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Master of balance Featured

7:12am EDT May 24, 2005
Whether it's balance sheets or career/home balance, Julie Kunkel makes it look easy. As managing partner of Ernst & Young LLP's Columbus office and a partner in the firm's assurance and advisory business services practice, Kunkel wears several hats.

As managing partner, a position to which Kunkel was promoted in 2003, she coordinates the activities of nearly 200 people in Columbus across each of the firm's service lines. As the Americas director for retail and wholesale, Kunkel quarterbacks knowledge management and training for the accounting giant's staff members who serve clients in the retail and wholesale service sectors.

How do you keep your staff loyal and happy?

Ernst & Young has a set of values that we're really serious about. We keep them alive by constantly incorporating them into our discussions and daily work. The strategy is simple but powerful - people, quality and growth. And it's not an accident that people is first.

We offer professional services, so our excellence and ability to grow entirely depends on our employees. I know the values work, and here's some proof - Ernst & Young has been honored for the past seven years on the Fortune "100 Best Companies to work for" list.

We've also made it on Working Woman's Best Companies for Working Mothers list for eight years. Ernst & Young's values of integrity, respect and teaming apply to over 100,000 employees around the world. My job is to make sure they are upheld in every way in the Columbus operations.

What do you look for in your employees to make sure you accomplish that?

Our work is not easy or glamorous. It often involves difficult and adversarial circumstances - for example, a complex audit or fraud investigation. And tight deadlines go with the territory. I look for people who can thrive in this environment.

My dream employee would look like this --- astute listener, flexible, resilient, ambitious and confident. He or she would be able to clearly articulate what needs to be accomplished in order to get the client engaged right out of the gate.

I also look for the ability to rally when things go south -- people who can regroup, re-energize and press on during the low points are worth their weight in gold.

What strategies do you use to attract and retain clients?

Most of our work is driven by legal or regulatory requirements, so our clients need the services we offer. There is competition, of course, so the key is to make sure people know who we are before they need our service.

Columbus is more of a big town than a booming metropolis, so it is fairly easy to get to know people. We make it our business to look at companies in town, keep current on local business happenings and to meet them personally.

The reality is that people want to do business with those they like, so we hire the best staff and then make sure companies know we are here. I personally have volunteered with social organizations such as United Way. First of all, it's the right thing to do. But it also carries the added bonus of allowing me to meet peers in local companies.

The work we do is often a necessary evil -- kind of like going to the dentist. It's not fun, nobody looks forward to it, but the alternative is less attractive. Regardless, we know that we can make it as efficient, effective and painless as possible. Kind of like what you would expect from a dentist when you need that dreaded root canal.

What do you see as the top challenge for executive women?

That's easy -- balance. For example, this week my 2- and 5-year-old sons' nanny was put in the hospital unexpectedly. Although I have back-up childcare, my week quickly went into a tailspin. Even with supportive and involved husbands, most women still end up doing it all. It's exhausting at times.

I believe this is why there are not more women CEOs. It's not a glass ceiling or ability issue. The only barrier I see to women securing key positions is their own desire to set limits.

For me personally, although my job is rewarding and important, I am not willing to sacrifice my home life to get ahead.

How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (614) 232-7159