ROE: Return on Ethics
The Deloitte Auditorium offered only standing room by the time Deborah DeHaas, vice chairman and central region managing partner at Deloitte LLP, was introduced by Professor Mark Peecher. Mark explained the significance of Deb’s tremendous experience as she addressed the audience, providing her advice for how students might navigate their future professional careers.
A 30+ year veteran of public accounting and a respected leader with an unassailable record, Deb asserted her lifelong belief that ethics and trust represent bedrock in the business community.
“We know that only relationships built on a cornerstone of trust will survive difficult issues.
Like many accountancy and finance professionals, Deb explained that she and other Deloitte professionals often refer to ROE. But rather than the familiar Return on Equity, ROE primarily means Return On Ethics, reflecting a precept that acting with the highest standards of professional behavior generates significant and sustained returns for any company.
“I absolutely believe that both your individual reputation and brand and your organization’s reputation and brand are critical” said Deb, in her remarks about the meaning behind ROE. “It takes years to build and if damaged, you may or may not have the opportunity to rebuild it.”
Deb shared a story about how a professional has to have a core of principles in order to make tough decisions. When Deb discovered that a (former) Deloitte employee had made a series of ethical lapses in judgment that seriously jeopardized a relationship with a long standing client, they quickly terminated the person and set about a comprehensive effort to regain the client’s trust. Sticking to principles of transparency and thoroughness, she admitted problems as she learned of them and collaborated with the client to resolve the issues fully and to everyone’s satisfaction.
Deb also spoke about her leadership experiences as a woman advancing in a field historically dominated by men. A firm believer in supporting other women in the workplace, Deb urged women in the audience to actively “pay it forward” by encouraging other women to step up and take on new roles as they develop their own careers.
By every measure Deb has followed her own advice. An information card distributed at the start of the lyceum also gave details of her awarding-winning civic engagement. In addition to her responsibilities at Deloitte, Deb holds several positions in the community, including board chair of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, and Millennium Park, to name a few.
Deb shared with the audience the “incredibly strong role model” her mother provided, as support for her success. Her mother attended the University of Pittsburgh in the 50s as the only woman in their accountancy program at that time. She went on to become the first woman councilman in her town and the first woman church elder. An energetic and supportive woman, Deb’s mother was ahead of her time. She encouraged in her daughters a strong goal orientation and steady moral compass that has helped Deb countless times during her career.
Throughout her career Deb learned to rely on her mentors, to trust those around her, to develop relationships and networks, and to seek advice. As a senior auditor at Arthur Andersen, she considered leaving for a high-level position at a client company. But before she left two senior partners reached out to her. Deb shared a touching story with the audience about how one partner urged her to stay, telling her that he looked forward to the day when she became a fellow partner of the firm. The advice ultimately inspired her to stay.
Students also learned of the importance of redefining oneself and exploring new challenges that take them out of their comfort zone. Deb’s experiences carried her through a daunting succession of challenges including motherhood, the dissolution of Arthur Andersen and countless other professional accomplishments that left her more capable, wiser and well respected by her peers and many throughout the business community.
The connection Deb made with students was one of mutual respect. It was in her choice of words and in the telling of her career milestones that she conveyed sincerity and encouragement. Deb believes in the power of people and connections, and she helped the audience appreciate the wisdom of being an honorable and supportive corporate citizen.
Deb closed with a message that the legacy one leaves at the end of a career is built every step of the way with personal connections. “You are the CEO of your life…you really have the ability to make the calls about what is meaningful to you.”