Ernst & Young CEO urges students to get experience living overseas in preparation for changing, diverse business world

Ernst & Young CEO James Turley told a group of Rutgers students last week that the world’s shifting demographics are changing business as profoundly as new technology and regulation, and he urged them to experience different cultures by living overseas. [See photos.]

Turley predicted that by 2030, China, the U.S., India and Brazil would dominate the world economy and Japan and Mexico were as likely Germany or England to hold the No. 5 spot.

"The changes around globilization, the remarkable shift in demography," he said. "It's having a huge impact on the workforce."

"The teams you will all work on," he said, "will be very, very diverse.”

During a casual question-and-answer session with Rutgers Business School Dean Glenn Shafer, Turley spoke about diversity, his view of Europe’s economy and some of the lessons he learned as head of one of the world’s leading professional service companies.

Ernst & Young CEO James Turley makes a point during Q&A with Dean Shafer.

Even though he has traveled extensively during his career, Turley sounded wistful when he talked about missing out on the opportunity to live overseas as a young man. “It didn’t hold back my career,” he said, “but for future business leaders, it will be essential to have a real understanding of different cultures.”

Turley’s appearance was an offshoot of Rutgers Business School’s popular CEO Lecture Series and represented another example of Ernst & Young’s long-standing ties with Rutgers Business School [see undergraduate program]. Over the years, the company’s financial support has helped to strengthen programs and to provide resources to both students and faculty, particularly within the Department of Accounting and Information Systems.   

Dean Shafer described Turley’s visit to the campus as “an unusual opportunity” for students. “Mr. Turley is well known,” Shafer said, “for emphasizing the importance of the global mindset.”

Turley spoke with students one-on-one following the Q&A event.

Prateeka  Koul, a Rutgers junior who is studying neuroscience and economics, was struck by Turley’s focus on diversity not only in terms of business markets but also in terms of employees.

“It’s interesting that they’re really trying to globalize their work force,” she said, noting that Turley had business cards printed in Chinese and Japanese as well as English.

Garmia Grover, a Rutgers senior studying economics, agreed.  “It was refreshing to hear him give advice to students to get experiences living outside the country,” she said.

More than 50 people, many of them recent graduates or undergraduate students like Koul, attended Turley’s talk at the Livingston Student Center last Wednesday. Turley, who plans to retire from the position of chief executive in June when he is 58, answered questions from Dean Shafer before he fielded nearly a dozen more questions from students.

James Turley, CEO of ernst & Young.

One student asked Turley to talk about the biggest obstacle he had faced as CEO, a position he has held since 2000.

“You have to restrain yourself from doing everything,” he said. “You have to believe in your instincts. Making judgments is something every leader wrestles with.”

He described coming to the realization that his responsibility wasn’t to be concerned with every new issue that arose.  “My job wasn’t to inform all 1,000 decisions,” he said. “But to keep the big trends front and center in terms of driving the company’s strategy.”

When Turley stepped down from the stage, he was surrounded by students who wanted to exchange business cards. One student who said he had interned with Ernst & Young last year asked Turley to pose with him for a photograph. Turley obliged.

 Afterward he said speaking with students helps him to stay “young, connected and relevant.”

“This is our future,” he said. “This is the talent that will be at Ernst & Young.”

Rutgers Business School students

In Turley’s words:

On leadership: “The best leaders are team players who have the respect of their workers and reciprocate respect. It’s not just business. The best leaders realize life is a team sport.”

On entrepreneurs: “They have a vision. They have the courage to risk everything to chase their dreams and a persistence that most of us don’t have because they usually have to pick themselves up and brush themselves off when things don’t work the first time.”

On workforce diversity: “We’re better when we have a diverse team looking at a problem.”

Advice for the young and ambitious: “Be yourself. I don’t want the company to change the employees. I want the employees to change the company.”

On America: “My positive thoughts on the rest of the world do not take away from the opportunities here in the U.S.”

Rutgers Football given to CEO of Ernst & Young

-Susan Todd

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