Barry Salzberg took the reins of Deloitte
& Touche USA LLP as CEO in June 2007, three
decades after the firm hired him as a tax
specialist. As the U.S. managing partner from
2003–2007, he helped then-CEO James Quigley shape
Deloitte’s strategy and was credited with advancing
recruitment and diversity initiatives at the firm,
which employs 40,000 people.
recently with the JofA about the path to
partnership, leveraging the skills of the younger
generation and how he learned the hard way about the
value of transparency.
JofA: What was your worst career
move, and how did you recover from
Salzberg: I don’t know if
it’s a career move, but an interesting experience,
if you will, maybe a mistake—I once, on a very
important engagement as a young partner, failed to
share something critical with the senior advisory
partner on that client. And I remember it distinctly
because that partner was in a meeting with the
client and was caught off guard because he didn’t
know of what had occurred.
what had occurred was positive, meaning that I was
given very positive feedback from the client for
handling a very difficult and sensitive matter.
However, I used poor judgment by not advising the
senior partner, notwithstanding the fact that it was
The senior partner was upset and
called me on the carpet for not having the
appropriate protocol and communication. I recovered
from that. I learned that that’s not the way to
handle the internal hierarchical leadership of an
account, but rather I needed to be more
communicative, more transparent with good or bad
information. I think that today my partners would
say that transparency is a hallmark of my
leadership. I don’t like surprises.
JofA: What was your smartest career
Salzberg: As a partner,
maybe as managing partner, some of my finer moments,
I think, were handling the Arthur Andersen
situation—hiring a number of people from Arthur
Andersen—and, separately, the reintegration of
First there was the
strategy of convincing our senior leadership that
hiring some of [the Andersen] folks was the right
thing for us to do and handling the cost that would
be associated with it. There also was the difficulty
of actually accomplishing it. We hired 2,000-plus
people one by one through a resume and interview
process. Once these people accepted our offer of
employment, we actually brought them all on
physically into our firm on the same day. So the
Andersen situation was big for me.
Deloitte Consulting, it was separate from the rest
of the firm, served a different client base and was
culturally different as well. We needed to make some
wholesale changes in order to comply with [the
Sarbanes-Oxley Act]. This involved creating a
financial discipline and redesigning the market
space and strategy for consulting, and this was
coming from a guy who had no prior background in
that business, nor much association with consultants
given the nature of the technical work that I did as
a client-service partner. So it was a very tough
Both those things happened
within a year of each other, and I was in a very
senior leadership role and had been tagged with
successful execution against both of those events.
Today, I think that they’ve contributed to the
respect that people have for me and the confidence
that people have in the decisions that I make.
JofA: Talk about your top
priorities for this first year in your CEO
Salzberg: My priorities,
as I outlined them for my partners, essentially fell
into four categories. One is clients. One is people.
The third is how to make it easier for us to conduct
business, and the fourth is with respect to the
marketplace for our firm.
And it’s important
to know that all four of these priorities are
founded on ensuring a continued focus on quality and
on innovation. With respect to clients, the goal is
ensuring a level of client service that rises to a
standard of excellence.
In terms of people,
it’s a talent agenda really focused on ensuring that
our people’s careers are enhanced, that we’re
creating the right kind of environment for them and
adapting to the shifts in employee values and
Easier to do business would be in
terms of our organizational structure and, as we’re
getting bigger and larger and more complex in the
broader footprint, being able to better migrate our
organization internally, and as we engage with
clients externally to ensure that the processes—in
terms of engagement letters, contractual
relationships, alliances and the like—are more
And then, of course, in terms of
the marketplace, my focus is on ensuring that we are
creating eminence, that we are building our revenue
base and our market share and the like.
JofA: How will you measure success
on those priorities?
Salzberg: We have what we
call a balanced scorecard. And in essence we measure
a lot of the things that we do that support each of
the four priorities I just mentioned. The metrics
are communicated to our partnership, and quarterly
we assess the performance of our firm in connection
with 14 different measures of success that support
You treasure what you
measure, and in essence we decided to make sure that
we are not just measuring it, but communicating it
to our people so that we can hold ourselves
accountable for it. The measures include tenure of
our people. And we measure the retention rate for
our highest performers, for example. The measures
also include things such as continuous improvement
in employee engagement, market share and revenue
growth, to name a few.
JofA: What are some of the
challenges of working with the younger
generation of CPAs?
Salzberg: I think the
biggest challenge is that every generation is
different than the one preceding it. And I think
that this particular generation has a more
demonstrable set of different priorities, different
expectations than the generation that preceded it.
They are uniquely focused on a completely
different opinion of how, when, why work has to be
done than prior generations. They tend to be
super-achievers and demand a much greater work/life
balance. They demand a much greater role in
interesting and challenging work. They kind of want
leadership responsibility from the get-go. And
they’re a technologically savvy bunch. They’re a
multitasking bunch. They’re a very open and
And so the biggest
challenge is coexisting for generations of people
and creating an environment that adapts to each but
doesn’t dilute the singular culture and commitment
to a standard of excellence.
I think that we
are dealing with those challenges right now. It’s
about adapting to a generation’s needs and wants. If
you don’t adapt to it, they’ll adapt by walking away
and finding a job elsewhere. When such a supply and
demand gap exists, it is critical to address
generational issues, learn to take advantage of
differences, and work together to achieve success.
JofA: What advice would you give a
young CPA on successfully traveling the road to
Salzberg: A couple of
tidbits. One is stay on the right of right. Make
sure that you’re always thinking about what’s right
and never losing sight of that in terms of your
morals, your ethics and your work performance.
Two, I would advise a young CPA to “work hard, be
strong.” I would say that both of my sons learned
this as they were going through their black belts in
tae kwon do. “Work hard, be strong” is the phrase
that was their motto. I would tell young folks today
to work hard and make sure that you’re putting in
the best that you can to every project, every
situation, no matter how tedious or challenging it
is. And really learn from every experience so that
you can leverage your foundational strengths.
Beyond these two main pointers, I would tell
young people to broaden their interests, never put
their eggs in one basket too early. Learn about the
world, become educated outside of the area of
competence that they’re working in—business skills
and the like.
I would tell young folks that
they need to broaden their strengths—not just
technical, but people-related skills—learn how to
network and socialize, learn public speaking and
interaction-type skills, whether that’s negotiating
skills, sales skills or problem-solving.
finally I would say that—I have mixed feelings about
this, but I believe it—while it’s very important to
be generalists in terms of your core competencies, I
think it’s also extremely important to be a
specialist. I don’t know how broad a specialty can
be, but sometimes being a generalist is a specialty.
I think that having that core thing that you’re
famous for—whether it’s a product, a competency, or
a particular belief, I think is important.
JofA: You’ve spent years in a
segment of the profession known for high
pressure and long hours. Has it all been worth
Salzberg: I’m going to
have to answer that question unequivocally yes,
because of where I am right now. I love what I do. I
love the firm that I’m with. I feel respected. I
feel that our people—at all levels through
partner—appreciate the leadership that I’m
While you’re working crazy hours
and under lots of stress, both of which are still
true for me today, you always question whether or
not it’s worth it at times, no doubt about that. But
now, in hindsight, I’ve got a wonderful family. I
haven’t in any way impacted that negatively and I,
myself, am sort of at a peak in my career. So when I
put both of those together, that hard work has to
have been worth it.
JofA: What would have been your
second choice of careers?
Salzberg: I taught for
four or five years. I grew up in Deloitte, teaching
many courses here in Deloitte, but also teaching at
the master’s level at a university here.
love the exchange with students and the fresh
thinking. I love the challenge of having to be on
top of your game in every one of those interactions
with students and [having to] make sure that you’re
educating them and helping them understand something
that you obviously personally love and know. And
seeing the growth in the students from the day
before they take my course to the day after.
So that’s a huge passion of mine, and I think
education, learning and development is something
that I’m going to devote a lot of my energy to here
at Deloitte for the balance of my term.
when I subsequently retire, whenever that might be,
that will be the career I assume again, in whole or
in part, and go back and teach at the university level.