Bob Moritz, on How to Learn About Diversity

By Adam Bryant
Published: September 14, 2013

This interview with Bob Moritz, chairman and senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Bob Moritz, chairman and senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, says the couple of years he spent working for the firm in Japan “gave me a different perspective of diversity” and “influenced the diversity agenda we have now.”

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Q. Any important leadership lessons when you were younger?

 A. My first job in high school was in a clothing store, and I ended up working with someone who became a role model. He was in charge of the stockroom, and I admired him because he knew it all. He had a sense of what had to be done, and how you get it done. He had a great balance — he didn’t seem to go through tremendous highs or tremendous lows. He was dependable, and he was the go-to guy.

Q. You joined PwC right out of college. Tell me about the early years.

A. Those first couple of years were rough for me. If you look at my evaluation forms, I was not a superstar in any way, shape or form. It took me a long time to figure out what to do, and how to do it.

After about the fifth year, the organization took me out of my day job and put me in a human-capital job. They let me do hiring and staffing, and mixing and matching resources, and I really got a different perspective of the business — that it’s all about the people. I was a matchmaker, but also a coach and mentor and sponsor.

In my sixth year, I went off to Japan for a couple of years. It was amazingly difficult, and it taught me big lessons that I actually have developed into a leadership style.

Q. Please walk me through them.

 A. First, it taught me about diversity. Over there, I was the minority. I was the guy outside of the circle. I couldn’t speak the language. I was the guy who was discriminated against. So it gave me a different perspective of diversity, and it influenced the diversity agenda we have now.

The second thing it taught me was about diversity of thought and cultural diversity. In Japan, you respect titles. You respect age. And you don’t challenge authority. If you’re going to do your job in Japan, how can you ask challenging questions to get the right answers without making people feel threatened? In the role I’ve got today, diversity of thought is hugely important. How do you get people to understand global business practices and do it in a way so that people feel good and not threatened? How do you set that tone and that environment?

The last piece was, how do you bond with people personally enough so that they trust you, but in a way that you can work with them professionally? I had taken martial arts in the U.S., and my colleagues in Japan wanted to take me to a class. I watched for three or four weeks, and finally I agreed to join the class. I really got kicked around. I remember going to the master afterward and saying, “You definitely took some things to a higher level when I was there.” He said, “Well, we wanted to welcome you.” It hit me again — I’m the foreigner. I’m on the outside. What was good, though, was that the people I was working with saw me taking a chance, and they opened themselves up a bit more, and that allowed for that trust to be built.

Q. Any feedback you’ve gotten over the years about your leadership style that made you think: “Fair point. I’m going to make an adjustment”?

 A. The biggest thing for me is, how much consensus? I am much more of a consensus builder, and the challenge that creates for the leadership team is, how much time do you want to spend building consensus versus “let’s just move on”? Particularly at a time when you’ve got an ambitious agenda, you also want it to be the team’s agenda. There’s another factor, which is that I’ve got to test my team a little bit. I want to see who steps up, so I’m willing to let things go for a period and see how they play out.

Q. If hiring were like speed dating and you could ask a job candidate only a couple of questions, what would they be?

 A. I’d look for an example of a tough situation and how you actually thought about it, and how you dealt with it. And tell me not only what you did but why you did it. The second one would be, help me understand your thinking around the idea of what you want to do and the impact you’re going to have long-term. Because I’m not hiring you just for the job today. I’m hiring you for life, and that’s the way I think you want to be thinking about it in our place.

Q. What are some of the things you tell B-school students when you speak on campuses?

 A. I tell them that I never aspired early to have leadership responsibilities. It probably wasn’t until the last couple of years before I was elected — knowing the process of choosing a new C.E.O. was going to start and that my name was going to be in consideration — that I really started to think about it seriously. This is in no way what I expected when I first started thinking about this profession.

And that’s what I tell kids in college: “You could be me because your grades are better than mine. Your SAT scores are better than mine. I can tell you right now that you’re in a better position than I was at your age. And let me walk you through what I did just this past week. That’s the kind of stuff you all have the potential to do.”

Q. Any other advice you give students?

 A. What I tell them is that you’ve got to think about your personal brand differently. You have to take some risks. When I went to Japan, I wasn’t thrilled about going over there because, to me, I was outside my comfort zone and didn’t speak the language.

You also need to ask for advice in coaching, and be willing to listen to feedback and do something about it. You need to manage your network because you never know where that network’s going to be. And you need to think about your personal brand in a technology-enabled world. Be careful what you say. Be careful what you put out there. People are looking at this stuff now, so think about it differently. And make sure you’ve got your elevator speech because you never know who you might see. How are you


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