Thirty-one years ago, and only nine years into his career, Pat Mullin decided to switch accounting firms from Arthur Andersen — then No. 1 — to Deloitte LLP — then No. 8 — and to this day, he’s thankful for that move.
“I wake up most mornings saying, ‘Thank you, Lord — I don’t know why you made me change firms in 1980 … but you did it, and why you did it, I don’t know, but it sure has worked well, because Andersen’s long gone and Deloitte is the No. 1 professional services firm in the world,’” Mullin says.
Now, after a successful career with Deloitte, including serving as managing partner until last June, Mullin will retire next month.
Smart Business spoke with Mullin about some of the leadership lessons he’s learned throughout his career.
Turn failure into success. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen in your life can be the best, because you can really learn from your mistakes. You can really capitalize.
I started my college education at Temple University in Philadelphia, which is where we were from. One day, I got this letter that said for the mutual benefit of the individual and the institution, we suggest you pursue your education elsewhere. I had to read it a couple times to realize they were saying nicely that I was flunking out. My mother and dad — the first question out of their mouth, after being mad at me, was, ‘Where are you going to go to college?’ Failure was not an option. Not going to school was not part of it. That’s what brought me to Cleveland. My brother had moved out here, and that led me to Kent State.
There are some things that I’m really bad at, like languages. When I took French in high school, the priest said to me on the last day, ‘Monsieur Mullin, I have a deal for you. If you agree to never speak my beautiful language again, I will pass you.’ On the other side, I discovered quickly at Kent that I found accounting to be extraordinarily easy. Most of my friends thought it was impossible. I went from flunking out to straight A’s — I think I got one B.
Crisis is a terrible thing to waste, they say, and my life proved true to flunking out at Temple and finding what I was good at. That correspondingly allowed me to focus my strengths and minimize my weaknesses, which is something, over the course of my career, I’ve really tried to do, and I really try to encourage the people I mentor to do the same thing.
Value different people. If you put a group of people together with different skill sets, you get a lot of different perspectives, and those different perspectives are extraordinarily valuable.
One of my biggest clients throughout my career was Dick Jacobs of the Jacobs Group. It was interesting because we’d get in a meeting with him, and he would ask everyone their opinion, and he would always start with the youngest person in the room. He didn’t want to change their view. He wanted to hear what they had to say. He would frequently then go make his own decision, but he really liked all those different perspectives, and I think that’s a very valuable management lesson. What I like about working with people is you get the different perspectives and you get their point of view, and it’s very valuable.
Never stop learning. The way I look at it, I’m not retiring. I’m just starting a new career. I don’t think it’s healthy to quit working. I love golf, but it doesn’t return the love. If it was a female, I would have dumped her 40 years ago.
Commit yourself to an absolute lifetime of education. It’s amazing to me how some people just don’t read. You have to commit yourself to continue to grow. That’s the most important thing that people need to do.
People need to really be flexible and keep growing and setting goals every year. I, every year the first week of January, sit down, and I have goals that I don’t share with anybody. It’s amazing how many of those goals I achieve each year — other than lose 25 pounds. In retirement, I’m going to fulfill that one unfulfilled goal. I divide my goals into Deloitte goals and personal goals — [for example] I’m going to take a course on woodworking and some financial goals on the personal side, and those overlap with the Deloitte goals to some degree. In the Deloitte area, I break it down between clients and people because those are the two things that we really do that are most important.
You have to figure out what works best for you. Don’t make them too long. If they’re more than about 10 words, you probably spent too much time on it. Lose 25 pounds — that’s three words.
How to reach: Deloitte LLP, (216) 589-1300 or www.deloitte.com