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December 14, 2017

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Global Dynamo: Meet Ernst & Young's Beth Brooke

Ernst & Young’s Beth Brooke is one of the dynamos of corporate America, and a role model for women globally. Raised in Indiana and a graduate of Purdue University, she has earned her top spot as the accounting giant’s global vice chair of strategy, communications and regulatory affairs—as well as a seat on its Americas Executive Board—through hard work, perseverance and sheer smarts during a 27-year career with the firm. (She took a two-year break to work in the U.S. Treasury Department during the Clinton administration.) Brooke is ranked among Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women in the World and she serves on numerous boards, including TechnoServe, The White House Project, The Committee for Economic Development and Partnership for Public Service.

At 49, Brooke has accomplished what many executives only wish they could do: devote equal energy to doing the right thing for the world, her employer and herself. She sat down for a candid conversation on the issues that matter most with Women For Hire CEO Tory Johnson. Prepare to be inspired by Brooke’s vision and her infectious love of life.

Tory: How’d you go from a girl who was told she might never walk again because of a degenerative hip condition, to multiple MVP titles in various high school sports and playing college basketball? Tell me about the impact of sports in your life.

Beth: I really wasn’t an athlete. I was a normal kid until I had the hip thing. I remember coming out of surgery, thinking, “Not only am I going to walk, I’m going to be the best darn athlete you’ve ever seen.” It was a mental thing. That’s when I got serious. My dad was a great athlete. Every night he would hit fly balls to me. We’d shoot baskets on our court, or we’d play ping pong.

At Purdue, I had a really intelligent coach, and that was the role model to me, that you could be both an athlete and an academic. I was a closet academic. I wasn’t sure you could be or were supposed to be both.

To be able to master being in the arena, a tremendous number of hours every day, and in class and on the road, discipline, focus, getting your priorities right—it was an incredible experience. Certainly that discipline, focus and competitiveness helps me today. More importantly, though, is learning how to work with a team, which is everything in business. I was in the Middle East a couple months ago with some women entrepreneurs. One pulled me aside and said, “You don’t seem to have fear. Why is that?” I didn’t even bat an eye. I said, “That’s because I’m an athlete.” I’m conditioned to not fear, to not be afraid, even when you are.

Tory: Are you ever intimidated or insecure?

Beth: Our chairman [James Turley] asked me in front of an internal Ernst & Young audience, “On a scale of secure and insecure, I bet everybody here thinks you’re pretty secure. Where would you put yourself?” And I said, “Oh, pretty insecure on a daily basis.”

Tory: Why?

Beth: Because you’re always trying to be better. My dad used to tell me,

“You’ve been given gifts. Use them.

But recognize that tomorrow you’re probably going to fall on your face, and then you’re going to have to get up and go again.” He instilled in me this sense that you’re never quite good enough, never gotten as good as you could get. Keep working at it. It brings a little bit of insecurity, which is good.

Tory: First job out of college, you veryquickly realized you didn’t pick the right employer. How do you make decisions about fit?

Beth: Values mean an awful lot, and for me in that first job, I had alarm bells going off inside of me, saying, “This is not my value system.” I didn’t know at that moment if that was the business world’s value system or just this place. There was no difficulty in saying, “I’m not doing that.” The scariest thing for me was, will it be better elsewhere? The minute I got to Ernst & Young—Ernst & Whinney at the time—it was, “Thank goodness. That was bad, and I have found home.”

Tory: What are the values and rules you live by?

Beth: Honesty, candor, authenticity. How you behave better be consistent with what you say even when no one’s looking because guaranteed somebody’s looking. I find disappointingly too many people in life who don’t behave as they speak and they lack authenticity. If you’re going to be a leader, people care about whether you’re honest, candid, authentic, and whether you care about them. I’m passionate about what I do, and if I’m not, then I’m doing the wrong thing.

Tory: You’re passionate about championing women’s advancement. What factors make women’s issues, inclusiveness and flexibility a business imperative?

Beth: The cold compelling reality is that by 2016, 70 percent of our incoming workforce will be women, so there’s a huge need to have an inclusive workplace. More compelling to me is every day I see better solutions reached when you have diverse perspectives at the table. With diverse perspectives—including gender, ethnicity, generational and cultural diversity—you get better solutions.

To enable that diversity, you must have an inclusive work force. Those people have to be able to come to work every day. Flexibility is a huge enabler for men and women. Unless we biologically reengineer women, we’re always going to face the life choices that make flexibility even more important for us. Or until we reengineer the social family model and who the natural burden of care falls to. Right now the child care and the elder care disproportionately fall on the women. In any organization flexibility has got to be priority number one if you want to have a truly diverse work force.

As a soon-to-be 50-year-old dinosaur,I’m not going to be able to understand this world in the way that the youngest generation understands it today. Reverse mentoring is huge.

Tory: You don’t have children. It’s impossible to know if you’d have this position or if your career would have take the same path with kids in the house. But do you think not having children has in any way impacted your success?

Beth: I’ve thought a lot about that and I do think that not having children probably made it a little bit easier for me. I probably at times in my life was freer to make work choices that maybe had I had children I would not have been able to make.

I also know as a single person when all the talk would be about work-life balance, which always oriented around children, I was mentally saying, “Wait a minute. Single people have incredible challenges. Nobody’s doing all the household stuff for me. I’ve got it all.”

If you peel back everybody’s onion just one layer, you find out everybody has personal challenges and hurdles to balance. They’re all different, but they’re all difficult.

Tory: Y ou believe strongly that everyone should be able to invest time in public service. Why?

Beth: It’s transformational in the way you think about society and societal challenges. Before I went into government, I somehow thought societal problems just got dealt with by someone, but I really didn’t understand how that happened. I was in government working on Superfund reform, the toxic waste that plagues our society. The toxic waste cleanup wasn’t happening; I was trying to solve that problem, doing what we could from a public policy perspective. I internalized that it was really smart people who have walked away from great jobs to make almost no money because they really care about the challenges this country faces, and were trying to make a difference and do something about it.

I was one of them. I totally got it then, and I understood more about business when I was actually in government. I understood more about what CEOs cared about and how they dealt with government. I started to truly understand how business and government had to work together. Everybody would benefit from that kind of public service because—for me, at least—until you sit on the other side, you think you understand it, but you don’t.

Tory: What kind of negotiator are you,and how do you influence key constituents?

Beth: I’m all about a win-win. I probably learned negotiating the best when I was in government trying to forge compromise. It’s a huge chess set: move one piece, and the other side of the balloon pops out. The goal in any negotiation is that everybody walks away feeling like a winner. The only way you get there, in my mind, is you listen intensely. You understand everybody’s concerns and issues so deeply that you can forge a compromise where everybody may not be thrilled, but not angry. If you can get that, then you move things forward in a positive way.

Tory: You encourage people to dream big. How do you follow that advice to dream big for yourself?

Beth: What I tell people is don’t waste time dreaming about small things. Dream big. Find mentors who can help guide you. I’m a sponge. I’m always taking in information. Right now I’m really focused on the economic empowerment of women around the world.

The data is so clear that when you economically empower women, there’s a multiplier effect. They take care of their children. They take care of their communities. Nations get strong. We started our Corporate Responsibility Fellows Program where we work with micro entrepreneurs and we stick on some of our best people.

That leads me to ask, what if we focus on women entrepreneurs around the world? What kind of multiplier effect could we as an organization create? What if we could put our heads together to actually bring together the right parties to focus on the economic empowerment of women to really make a big difference? That’s what leaders do—have the right networks, be out in spheres where you see things and feel things, and your instincts lead you places to explore.

Tory: Do you ever disconnect? Have you ever gone away for two weeks and had no contact?

Beth: [Laughter] That would not be fun! I disconnect all the time in little ways. I love my kittens. When I’m with them, I’m so disconnected. I have a lot of friends. I have a river place that they all come to and I’m as disconnected as you can get when I’m there. When I’m with my mom, she’s my number one priority, and I’m disconnected. Even just being on an airplane is fun. You can let your mind run wild. The only routine part of my day is an early morning workout and the one phone call I make to my mother. If I had more consistency, then I probably wouldn’t be happy.

Tory: In the last year, what are you most proud of having accomplished?

Beth: I’m most proud of our Corporate Responsibility Fellows program. It’s not only great for the entrepreneurs we help—on average they employ 200 people in their local villages and pay them 10 times the minimum wage. But the impact on our people when they come back from those three months, they are forever transformed. All I’ve done was replicate my own learnings of my very first days in Africa when I had that same transformational impact working with entrepreneurs for TechnoServe, a nonprofit that does great work. As an American, it forever changes how you look at America and what our role in the world could be and should be.

Tory: Your face lights up when you talk about your experience with TechnoServe and now with the Fellows program.

Beth: I traveled to Africa and down to Central America to work on projects with entrepreneurs. My experience was solely focused on lifting people out of rural poverty through entrepreneurship. We saw it work in incredible ways.

This husband and wife had been growing beans on their one-acre farm in Kenya for years. Bean prices had fallen. They’d grown beans too long, so their soil was acidic and wasn’t producing much. TechnoServe worked with them to understand that their farm and their land could be great for growing bananas if they de-acidified the soil with lime and had irrigation. TechnoServe helped to bring that to them.

This husband and wife started growing some of the world’s best bananas. They got thousands of farmers in this village to band together to all convert their farms to banana-growing farms. Now they have this big banana cooperative, and they sell together so their prices can hold up on the world markets.

We go visit and this husband and wife said, “Why don’t you come with us. We want to show you the medical clinic we’re building for the village,” because the nearest hospital is five kilometers away, and when the children are sick in the middle of the night, they can’t walk five kilometers. They say, “We’re using a percentage of our profits in the whole co-op to build this medical clinic.”

We walk with them down in the village, and we look out over the hill, and I’m expecting to see a bright shiny new medical clinic. I look over the hill, and I see a foundation, two cinder blocks high, and it’s the foundation of the medical clinic. They’re building it brick by brick as they earn money from the co-op.

I think, “This is what the world’s all about.” Nobody had to tell them about corporate responsibility. They know what their community needs and they take their profits and do it. That was the genesis of the idea. It’s how we started the Corporate Responsibility Fellows program.

Tory: What do the Fellows say when they return home?
Beth: “I understand now what it really is to make a difference. I was the lifeline for this entrepreneur. I was side by side, making decisions that impacted whether this business lived or died. I stuck with it. It was so hard to leave. But I’m now working on a global, multinational company, and I see how I make a difference for them. I get it. I see it in a different way than I saw it.”
That to me is huge because they came back, and it translated. Even before a company can afford to pay us, we’re committed because we know all of the global multinational companies of today started as this little micro entrepreneur at some point, and that’s where it all begins.

All photos by Allyson Lubow.

Summer 2008: Networking

Global Dynamo: Meet Ernst & Young’s Beth Brooke

Ernst & Young’s Beth Brooke is one of the dynamos of corporate America, and a role model for women globally. Raised in Indiana and a graduate of Purdue University, she has earned her top spot as the accounting giant’s global vice chair of strategy, communications and regulatory affairs—as well as a seat on its Americas Executive Board—through hard work, perseverance and sheer smarts during a 27-year career with the firm.

Think Lattice, Not Ladder, For Career Success

Ask women who’ve worked for years and many will tell you that what they did right after college bears no resemblance to what they do now. Banish the idea of a career ladder–the image of advancing in one direction one rung at a time is not reflective of today’s realities. Instead, envision your career lattice, which enables you to move in all directions as you find your way to success. Lara Hall, a senior marketing manager at American Express, is a perfect example. Here’s her story…

Unappreciated At Work? Might be Time to Move On

It’s easy to allow other people to define your worth. They’ll volunteer their opinions about you or treat you in a way that speaks even louder than words. While you can’t control what other people say and do, you hold all of the power to determine how—or if—you allow it to affect your self- esteem. The best way to weather ups and downs: have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Jennifer Valentine of Perkasie, Pa. has had to do just that personally and professionally. Here’s her story:

Work at Home New Book Explores Ways to Earn Cash Without a Commute

Working from home has its pros and cons. It’s a lifestyle for many, but not everyone. Think it’s time for you to take the plunge? Are you ripe and ready to bear the fruits of at-home labor? Or do you have some growing yet to do?

Can You Turn A Hula Hoop Into CASH

According to the Center For Business Research, more than 50 percent of business owners are women—and the numbers are growing. Yet for many women, launching and sustaining a business can feel overwhelming and out of reach. That’s why entrepreneurs Lauren Bacon and Emira Mears penned The Boss of You: Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run and Maintain Her Own Business. (Seal Press, $15.95).

Workplace Fix-It: Grade Results Not Facetime

You might think work sucks—and we hope you don’t because we actually like what we do. But in their new book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It (Portfolio, $23.95), authors Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson think they have unlocked the secret to why many people hate what they do: there’s dysfunction junction in the corporate workplace.

Workplace Advice a la ‘Ugly Betty’

Making the leap from college to a stable career is no picnic, with most graduates finding themselves at the bottom of the ladder without a clue of how to climb to the next rung. Tanner Stransky thinks help has arrived for these workplace newcomers in the form of fashion backward go-getter Betty Suarez, star of ABC’s hit Ugly Betty, which is why he wrote Find Your Inner Ugly Betty: 25 Lessons for Young Professionals (Kaplan, $16.95). Stransky can relate to being at the bottom: he’s an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly.

How about a ‘Milkshake?’

In his provocative new book, The Milkshake Moment (Wiley, $19.95), management expert Steven S. Little teaches how to spot stifling behavior in your organization—hopefully so you’ll fix it, grow and prosper. The book’s title stems from his frustration at trying unsuccessfully to order a milkshake at a variety of venues—simply because it was not on the menu, even though the key ingredients– milk and ice cream–were.

‘Culling’ All Self-Help Books

Megan Hustad says she wrote How to Be Useful—a Beginners Guide to Not Hating Work (Houghton Mifflin, $19.95) to give people in their early 20s a “cheap and cheerful overview” of American self-help books.

A Key to Success: Get Out There

Sometimes comfort leads to complacency and we don’t even realize it. We think we’re doing all the right things to meet our goals until someone steps in and shakes things up. If you’re stuck, seek a source for a shake up. Shannon Joseph, 40, a management trainee at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, needed only to leave her house to discover it’s a big world out there. Here’s her story.

Make LinkedIn Work For You

You’ve earned your professional network, now Kay Luo, director of corporate communications for LinkedIn, tells you how to tap into its value.

Meet 3 Great Gals Going Places

Read the stories of Hannah Seligson, Allison Pillinger and Stephanie Argyros and learn about their exciting career paths.

Networking Wisdom from Four Pros Who Know

Many careers have been built on the art of networking. There’s no shortage of books on the subject and there’s an abundance of experts who’ll spout endless tips on the topic. We went to some of them to roundup their best advice.

A Mother/Daughter Tale: Joined At More Than The Hip

Lou and Crystal Cator co-own a mother-daughter coaching company in Illinois. They work with top employers to develop leaders, improve communication between managers and direct reports, and help individuals take responsibility for their behaviors and actions.

Determined to Make a Difference

Read Angie Parra’s story, a Women For Hire Spotlight Success.

Start Talking to Strangers

Read Women For Hire CEO Tory Johnson’s experiences that helped her overcome her fear of networking and why you should start talking to strangers.

Spotlight on Success: DHL's Patricia MacPherson

Patricia MacPherson was intrigued last September by a small display ad she saw in The Boston Globe for the Women For Hire expo at the Sheraton Boston. “There were a couple of things that piqued my interest,” says MacPherson, 39. “One was that there was a networking seminar beforehand. I also liked the idea that it was specifically geared towards women. So I pretty much figured what the heck, I’ll give it a try.”

Within hours of talking to a recruiter from DHL at the event— that afternoon—MacPherson had an interview with a district manager. Within weeks—just two weeks before Christmas—she began working at DHL. It was trial by fire, she says, since holidays are the toughest time for a delivery company. She passed the test.

Today, she is a DHL field service supervisor at its Stoneham, Mass., facility, managing drivers, physically sorting packages and lately, running a local part-time hiring initiative. MacPherson is one of thousands of women across the USA who have found careers through Women For Hire expos.

For women planning to attend any of Women For Hire’s 10 fall expos, MacPherson has this advice: “Keep in mind there are opportunities and it can move quickly. It did for me.” She came to Women For Hire as many women do: looking to get back to work after some years off to raise kids. MacPherson hadn’t worked for a decade while her children were young, but she knew that she had valuable skills that someone would appreciate. She just had to connect with the right company. So she did her homework before the Boston expo, narrowing the list of companies that planned to be there with ones that interested her and then looking at the kinds of positions they were interviewing for and matching it with her skills.

Before having children—now 12, 8 and 5—MacPherson helped arrange pickups of donated clothing and household items for the charity Big Brother Big Sister Foundation, so she knew quite a bit about customer service, pickups and deliveries. “My background is pretty much in a male-dominated industry and being a woman in that industry makes me stick out. Fortunately for me it has been for the good.” MacPherson says.

“In general being able to stand out in the crowd makes me more visible,” she says. “I thought that a lot of women going to the expo would not be going in that direction so I was assuming I would stand out among other women there. I think I did because I was interested in transportation logistics, but also because I was pretty aggressive.”

She found the networking seminar beforehand helpful. “I hadn’t been in the work force for a decade and it was a nice refresher. It felt good to me personally to be among other women who were in a similar situation. It felt good to be a part of that again. I really liked the caliber of women who went to the event: a lot of women in different places in life. My age, younger and older, at different career levels.”

Having career expos geared to women “makes it more of a comfortable situation” to discuss careers, MacPherson says. “As opposed to girls on one side, guys on the other, like at a high school dance.”

Returning to work, she says, was “an adjustment for my family. I feel lucky that my husband (David, who works in construction) has been supportive and able to rearrange his time to handle some of what I do. For a good number of years I was basically the Kool-Aid mom on our block. That has changed but I still make it a point to spend time with my children.”

She has told friends to attend Women For Hire expos. “It’s not scary at all. It’s not a job interview. If anything, it’s good practice for getting involved or moving forward in your job search. There’s a lot opportunity there. Keep an open mind as to what can happen.”

Fall 2008: Negotiating

Spotlight on Success: DHL’s Patricia MacPherson

Patricia MacPherson came to Women For Hire as many women do: looking to get back to work after some years off to raise kids. MacPherson hadn’t worked for a decade while her children were young, but she knew that she had valuable skills that someone would appreciate. She just had to connect with the right company.

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