it was in early 2012 that he was named managing principal for the 750-employee San Jose office, an announcement that coincided with the firm’s 50th anniversary of its presence in Silicon Valley.
“When we wake up every day and we put on our EY uniform and we come to work, our heart and soul is in building a better working world,” Karavadra says. “Over the past year I’ve had the chance to talk to almost every one of our employees, from our partners to our staff, and connect with them and listen to what’s on their minds and understand some of the complexities and challenges we work with.”
Karavadra has been focused on continuing to foster a strong culture at EY as well as continuing to recruit and retain top talent that will help the firm in its goal to build a better working world.
Here’s how Karavadra is making sure EY San Jose is prepared for the future.
Start with culture
Karavadra has been with EY for 23 years. He’s been with the firm for so long that when he speaks with young professionals today they’ll say, ‘Twenty-three years! Aren’t you bored?’
“I laugh because I have never had a single boring day,” Karavadra says. “The one differentiator is our culture and our people value that a lot.”
EY has been named to Fortune’s best companies to work for list for 15 consecutive years.
“That comes from our inclusiveness and flexibility and that we really empower our people,” he says. “For our employees, every day they show up for work it’s about choices. What we try to do is cultivate a culture that empowers them to make the right decisions, leverage the information that’s available in our culture and have diverse thinking to do the right things when serving our clients and our firm.”
Karavadra and the San Jose office encourage and empower employees to drive their own bus. “There are so many opportunities within our firm to drive their careers, to learn so many things, to be able to experience many things, and that’s the culture we want them to be able to feel,” he says. “Our employees are excited, they’re energized, they’re enthusiastic, and they’re passionate about what we do.”
One of the things that EY is very proud of is inclusiveness and that is something that Karavadra heard loud and clear from his people as something they value.
“This isn’t just about ethnicity and gender and those things that many organizations like ours do a great job around, but it’s the diversity of thought,” he says. “We encourage our people to bring that diversity of thought, to bring the different thinking and look at the problems we’re trying to solve for our clients and the value we’re trying to add to our clients in different ways.”
Developing a culture such as what Karavadra has in San Jose and what EY has bred around the globe hasn’t happened overnight.
“There’s a great saying out there that I personally believe in, which is, ‘People don’t care what you know until they know you care,’” he says. “At the foundation of our culture is the caring. We treat ourselves as family.
“One way we foster that culture is through our alumni and our retired partners. We did several events last year where we bring our retired partners back, and it’s amazing to me the pride, passion and excitement they have for our firm. We have almost 1 million alumni that have gone through the EY culture. During these events we invite our alumni to reconnect with each other, as well as reconnect with current employees.”
Another way Karavadra helps foster EY’s culture and helps to build a better working world is through five things that he constantly talks about with his team.
“No. 1 is that we really do contribute to the success of the capital market,” he says. “No. 2 is that we truly help and improve as well as grow businesses. The third is we support entrepreneurs. Fourth is we are incubators for leaders. Fifth is giving back to the community.”
Find and retain top talent
Those five things are important aspects of the EY culture, but they also help drive why employees love to work for the firm and why potential employees are attracted to working there as well.
“There’s a saying by John F. Kennedy Jr., ‘Some people see the world the way it is and say why, others see it differently and say why not,’” Karavadra says. “When we go on campuses we see a lot of very young, talented people who want to make a difference, who want to contribute and have a sense of belonging.”
Karavadra makes sure to talk a lot about the firm’s family culture, team atmosphere and sense of empowerment.
“We also bring our current employees because we want them to be the voice and they will shoot from the hip and give an honest view and opinion of what it’s like working here,” he says.
Karavadra also goes on these campus visits to speak with potential hires. He wants to make sure he understands what those candidates are looking for in a company and in a job.
“What they tell me is they want to work in a dynamic environment,” he says. “They love the innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and the teaming aspect of an organization.”
Focusing on recruiting strong talent is important, but all that energy is wasted if you don’t also focus on retaining those great candidates once you have them.
“It’s not only important to hire good talent and keep them here, but for our clients in the markets at-large it means that when people have energy, enthusiasm and they believe that we’re doing the right thing, they’re going to provide exceptional client service,” Karavadra says.
“They’re going to be a part of the highest performing teams and when you add our global strength and structure to the local empowerment in our local offices, that’s a real strong recipe for people to have a successful career.”
Karavadra believes that above all else, trust is one of the biggest factors for retaining talent in an organization.
“I truly believe in my DNA, that trust is at the heart of it,” he says. “Young people these days are incredibly smart, incredibly connected and talented.
“But when we’re out there talking to people, the most important thing that I share, whether it’s for recruiting or with employees, there is nothing more important than making sure you hold the ethics, reputation and integrity of yourself and our firm at the highest level. Nothing should compromise that.”
Whether you’re on campus recruiting or trying to attract experienced hires, establishing trust is the most important thing.
“They need to feel that this is an organization with honesty, trust, integrity and teaming. Where employees feel there are common goals and we work together,” he says.
While trust is a big reason employees will remain with a company, a second big reason is training and the ability to develop new skill sets.
“We put in 2.7 million hours of training last year for our people,” Karavadra says. “We really want our people to be the very best they can be. It is important for us to make sure we provide all of the latest and relevant insights to them, whether it’s classroom training, industry training or leveraging our web-based technology tools. The San Jose office is the global technology center, so we have a lot of our thought leadership around the world that we develop right here for our technology clients.”
Training at EY is not the only formal training team members get, they also get to take advantage of the firm’s apprenticeship model.
“What I learned when I started as a staff member 23 years ago is that I looked at people around me and there were mentors and coaches who took an interest in me and cared about me,” he says. “They would take me aside and say, ‘You just did this inventory account, this cash reconciliation, and looked at this tax document. Here’s why it’s important for us, why it’s valuable to the client and the impact it could have.’
“Right away from the first day, the training climatizes you to understanding the importance and the accountability that we have on the work that we do. It’s not just showing up every day to put in your number of hours and then we clock out. There’s a real importance to that training.”
How to reach: EY San Jose, (408) 947-5500 or www.ey.com
Work on establishing a culture that is attractive to employees.
Devote time to recruiting the best talent for your organization.
Provide training resources to help retain your best talent.
The Karavadra File
EY San Jose
Born: Kampala, Uganda
Education: He studied electronic engineering and received a master’s degree in engineering from University College of North Wales in Bangor.
What was the first job you had and what did you learn from it?
I delivered newspapers. I used to get up at 5:30 a.m. before school and do it again after school. So it was twice a day, six days a week. I was always inspired by working hard and taking my responsibilities seriously, because you’re accountable for the things you are doing. Hard work will always get you a reward.
Who do you look up to?
I have five mentors that I am in constant connection with who are across five different continents. That has happened because of the years of experience here and the networking. I can call them anytime and pick their brains and they try and make sure they support what I am doing.
If you could speak with anyone from the past or present, with whom would you want to speak with?
The one person who has shaped me more than others is Mahatma Gandhi. I have always been incredibly inspired by the willpower he had. He was someone who realized that something needed to change and he was willing to take the first step.