Full speed ahead: reflections on the 2014 Conference

Photograph by Jonathan GaymanDeborah K. Holmes, EY Americas Director of Corporate Responsibility

I knew that this year’s Corporate Citizenship Conference had been a success when on the plane back to New York, my brain was toggling between two contradictory ideas:

  • A clear strategy keeps us focused on the end game
  • A single minded focus makes us blind to new opportunities

To start off the day, Raj Subramaniam described the effort FedEx is making to embed sustainability in every aspect of their business, and to use their global reach to open up new markets for small business owners in Latin America. Raj’s view on the three components of adaptable leadership really resonated with me:

  • Clarity on where you are going and how we’re going to get there.
  • High performing teams that bring together diverse perspectives and skills
  • Trust and empowerment, so that those you rely can achieve their potential.

As Corporate Responsibility professionals, I believe we are uniquely positioned to be role models for adaptable leadership within our companies. We understand that finding the “sweet spot” is only half the battle: we need to have a diverse team behind it that engages diverse stakeholders in working toward a common goal.

As Trisa Thompson of Dell noted, the pace of change in the business world, combined with the heighted expectations of employees is driving a fundamental shift in the role of Corporate Responsibility professionals. So, how do we balance the need to be strategic and aligned with the need to be flexible and responsive to the changing world around us?

On Monday morning during the plenary session, I laid out a model for thinking of CR strategy as the “sweet spot” where business strategy, societal need and employee skills intersect. For EY, “entrepreneurship” is in that sweet spot, and April Spencer, Paul Kotz and Cindy Ho – all professionals with full-time day jobs – shared how they have used their skills to support and celebrate entrepreneurship, and how this has enriched their interactions with clients and colleagues, as well as their own career development.

For example, my colleague April, a Tax Partner of Ernst & Young LLP who also serves as a Community Engagement Champion for its West Region, talked at length about the investment our Strategic Growth Markets (SGM) group has made in our entrepreneurship-focused CR work. When I think about the team that is driving our CR commitment to entrepreneurship, it includes SGM leadership, Endeavor and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), as well as the members of my team. And we execute our strategy by empowering people like Cindy Ho, NFTE volunteer and Adopt-a-Class co-project manager and Paul Kotz, returning EY Vantage Advisor, who brings both a passion and valuable skills set to the entrepreneurial sector.

In this changing world, we cannot afford to not be driven by what we in CR want our future to look like. We need to have a strategy that integrates the perspectives of all our stakeholders and leverages their skills and talents.

I want to thank the BCCC leadership by encouraging us to keep that idea front and center.


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Ernst & Young LLP.