Can these four words adequately convey the mission of a global professional services firm? While we had fancier mission statements for external communications, this simple expression worked well for me in guiding a firm for almost 15 years. The words are simple. The challenges to achieve them were much greater.
People. They are our intellectual property and, along with our clients, the only asset of our firm that really mattered. What did it take to make them happy? The changes in their needs and expectations over the years led us to discover the difference we could make for our people and how important this could be for us when we got it right. In about a generation we changed from an all-male group to a fully diversified firm. When large numbers of talented women became a key factor for our success, we changed how, when and where we worked through our initiative for the retention and advancement of women. The best practices we learned from that experience spread to all of our human resources policies and practices, for the benefit of all of our people. This propelled us to no. 8 on Fortunes 100 Best Companies to Work for in America list in the year I retired from Deloitte. These results were clearly demonstrated to me in 2003 when I attended the 10th anniversary of the initiatives launch as the guest of more than 500 women partnersa tenfold growth from the fewer than 50 (3% of the partners) at the outset. What a wonderful experience to have been a part of a change process with such a dramatic impact.
Clients. Identifying the ultimate client and meeting his or her needs and expectations are continuous challenges. Our profession has always been tested in balancing our obligation to the public with our desire to respond to the varied needs and expectations of the companies that employ us to provide attest services. We now face, as a consequence of the intense changes in recent years, a period of lessened self-regulation and increased government oversight. Some are concerned that our image has been tarnished. Our challenge is to accept and adapt to these changes and to remove questions about the credibility and value of our core servicethe reason for our existence as CPAsthe independent audit. But even those of our clientspublic investors and the capital marketswho are not happy today know we are fully capable of changing. I and others are responding by rededicating ourselves to the highest levels of integrity, independence and competence in serving the public interest.
J. Michael Cook, CPA, is the retired chairman and CEO of Deloitte & Touche. He is a member of the board of directors of Comcast, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly and International Flavors and Fragrances. He chairs the audit committees of Comcast and IFF, is a member of the audit committees of Dow and Lilly, and chairs Dows committee on directors and governance.
The JofA wishes to thank Gary Previts, professor of accountancy at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, for his many contributions to our centennial issue. His efforts were crucial to its success.