One of our least favorite things to do here at GC is to read profiles of so-called leaders – I say "so-called leaders" because there's a bajillion of them – in the accounting profession only to find that there's nothing particularly interesting in the interview. Don't get me wrong, personal stories are fine, but these interviews too often follow a formula that, for some odd reason, editors at big publications love and good God does this formula suck. I'm sure wannabe "leaders" out there find it enthralling to read these things but really they're just PR scripts that are carefully orchestrated for the purpose of humanizing an organization that is, or very soon will be, going through a rough patch of bad press.
Today, in vapid interviews we bring you Shannon Schuyler, a Senior Managing Director and U.S. Corporate Responsibility Leader at PwC.
First things first. Let's set the tone for this chat:
The irony that the head of corporate responsibility for a Big Four accounting firm works out of the original Playboy mansion is not lost on Shannon Schuyler. Before settling in to talk about her role as corporate responsibility leader and senior managing director of firmwide strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Schuyler leads a tour of her luxury Gold Coast home, and home office, where Hugh Hefner and his bunnies entertained clients and friends in the 1960s and '70s. Some of the original herringbone wood floor remains in her 3,250-square-foot piece of the mansion on North State Parkway, now divided into seven units, but some naughty wall art and the trapdoor leading to what was once the below-grade indoor pool are long gone. A bottle of Veuve Clicquot stands at the ready in the white marble kitchen.
Okay, so this isn't a bad start. Sure, it's not quite the swing joint that it was 40 years ago, but it's nice to start with "If these walls could talk, amirite?" sorta thing. Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there.
She's a no-nonsense type that speaks her mind thanks to some parental figure:
[Her] frankness is a signature trait — perhaps a product of growing up with a father who coached football — but she's no loose cannon. One gets the sense that every word, delivered with the presence of a television host, has been chosen carefully. Colleagues say she prepares relentlessly for meetings.
We want loose cannons, DAMMIT! Not "every word, delivered with the presence of a television host, has been chosen carefully." Rather than "television host" why not say POLITICIAN? Because that's what we're dealing with here. Someone who knows how to stick to a script. We want fewer Obamas and Romneys and more Bidens and Palins. Catch my drift?
What's next? How about a testimonial from a notable superior?
"She had an incredible amount of executive presence from the get-go," said Brad Oltmanns, vice chairman of PwC, who was managing the Chicago office when Schuyler joined the firm. He's now based in Los Angeles and known as Hollywood's secret-keeper because the firm handles the balloting for the Academy Awards.
Several years ago, Oltmanns recalls, morale at the LA office was low and turnover was high. He said he brought Schuyler (then living and working in McLean, Va.) out to California to work with top executives, and then the entire office, to improve relationships between junior and senior staff."She did a great job of building the business case for what she was asking people to do," he said, which was to flatten the organization's hierarchy. She assigned partners to mentor 15 lower-level employees and created forums for more social interaction at work. "It completely turned things around and took us from struggling with this issue to being one of the progressive offices," he said.
[The] ability to win over people with different points of view came in handy in 2010, when she met Stephen Beard in a Leadership Greater Chicago class. They married in Indianapolis earlier this year and are expecting a son. Schuyler calls the pairing proof that opposites attract. Beard, general counsel and newly appointed head of strategy and corporate development at recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles, is black, grew up in Roseland and supports Democratic candidates and issues. Ohio-born Schuyler is white, went to high school in an affluent Cleveland suburb and, her husband noted, is a registered Republican. "We're having a lot of debates in this silly season of politics, but we can agree to disagree" he said.
A spouse that is of a different race! Opposing political views! Different upbringings! Things that you've probably never been privy to IN YOUR LIVES and they're all right here in this story and now you must feel that it's almost like Disney wrote this script. And all that means is that the formula works.
Shannon Schuyler is probably a very nice, interesting (she loves elephants!) person that is great at her job but this interview doesn't serve anyone but PwC and it's becoming painfully obvious how the firms are using some of their top people to that extent.
Executive Profile: Shannon Schuyler of PricewaterhouseCoopers [CT]