Deloitte’s Engelbert to be first female U.S. CEO of a Big Four firm

By Ken Tysiac

Cathy Engelbert, CPA, will become the first female CEO of a Big Four audit, accounting, and consulting firm in the United States, Deloitte LLP announced today.

Engelbert, 50, has been elected as Deloitte LLP’s CEO and will begin her role on March 11. She will helm a firm with 65,000 U.S. employees and operations in 90 cities focused on four business lines: consulting, audit, tax, and advisory.

“My path has been, I think, a path a lot of women can foresee themselves taking,” Engelbert said in an interview. “I ... had some great mentors and really good sponsorship helping me find roles in the firm and get a lot of diverse experiences that really set me up for being elected as our CEO.”

Deloitte recently marked the 20th anniversary of the launch of its women’s initiative. Women in leadership roles at the firm have included Sharon Allen, who was the first person elected independent chairman of Deloitte LLP in 2003, becoming the first woman to chair a Big Four firm. Cindy Hook became CEO of Deloitte Australia on Feb. 1.   

Women hold a number of key leadership positions in the profession this year. Olivia Kirtley, CPA, CGMA—who became the first female chair of the AICPA in 1998—is serving as the first female president of the International Federation of Accountants. The AICPA has its fourth female chair, Tommye E. Barie, CPA.

Engelbert has served since June as chairman and CEO of Deloitte & Touche LLP, the audit subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. She joined the firm in 1986.

Deloitte LLP also announced that Mike Fucci has been elected to serve as chairman of the board of the firm. The firm elects its CEO and chairman of the board every four years.

“This is a momentous occasion for the CPA profession,” AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, said in a news release. “Cathy has demonstrated great ability and tremendous leadership during her career with Deloitte. Her partners have responded by making her the first female CEO of a Big 4 firm in the profession’s history in the United States. Historically, ours is a profession that has promoted the blending of work and life for advancement along a variety of paths. Cathy will be a role model for future generations of female leaders in our profession.”

Nearly an exit

Engelbert said that when she was pregnant with the first of her two children, she considered leaving Deloitte for a position with a large corporation. She was up for partner at the firm, but wondered whether she would be able to handle the responsibilities of being a mother, spouse, and effective leader serving clients for the firm.

But she decided to stay, and with the encouragement and backing of firm leadership made partner soon afterward. Over her career, the combination of her willingness to take risks on challenging new roles and having supportive sponsors helped build her momentum.

She has been married for 21 years, and has a 17-year-old daughter—who has taken accounting and economics classes in high school—and a 13-year-old son.

“I couldn’t be prouder to be a role model for them, and I think anyone who knows me knows I’ve been able to balance [family and the firm],” Engelbert said. “My kids are very, very important to me.”

Top talent a focus

Engelbert’s vision for the firm is focused on three main areas:

  • People. Her priorities include attracting and retaining the best talent as well as providing excellent training and development resources for Deloitte’s professionals.
  • Innovation. Continuing current initiatives and developing new ones to provide results for clients and a competitive advantage will be a focus for the new CEO.
  • Globalization. She plans to look for new and efficient ways to use Deloitte LLP’s affiliation with the firm’s global network to serve clients and enrich the careers of Deloitte’s people.

Engelbert’s nearly 30 years of experience at Deloitte include more than 16 years as a partner. She has held partner roles serving several large life sciences and pharmaceutical companies. She has served on the Deloitte LLP Board of Directors and the board’s Strategic Investment, Finance & Audit, Risk, and  Regulatory & Government Relations committees. She is a member of the AICPA and the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council.

She said the biggest challenge the accounting profession faces now is making sure talented young people continue to stay committed to the profession.

“I think we have a very unique opportunity in this profession right now to show people the value they bring and that they can be along for this journey while we all innovate,” she said.

Deloitte LLP, the U.S. member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ltd., recorded $14.9 billion in U.S. revenues in the fiscal year ending May 31, 2014.

Engelbert succeeds Frank Friedman, CPA, the firm’s former CFO who was appointed by the board of directors to serve as interim CEO until a formal leadership election could be completed following Joe Echevarria’s retirement in August. Friedman will move to the chief operating officer role at the firm.

“Cathy has been a formidable and influential industry presence during her many years at Deloitte and will undoubtedly continue to drive our firm and profession forward,” Friedman said.

Fucci, 56, has been a practitioner and principal at Deloitte for more than 33 years, and has been a member of the Deloitte LLP board of directors since 2012. He took responsibility for all consulting service areas during a significant economic downturn in 2009, and those areas have thrived under his leadership, the firm said in a news release.

The share of consulting among Deloitte LLP’s revenues has grown from 45.2% in the fiscal year ending May 31, 2012 to 47.7% in the firm’s most recent fiscal year, reflecting a familiar pattern in the profession where consulting growth has outpaced growth in audit services in recent years.

Ken Tysiac is a JofA editorial director.

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