“Whether we all realize it or not, we are all leaders,” Tim Ryan, senior partner and U.S. chairman of PwC, says. “And like it or not, people are looking to us for our lead. And looking to us at a time of tremendous uncertainty and where people can be very scared.”
Irish America magazine celebrated its 20th anniversary Wall Street 50 Awards October 11 at the St. Regis New York in Manhattan, featuring PwC’s senior partner and U.S. chairman Tim Ryan as the evening’s keynote speaker.
Ryan, who was profiled for Irish America’s October / November 2017 issue, grew up in a working class family south of Boston and has spent his entire career with PwC, beginning in 1988, when he still moonlighted at his local grocery store. Since assuming the chair role in July 2016, Ryan has focused on making PwC a safe environment for inclusion and diversity, spreading the message beyond the walls of its offices and founded a coalition of more than 300 CEOs pledged to do the same at their firms. Ryan’s grandparents emigrated from counties Galway and Cork and he spoke passionately about how his family’s Irish heritage prepared him to become the leader he is today and why it matters for promoting diversity.
“My parents looked me in the eye and they said, ‘You’re Irish. You’ll work hard. You’ll treat people with respect, and you’ll be honest.’ And my mother said, ‘It’s that simple.’ Those values have stayed with me my entire career. Whatever credit that comes my way goes right to my parents and that Irish heritage that they taught me very early on in life.”
Basic leadership, he said, comes down to those simple values. “Whether we all realize it or not, we are all leaders. We are being watched 24/7. In this room we have some of the most prolific business leaders and community leaders in the country. And like it or not, people are looking to us for our lead. And looking to us at a time of tremendous uncertainty and where people can be very scared.
“Now as we all reflect, we all have immense responsibilities. As we think about our retirement party, I would ask all of us to think as leaders – are people going to talk to us about how we increase shareholder value? How we increase earnings per share? Or how as leaders we brought certainty to the people who are looking up to us?”
He touched on themes of jobs and technology, noting that workers around the country live with a very real fear of job security and that the role of a leader is to bring assurance to uncertain times, noting that at PwC the company has launched a series of emerging technology trainings to reassure its nearly 50,000 employees that their careers are certain and growing.
“Does that cost money? It does. Is it worth it to bring certainty to people who bring themselves to work every day trying to help all of us? From our perspective, it is.”
This philosophy applies to Ryan’s approach to diversity and inclusion as well. Beyond the professional environment, he said, the biggest issue facing the country is uncertainty surrounding racial and political divisiveness, and only by granting employees a space in which to discuss and promote diversity of thought and people can he provide a counter to fears of increased division.
He recounted his first week as chairman in July 2016, during which he sent an email in response to the week that culminated in the shooting of police officers in Dallas and the positive response it received. Two weeks later, PwC held a day of discussions on race and inclusion across the firm in order to attempt to bridge gaps in understanding across the company’s diverse employee base.
“What transpired on July 21st,” the day of the discussions, “was all across the country PwC professionals began to understand one another in ways we could have never understood before. The session that I was in, I learned what it was like to be a black man who had to teach his son how to get pulled over, because someone might think you stole that car because there’s sure as heck no way you could afford that car.”
Following those discussions, he said, PwC implemented a number of changes in order to get better at being “truly inclusive.” He told the audience how he was challenged by his people to consider what his role as PwC U.S.’s senior partner means outside of PwC. It was around that time that he met Ron Parker, CEO and chairman of the Executive Leadership Council, which works to get black Americans on the boards and in executive positions at companies throughout the county, who was also in attendance.
“We hadn’t met before, and we began to spend time talking about what is the role of the CEO in today’s society. And we both agreed that it’s a hell of a lot more than making a buck,” he said. Following those talks, along with talks with other CEOS, in June, Ryan launched CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, a coalition of CEOs – both competitors and partners – pledged to increase gender and racial diversity at their firms and share best and worst practices to further that goal. “Inclusion is not about competition. As we got more and more CEOs together, we realized that while we’re all trying really hard, there’s a heck of a lot more we can do.”
Today the CEO Action stands at over 300 CEOs and lists more than 270 best and worst practices that “any business in the United States can go leverage the financial investment at places like the ELC, PwC, and hundreds of companies have made,” he said. “Because if we’re going to get this right as a society, we should all learn from one another, fail faster, and adopt best practices.”
His desire to make American companies safe spaces for inclusion, he said, goes back to what his mother taught him: “Be honest, be simple, respect people, and work hard. That is embedded in our Irish ancestry. And while these problems are incredibly complicated, if we bring those simple values of respecting, working hard, and being honest about where we are, as collective leaders we can make the United States the most inclusive society in the world. And as Irish professionals, we can lead the way.”
Ryan was awarded a House of Waterford Crystal Lismore Essence Vase Keynote Speaker Award from Irish America co-founder and editor-in-chief Patricia Harty and founding publisher Niall O’Dowd.
The event also featured musical performances from siblings Maeve and Kieran Flanagan, of the Irish traditional band Girsa, and introductory remarks from Ireland’s new ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall, who spoke admiringly of the Irish American community and settling into his life in Washington, D.C., expressing his high expectations for the translational business, political, and cultural work he can accomplish during his four-year term.
Among the honorees in attendance were: Hollie Fagan, managing director at BlackRock; Brint Ryan, chairman and CEO of Ryan LLC; Michael H. Devlin II, co-founder and managing director of Curragh Capital Partners; Bill Mulrow, senior advisor at the Blackstone Group; Jeanmarie McFadden, chief communications officer, MetLife; Michael Cleary, co-president and head of consumer and business banking at Santander Bank, N.A.; Brendan Coughlin, president of consumer deposits and lending at Citizens Bank; Jim McLaughlin, founding member, senior vice president of investments, and branch manager of Princeton Wealth Advisors of Raymond James; and Peter Merrigan, CEO of Taurus Investment Holdings.
Since 1997, the annual Wall Street 50 has recognized the top Irish and Irish American financial leaders in the U.S. and the dinner has come to be the premier networking event for those financiers who share a passion for their Irish heritage and acknowledgement of the influence their Irish antecedents have had in their personal and professional lives. The list annually includes people with a range of connections to Ireland, from immigrants who have found innovative success in the American banking industry to fifth-generation Irish Americans who still make yearly trips to the country of their ancestors.
In addition to Ambassador Mulhall, Consul General of New York Ciaran Madden, 2018 Grand Marshal of the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade Loretta Brennan Glucksman, and Ed Kenney, special consultant for Mutual of America were also in attendance.
A special thank you to Irish America’s annual sponsors: Mutual of America, Tourism Ireland, UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, The Ireland Funds, CIE Tours International, House of Waterford Crystal, and1800Flowers.com. ♦
For a full transcript of Ryan’s remarks, as well as video, click here.