If you’re a client of Ernst & Young and you run into its leader, Don Misheff, around town, don’t be surprised if he asks you how hisfirm is doing. Sure, Misheff, the professional financial services firm’s managing partner for its Northeast Ohio office, has 1,170employees working on client issues every day, but he never misses a chance to improve. In fact, he still does regular tax work justto keep an inside eye on where the business is going.
Smart Business spoke with Misheff about the importance of a diverse cultureand why you should never put a dead fish under the table.
Be a community figure. I’m a big believer inbeing out in front of our clients andspending time with them. The best testto see that things are working is to be inthe marketplace, talk to your customers.It’s never a perfect world, but that helpsus react to issues and problems.
We can use that market information. Iwas at a client board meeting, and theywere extremely complimentary, but theyhad a few things we could work on, too,and I left, went right down into the staffroom where all our people were workingon the job, and I complimented them,told them what a great job they’re doingand said, ‘Here’s some things to put onthe radar screen for improvement nextyear, and let’s keep trying for the perfectscore.’
If our people are doing things right,then we have trusting engagements andwe have relationships with our clientsand we can both formally discuss thingswith them but also informally discussthings. It doesn’t always have to be formal. For me, it means being very visiblein the market as much as possible.
I am also a firm believer in giving backto the community, so I participate onvarious boards in nonprofit organizations, and that is also full of other community leaders, and that leads to moreinteraction. Call that your MasterCardcommercial it’s priceless becausethey’ll pick up the phone and call you.They know you; you’re not just a name,they’ll call you and tell you something good or bad which is extremely helpful to us. We cannot lose focus of themarket and its reaction.
Keep that executive office on the front line. Partof my leadership style is still doing someaccounts as a tax partner. That way, I’min the same situation as our people on adaily basis.
It helps you keep in touch with themarketplace by putting you in a situationwhere you have the problems our linepeople are dealing with every day. Wevery much want the entire leadershipteam to be in touch with clients and ourpeople.
Delegate duties, not decisions. The hardestproblem is you have to be careful whereyou dig in and spend a lot of time versuswhere you delegate off and let someoneelse handle it. Part of that is in no way doyou ever want to be offending someonewith the idea that their problem wasn’tbig enough for you. So it’s a balancingact based on time.
When something is of a nature that youneed to deal with it, you can delegatesome of the research responsibilities,but you can’t delegate that final decision.
Use candor with care. The biggest leadership strength is candor and opennessand not being afraid to communicatethat with people. You have to alwaysaddress everything with total honesty.
There is nothing more important thanhaving trust and honesty in every relationship. In that respect, you still have torespect people’s feelings and do untoothers as you would have them do untoyou, but you can’t be afraid to deal withthe truth, and that means we have sometough things to talk about sometimes.
I heard a quote one time: ‘If there’s adead fish in the room and you put itunder the table, it gets worse. If you setit out where everyone can see it, thenthere are things you can do to fix it.’ SoI’m kind of a big believer in that philosophy: If we’ve got a problem, let’s put it onthe table, and I’m a big believer in keeping an open door at our firm so you cancome into my office with a problem.
Now the answer I give you may not bewhat you want to hear, but it’s the truthand we can figure out how to deal withthat from your perspective and the firm’sperspective.
Depend on diversity. The older I get, themore I see that having a diverse cultureis so important. You just have to stepback and hear how different peoplewould do it and have that consultationprocess.
We strongly support alternative workarrangements so we can have that. Wesupport life balance not only in thenumber of hours worked but in respecting your culture, where you come fromand what things are important to you.
We want to be a melting pot of culturesand beliefs, so we respect them all. Inour recruiting process, we encouragethat. We say it’s a part of our culture thatwe will respect each other’s differencesand build a team from those.
We have people work from home.People may work different hour schedules if they have to pick up kids. Werespect various religious holidays andcultures. My belief is everybody in thefirm is on a flexible work arrangement;you just have to tailor it to yourself.
I’m not saying there is never a problem it’s our responsibility to educate themand communicate to them the appropriate timetables and what they need to doto serve a client. But it all centers on thecommunication of what our client needsand then communicating that to ouremployees.
So it all centers on what they can do todeliver that and then figure out how tobalance that with their personal goals.We’re such a global firm, and we serve somany clients that the need to understandthe cultural differences around theworld is something we deal with everyday in our office, and it helps us take itto our clients.
HOW TO REACH: Ernst & Young, (216) 861-5000 orwww.ey.com