The L.A. Times ran a brief sit-down with Sharon Allen, the Deloitte Board Chairman (her preferred term) over the weekend and it has the typical clichéd whathaveyous about her background – education is important; her great-grandmother was an early role model; she’s a straight-talker, values are important, yada yada yada.
Anyway, despite those snoozy details, there are a few interesting bits to share including that she doesn’t live in New York (gasp), everyone in her entourage is in a different city and some profound insight into differences between her home state – Idaho – and her current state:
The former Midwesterner chooses to live in Pasadena instead of New York, where Deloitte maintains its headquarters. “California is quite different when you think that the whole state of Idaho has [1.5] million people,” Allen said [WOW!]. She’s lived in Southern California for years. Before being elected chairman, Allen was based in Los Angeles as Deloitte’s managing partner for the Pacific Southwest region. Technology and careful coordination allow Allen and other members of her team to live across the map: Her executive assistant is in Portland, Ore.; her chief of staff lives in New York; and her speechwriter is in Charlotte, N.C.
For now, let’s just say for the sake of argument that the head of the largest professional services firm on Earth can live somewhere other than New York. We realized that for a lot of you this is contrary to everything you stand for but apparently Deloitte is pulling it off.
As for her childhood, Sharon gave the more physical labor intensive and service industry path a shot but soon discovered that agriculture nor a career on roller skates were in her future:
She worked for a time on the farm as a kid and then as a car hop in high school, but said she lacked talent at both. “I learned very early that I wasn’t very good on the farm,” she said. “And as a car hop, I dumped an entire tray of soft drinks into someone’s car once.”
As for how she got hooked on accounting, it was like smack for her. One taste was all it took:
[H]er roommate was an accounting major and talked her into dipping a toe into the business world. “I was hooked from the time I took the first class,” she said. She switched her major to accounting soon after.
And she managed to resist the 1970s accounting firm boys’ club:
Allen was often the lone female in her accounting courses. The trend continued once she started at Touche Ross, a predecessor to Deloitte. Allen turned it to her advantage. “People found a way to recognize and notice me,” she said. “While being a woman in a predominantly male profession early in my career, it would have been easy to adjust my style and focus on doing stuff like the men did. I learned I could be successful by doing it my own way.”
Without more details, it’s difficult to determine what she means by “doing it my way.” It’s unlikely that they were asking her to pee standing up. Or that they expected her to go bald, like some people.
Now that she’s a bigwig at a Big 4 firm that has to jet all over the world doing…things, you might think it would be easy for her to forget where she came from. NOPE! No matter where she is, Sharon is always back in SoCal for Friday date night to make sure the man of the house isn’t just lying around, letting himself go while she’s out moving and shaking:
Friday date nights are sacred. No matter where Allen is in the world, she places top priority on flying home every week to spend time with her husband, Rich (they’ve been married for 38 years), who was also her high school sweetheart.
In other words, she’s heading back home to ensure that Richard chases off the freeloading friends and babes that are hanging out at the manse all week. Or maybe it’s love. Either way, it sounds like she runs a tight ship.
And no doubt, that obsession/love translated into something that helped SA become the highest ranking woman at a Big 4 firm. An impressive feat no matter where you stand. But frankly, from Deloitte’s perspective, she’s the most visible leader that’s not pulling a Costanza. You can’t put a price on that.
Accounting for her success [Los Angeles Times]