A commitment to seeking digital solutions, investing in technology and putting people first isn’t just how EY has weathered the global health crisis and ensuing economic upheaval. It’s part of the strategy that young people hoping to make a difference in the corporate workforce should embrace, the CEO and global chairman of the powerhouse professional services firm told a Maryland Smith audience on Sept. 8.
Carmine Di Sibio shared how he’s been leading a global firm of almost 300,000 people working in more than 150 countries through COVID-19, and how corporations can be the problem-solvers the world needs, during a conversation at the Robert H. Smith School of Business’ fall CEO@Smith speaker series event. He joined Interim Dean Ritu Agarwal from his home office in Summit, N.J., for the virtual event, co-hosted by Maryland Smith’s Center for Global Business as part of its Distinguished Speakers in International Business series. Students, faculty, staff and alumni tuned in and asked questions.
“When COVID first hit, the first message I sent out was really to all our partners and all our people that there were two most important things: taking care of our people and taking care of our clients,” Di Sibio said. “If we did those, we’d be fine getting through the pandemic.”
The firm has been resilient, even growing revenue 5% over last year.
He said companies have a big role to play in addressing societal issues. He was part of a 2019 Business Roundtable pledge by corporate leaders to redefine the purpose of a corporation to benefit all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Now he’s working with the other Big Four professional services firms and Bank of America as part of the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council, to come up with a way for companies to disclose metrics around four areas – people, planet, prosperity, governance – to “help drive forward what we mean by the definition of a corporation beyond just shareholder profit,” he said.
For students hoping to have impact through careers at EY or other top corporations, Di Sibio shared this advice:
Be open to innovation. Early in his 35-year career with EY, he said, he turned losing a big client into an opportunity to start a risk-management practice at the firm with a few partners. “Today, that’s over a billion-dollar business, just in the U.S.”
Be tech-savvy. “Being curious around technology is important,” said Di Sibio. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest programmer, he said, but you should know how to leverage tech tools. “We went from having 1,500 people in February on Microsoft Teams to now having almost 300,000 on it during the COVID period.”
Think and act globally. “It’s important that people continue to think globally. We are global as a business; our clients are global. I think technology has forced that,” he said. “So even if you’re part of a startup, your market is global almost immediately.”
Build relationships. “During COVID, the relationships we had already built, those are the ones that we’re able to do work for, to sell work to, to have trust with. Building new relationships during COVID has actually been much more difficult.”
Find your passion and have fun with it. “It sounds simplistic, but it’s the difference between thinking of your career as a career versus thinking of your job as just a job.” At EY, Di Sibio got his start in the audit business – and he’s stayed there, moving to financial services and rising through leadership ranks to the top role.
“I love being with clients and I love helping them solve issues. I do that today with other CEOs. It’s really what gives me passion and reward for what I do,” he said.
The DSS event was sponsored in part by CIBE, a Title VI grant from the U.S. Department of Education. After Di Sibio’s conversation with Agarwal, participants heard from Maryland Smith alumni now working at EY during a panel discussion dubbed “A Day in the Life of an EY Professional.” The conversation, led by Mark Rabinowitz ’05 and Ellen Polansky ’87, gave students a glimpse of the collaborative culture at EY and diverse perspectives the firm values.