Tim Ryan’s 2017 Wall Street 50 Keynote Speech (Video)

By Tim Ryan, Senior Partner & U.S. Chairman, PwC
2017 Irish America Wall Street 50 Keynote Speaker
October 11, 2017

Martin Kehoe welcomes 2017 Wall Street 50 keynote speaker Tim Ryan.

Martin, thank you very much – I think I’m done. But sincerely, Martin, thank you. And on behalf of all of my partners, thank you as well for giving Martin some of the stories there and I appreciate it.

Patricia and Niall, Irish America, thank you very much for having me here today. It is truly an honor and thank you for that.

Ambassador, it’s a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to working with you on Irish American issues as well and thank you.

And to all of our honorees, congratulations. It’s a big night for all of you. You’ve accomplished the beginning of great things and congratulations to you all as well.

Martin mentioned the core values that my mother and father had taught me. And just to summarize those again, my parents once sat me down, and I had a failed experience of something that had happened at home, and 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 then 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, as well as my brothers and sisters.

And as I think about our country, I think one of the things that we need to think about – both in Irish American relationships, but even broader – we need to think about basic leadership. And it does come down to those simple values. And I’m going to share with you a story that I shared very recently with my partners.

About four weeks ago I was sitting in the kitchen. It was a Saturday afternoon. As Martin mentioned we have six children – three boys, three girls, ages 17 to nine. The nine-year-old was in playing video games in the room next door, in the den. And all of a sudden, half listening, half not, he drops the F-bomb. I jumped up out of the kitchen table, I ran in, and I said, “Luke, what gives?” And he looks at me as innocent as a nine-year-old boy who’s the youngest of six can, and he says, “You use that on your work calls. All the time.” Needless to say, I went back into the kitchen.

Fast-forward three days later, I was over in Amsterdam. I was in a meeting and I get an email from my 14-year-old son, Jack. The email attachment has an article. The article was written by a retired black NFL player. And the article went on to read how he was taking on as a retired player the issue of diversity and inclusiveness in the NFL. And the way he was trying to take it on was trying to be constructive and trying to bring people together – players, owners, fans – to come together to solve the challenge of inclusiveness in the NFL. I sent my son Jack an email back and I said, “Jack, I’m very proud of you. I read it, and it’s a very good article.” He sent me an email back and said, “Dad, thank you. You made me who I am.”

The reason I share that story, folks, is 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?

And what I’d like to share with you is a perspective around bringing certainty unto very, very important societal issues. The first one is around jobs and technology. As Martin mentioned, at PwC we have 47,000 people and their average age is 28. In this room, you employ directly or indirectly hundreds of thousands of people. What’s on the minds of PwC employees, on the minds of your employees, and on the minds of workers across this great country, is their job security around technology. The question as leaders is what do we do to bring them certainty at a time that is very scary for them.

We made it. We’re in this room. The question as leaders is what do we do for them. At PwC, we have recently come out to all of our employees and said we’re not leaving anybody behind. We’ve told our employees we’re investing in upscaling them with critical skillsets in artificial intelligence, machine-based learning, natural language processing, block chain, and other emerging technologies, and the only thing they need to do is choose to come on the ride. 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. The people in our country need certainty around these issues, because it’s scary.

Now let’s come to the topic that Martin talked about, which is diversity and inclusion. Just to build a little color on that story, I became chairman and senior partner and had the privilege to take over and serve at the pleasure of my partners here in the United States. My first week as senior partner, it culminated with some shootings in Dallas that had boiled over all week from issues in Louisiana, Minneapolis, and Dallas. As a new and inexperienced senior partner, I had to make a decision when you wake up on a Friday morning and our country is scared, there’s uncertainty facing our people and across the country, and we’re not quite sure where we’re going. At the time, emotions were raw, there were viewpoints all across the board. I got my team around the table and I said, “What do you think we should do?”

As you can imagine, if we’re intellectually honest, going back to the values that my mother talked about, across my leadership table, there were a number of different views. There were those who said, “We got to reach out to our people; it’s the right thing to do.” There were others in risk management and OGC, who said, “You got to be careful.” There were other friends that I turned to for advice who say, “You don’t want to be divisive.”

Ultimately as a leader, knowing people are watching you, I made the decision to reach out to all of our people. I did something very simple and sent an email to all 47,000 people. What happened over that weekend was simply remarkable. Hundreds and hundreds of emails came back in. Dozens of texts came back in. And one email summed it up best – the email said, “Tim, when I came to work on Friday morning, the silence was deafening.” The people who were counting on us to lead them had something on their minds when they walked through the doors of PwC, and they couldn’t even talk about it. And folks, by every measure we were doing a good job. Yet the environment at our firm was such that people couldn’t talk about what was on their minds. So for all the programs, and all the training, and all the messaging, our people couldn’t talk about what was on their minds and life was uncertain.

We then had to decide what do you do next. And just two and a half weeks later we decided to have our first ever day-long discussion on race at PwC. And for those of you who can recall, think about how nervous and what a hot potato that issue was back in the summer of 2016.

In the intervening time between that first week of July and that July 21st date, I met with a number of CEOs – normal course of business – including the CEO of a Fortune 50 company, and he sat across the table and I told him what we were doing and he looked me in the eye and he said, “You’re crazy. This is going to blow up in your face. Good luck.”

What transpired on July 21st 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.

I had one of our black associates – who dresses way better than I do – take his suit jacket off, take his shirt off with his tank top t-shirt and he said, “This suit is my cape and I feel safe. But when I take these off and I walk out the door to the softball game, I don’t feel save because of what people think about me.” And these are my co-workers. And these are the people who are looking to me to bring certainty to their eyes.

One person said it to me best: on July 21, 2016, at PwC, we shed more tears than our entire 160-year history, because we began to understand both here and here [gestures towards heart and head] what it was like when you’re in someone else’s shoes.

Building off of that momentum, we then implemented a number of changes in our firm to begin to get even better at being truly inclusive. But my people had a bigger challenge. They said, Tim, what’s the role of the senior partner at PwC outside of PwC. And they challenged me to think really hard about that.

I then had the privilege of meeting Ron Parker, who’s sitting here at this table. And Ron Parker is the chairman and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council. We hadn’t met before, and we began to spend time talking about what is the role of a CEO in today’s society. And we both agreed that it’s a hell of a lot more than making a buck.

And we began to get other CEOs involved and talk about what is our responsibility and had some really honest conversations about what was working and what wasn’t working. And we set the aspirational goal of trying to figure out how do we bring America along. And this was in the fall of 2016, way before an election where nobody anticipated where the results were going to go and way before some of the divisiveness we have in this country now. And we began to pull other CEOs in – competitors and partners alike – because inclusion is not about competition. And 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 could do.

And what we did is we eventually came and we landed on three basic things we think every CEO needs to lead and make clear to their people so we can bring certainty in a period of uncertainty.

And we came together with a commitment, and that commitment basically said, we’re trying, but we know we have an obligation to do more, and here are the three basic commitments that we made:

First, we committed to making our work places safe to have the hardest discussions but that were foundational to make sure we all understood what we really were like, what was on our minds, and what other people were thinking, whether that being a female, whether that be a Hispanic, whether that be a black person, or any other realm of diversity, we tried to make our work places truly safe to have those conversations. Because we knew if we had the foundation of really understanding one another, we can begin to begin to become truly inclusive.

The second commitment that we made is to make unconscious bias training available to all of our employees – not just to the executives, but make it available to all of our employees, because the mind does have unconscious biases. It’s been studied by science, and it’s been proven time and time again no matter how good we think we are, and that includes me. And going through periodic unconscious bias training, we began to understand that we do have hidden biases, and that’s the second commitment we made.

The third commitment that we made is to share best and not-so-best practices for all business in the United States to benefit. And we agreed to leverage technology to do that. In this past June, we launched, with over 150 CEOs, we launched CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. If you haven’t had a chance, the site is ceoaction.com. Today that stands at over 300 CEOs and over 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. 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.

We have just begun. In November, we have over 60 CEOs coming together here in New York, behind a closed-door session to talk about what we can really do to take this to the next level, to help America come together.

Folks, it’s just the beginning. And as I bring this to a close, I’m going to come back to what my mother had taught me – be honest, be simple, respect people, and work hard. Folks, 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.

So folks, thank you very much. It is an honor. ♦

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