Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Overly Emotional PwC Partner Reminds Everyone In the Most Emotional Way Possible Not To Get Emotional About Penn State

The following email came out of PwC this morning and before we get to the part where we all stand here with our jaws on the floor wondering what we just read, let's all take a moment and remind ourselves that this is still a sensitive situation, one that remains pretty heated and emotional for many Penn State alumni. I'm sure you can see where we're going with this.

A few months back when the Penn State story was breaking, I wrote to all of you with a reminder that our strategy with Penn State was to treat the University as a client, not "just" a recruiting source. I asked you to consider ways that you could reach out to our recruits, to trusted faculty and to other Penn Staters to provide support during what promised to be a very difficult time for the University.

Perhaps it was possible at that time to anticipate the breadth and depth of difficulty the University would face, but if there was any doubt about what was coming, the release of the Freeh report and the NCAA sanctions that followed put those doubts to rest. Difficult days had come to Penn State and all of us who feel a deep pride in our association with the University. Like so many other Penn Staters, my heart goes out to the victims and families whose lives will never be the same because a handful of men who could have acted did not.

Watching [PSU students] attempt to process all that has happened to Penn State in the last several months has been difficult, particularly as they struggle to figure out what pride they can have in a school where, as the Freeh report makes clear, our trusted leaders failed painfully when circumstances demanded so much better.

I am certain that among the hundreds of Penn State alumni at PwC who will be reached by this email, there are a wide range of feelings around the Freeh report, the NCAA sanctions, the actions/inactions of our University leaders, of Coach Paterno, the Board of Trustees and what it all means to the future of Penn State. I don't write today to try to reconcile those perspectives or ask you to subscribe to a single point of view (I certainly have my own). Regardless of how you feel about all of the elements of this tragedy, there are some 40,000 students and more than 500,000 living alumni (168,000 who are active members of the Penn State alumni association) who are also trying to make sense of what it means to be a Penn Stater in the wake of the scandal, the Freeh report, and the NCAA sanctions. Given how important Penn State has been to PwC over the years, and PwC to Penn State, I believe we have both a critical opportunity and, I would suggest, an obligation, to lead during these trying days.

There are issues larger than us at play, but that does not relieve us of the responsibility to manage the ones we own – including the anxiety and uncertainty felt by the 169 students who will join PwC this year as interns and full time hires. It includes the uncertainty felt by the 1,000 or more students who will seek employment opportunities with us this Fall, and the hundreds more we'll meet on campus. Last year, Penn State was the #2 source for hires across all lines of service, and the underlying factors that make Penn State such a rich source of talent for us persist to this day. We did not recruit from Penn State because of Old Main, the Board of Trustees, or the football program. We recruit from Penn State because we have found, over a decades long relationship, that Penn State students are well prepared to thrive in the challenging environment of our Firm. Their ability to navigate through an organization as large and complex as Penn State translates well in our model, producing staff who understand they must own their careers, consult relentlessly, and be accountable for their work both when things go well and when they don't. Penn State students bring with them the benefits gained from a world-class research university that attracts top notch faculty and builds upon a proven and tested academic curriculum. Coupled with the community and service environment so unique to Penn State, these students are prepared exceedingly well for their career with PwC.

The failures of leadership and the cultural problems identified in the Freeh report warrant thoughtful, decisive action and change — they are not to be ignored nor the changes necessary to address them underestimated. But to transfer the burden of those challenges to students and faculty who have, throughout this period, acted in a manner consistent with the highest ideals of Penn State would, for me at least, represent an injustice for which I could offer no sensible explanation. Said another way, I fully expect to continue leading our Penn State recruiting effort with the same energy, attention, and priority with which we have operated in the past.

But should our focus and approach change? Should our core message change? In short, yes. That change is not about reducing our efforts to identify the best and brightest talent at Penn State, but about recognizing the extraordinary circumstances in which these students (and faculty) find themselves. Every one of them, as well as all of us, have a birds-eye view of the catastrophic consequences that can befall an institution which allows its culture to become closed and its decision-making and governance processes to atrophy. Whether you agree that's what happened or you have a different view, Penn State has become a laboratory — this tragedy provides an unmatched teaching moment that can have a profound impact on the next class of future leaders we identify and recruit at Penn State. Whether these students go on to long careers advising our clients, or become clients themselves, will any one of them forget the lessons these terrible events have brought to our doorstep? I hope not. I certainly won't.

Our commitment to Penn State's students and the academic programs that have created such value for our Firm and our clients remains. The burden on all of us who are committed to this strategic relationship is greater now than ever before. The level of engagement students will require, the reassurance they'll seek, and the perspective we can share with them will all require more time, more thought, and more discipline to ensure we get it right. We will all need greater alignment in our messaging as a Firm to the students and faculty with whom we interact. In our kickoff call later this week, we'll discuss how we can make that happen. I have great confidence in this team to deliver, as you always have, on our shared promises. Thank you for all you do to support this strategic relationship and as always, if you have suggestions or ideas, please reach out to me or any member of our leadership team.

Alright, so let's start this off the right way and say we are fairly certain the partner who wrote this was completely well-intentioned in his attempt to lead the narrative at the firm in light of really horrible events and we can't help but admire the fact that he tried.

The concern here is that this well-intentioned partner should not even have to write an email like this. If there is even the slightest bit of concern that anyone in this PwC office will treat the 169 Penn State students joining the firm this year with anything but professional respect, an email isn't going to solve that core human capital issue. Let's phrase it a different way with a story: when I was in 4th grade, I moved to a new school. Instead of my teacher allowing me to slip in among the grade school sharks unnoticed, she had to trot me out in front of the entire class and announce that I was THE NEW KID and even went so far as to force one girl in class to be my friend. How humiliating. The right thing for her to do would have been to let me work it out on the playground myself but instead she basically ensured that I would be ostracized and segregated from my classmates by telling them not to ostracize and segregate me. See how that works?

This email – like my 4th grade teacher humiliating me in front of my new classmates – is unnecessary. Does this partner have that little faith in his office that he thinks he actually needs to say any of these things? Surely everyone – especially an office that recruits heavily out of Penn State – is professional enough to handle this situation with care and will not resort to bullying Penn State grads or snubbing the school based on the actions of a few shady folks. By pointing it out, it seems this partner has planted the seed instead of just moving on like we're sure many have already done, including our tipster who – like the partner – is also a PSU alum.

Wasn't the Freeh report supposed to provide closure? Despite asking for sensitivity in regards to this matter, it feels like bringing all that up and going on unnecessary tangents about the failure of Penn State leadership is not only overtalking but inappropriately emotional and a bit insensitive for an email that is presumably intended to help everyone just move on and get back to work like the professionals they are. Perhaps this partner should have had someone with less emotional attachment to Penn State pen this for him?

Again, we get why he did it (we think). And we admire that he did it at all in considering it was not saying anything that got Penn State into this mess in the first place but it's a tad much. I don't think anyone ever questioned the caliber of candidate coming out of Penn State, nor do I believe any professional would actually change their tone or treat a colleague unfairly based on the actions of a handful of individuals who also just so happened to be associated with the school. So why say it at all?

It sounds a little like this partner needs someone to talk to so he can work out his completely valid feelings, and that's not meant as a dig, though maybe it is meant as a suggestion. It's understandable that not everyone can simply "get over" such a huge incident but rehashing it all in a firm-wide email might not be the way to work through any residual feelings of betrayal or shame.

Now let's all get back to work.