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September 24, 2023

Ernst & Young’s Jim Turley Is the Justin Bieber of Accounting

Do you like your firm's CEO? It's really an odd question. When I worked at KPMG, Tim Flynn was at the helm and he seemed likable enough, but I only knew him through scripted emails and one very bizarre townhall meeting at the Javits Center when Stephen Colbert showed up. 

I guess the more important question is do you approve of the job your firm's CEO is doing? That's an even weirder question. I mean, what the hell is a CEO's responsibility and how could I make any judgment about his performance? I think it's largely about staying on message, boosting morale, being the face of the firm out there in the business world trying to represent the firm's people, telling you that everything is on the up and up, etc. etc. But frankly, I think most people that work for large accounting firms don't care about the job their CEOs are doing — it's so far removed from the auditors, advisors, and tax professionals working on the front lines that it's irrelevant. "Oh, we're still in business and I'm still employed? You're meeting my expectations, CEO guy."

This is more or less a brain dump inspired by Glassdoor's 50 Highest Rated CEOs of which Ernst & Young's Jim Turley is ranked 4th. I guess it's nice that a large portion of E&Y employees (92%) approve of the job Turley is doing, but really it's not that surprising. John Veihmeyer, Bob Mortiz, and Joe Ecehvarria also enjoy high approval ratings but they don't have near the number of votes that Turley has. So what gives? 

Veihmeyer, Moritz, and Echevarria seem to do all the CEO-y things that's required for their firms. They talk on TV, fly around the country, talk to partners and employees, and maybe some students. They probably meet with an audit committee from time to time, on and on and on. Seems like a lot of talking, doesn't it?

But the only talking that I've seen that has been significantly different is from Turley when he personally came out against the Boy Scouts' exclusion of gay members. It was largely a matter of circumstance for JT, who sits on the BSA Board, but he still made the decision to go public with his view. I'm sure there was a big internal push at E&Y for this particular ranking, but it's pretty easy to get behind a guy who takes such a public stand for inclusion. And if you can get irritate Chuck Norris to the point that he feels compelled to write a paranoid rant, then I think you've done something good and you will certainly get the attention of a wide array of people. 

Would any of the other Big 4 CEOs done the same thing? Who knows. Accounting firms are very conservative from a PR standpoint, but it ended up being a big win for E&Y and especially for Turley who, as I noted, has achieved Bieber (or Beyoncé or Jennifer Lawrence or whomever) status in the accounting world at this point.

And that more or less explains his approval — popularity. Turley's move was popular with media, the public, and apparently, his employees. The other firms would kill off an obscure office for this kind of publicity, but really it all comes down to luck that none of the other firms' CEOs have had. Turley will retire in a couple months, going out on a high note, and unlike Bieber, his popularity will have actually have staying power. 

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