What companies can do to pave the way for future generations Featured

12:38am EDT January 18, 2014

George Lenyo is optimistic about the future of Detroit, even as others dwell on the financial challenges that led to the city filing for bankruptcy in July 2013.

“I’ve lived in Detroit since 2004,” says Lenyo, managing partner for EY’s Detroit office. “One thing I will tell you is whether it’s the sports teams or the companies that reside here, the level of passion and resilience in Detroit is unheralded across the country. It’s nice to see that passion that we’ll pick ourselves up and build something together. It’s great to see that come through.”

Lenyo has been with the professional services firm for 17 years and was named Detroit’s managing partner on July 1, 2013. He is responsible for the organization and deployment of more than 500 resources of assurance, tax, advisory and transaction advisory services.

He’s also proud to be part of the effort to get the private sector behind education initiatives that will help position Detroit to have a skilled and diverse workforce to fuel the city's economic recovery.

“You have to look at this as part of your responsibility, your corporate responsibility, as well as the responsibility to help grow your people and thus grow your business,” Lenyo says.

But it’s even bigger than that, says Lenyo. As business leaders, you have to see the collective benefit in finding ways to make everyone stronger, even the companies that you compete against.

“We may be competitors on the battlefield, when it comes to helping out in our community, we have a very united focus,” Lenyo says. “In this case, it’s to make Detroit a better place to live and work. We all collectively just want to make it stronger. As leaders, it’s utilizing our networks and our connections to accomplish that.”

Find your place

One of EY’s key programs in this effort is College MAP, which stands for Mentoring for Access and Persistence. EY works with high schools and the not-for-profit organization College For Every Student to identify young people who most need the program’s support. College For Every Student brings skill in curriculum development and a large network of university relationships and EY provides volunteer mentors in more than 20 cities across the United States.

“We have our three tenets that we support,” Lenyo says. “That’s education, entrepreneurship and the environment. So for us, one of the main activities is education and education reform. It hit home for us as a firm that we need to provide our philanthropic support around education and education reform in North America.

“Specifically here in Detroit, I think the program is the largest of all our College MAPs across the country. The first year, we had 10 mentors and then we had 10 mentees that all went to post-secondary education. For our second class last year we had 30-plus employees and 40-plus mentors. So you can tell it was something in which our folks got very passionate about and rallied behind. For them to be able to make a difference in Detroit and be able to carve out a part of the future is something special.”

EY is also involved with the Boys & Girls Club and hosts an event called EY Connect Day in which employees spend the day helping needy organizations across Detroit, among other initiatives to which the firm has committed.

“What we believe in is skills-based volunteering,” Lenyo says. “I think that’s a great model for other organizations, especially ones that are struggling. We take the strengths that our people already possess, and we look for ways we can partner them with a needy organization and then find a way to maximize that relationship.”

Make the effort

Lenyo says the groundswell of support for charitable and philanthropic work is only growing across all industries.

“The younger part of our organization feels that giving back is a requirement, and they feel very strongly about that,” Lenyo says. “As a leader, I have to be very aware of that and think of what’s going to help retain and grow those employees into our future leaders.”

But here again, you need to take the broader view and think beyond your own company walls to consider the impact you and your people can make.

“Our purpose is building a better working world,” Lenyo says. “That’s our global purpose as a firm. Now does it hit home in Detroit because of the bankruptcy and some of the struggles of the city? By all means. But we’re looking at ways to impact our people and thus impact the community. To me, that purpose statement is something that could be universal. It’s something we want to be known for.

“And I think more corporations, if they look at what they really want to be thought of and how they would brand themselves, assisting and helping from a corporate philanthropic perspective is one of the things I think is viewed as a requirement today.”

As busy as many companies and leaders are these days working hard to find ways to grow their business, time can be precious. And sometimes that can lead to the decision to write a check rather than get more actively involved in various efforts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“We know that giving funds and supporting efforts are an integral part of supporting these organizations,” Lenyo says. “For EY, that’s not the only way in which we like to give but for certain organizations, that may be the only way they can. And that may be their introduction into philanthropic giving.”

When you make that start and then you begin to find ways to get your people involved in helping others grow, you’re on the way to making a big difference in your community.

“It’s an evolution,” Lenyo says. “If you rewind probably 10 or 15 years, you’ll find that most leaders did look at how do we just give a check. That’s the way in which we would give back. More and more, people are getting people on board, volunteering, providing pro bono services, using our skills, being creative to help these organizations. Providing what I’ll call larger-scale support, along with writing that check, really offers the need and the demonstrable support and impact on the organization we’re trying to help.”

How to reach: EY Detroit, (313) 628-7100 or www.ey.com