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Thought Leaders: Jim Wall, Chief Diversity Officer, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

Jim_WallBy Melissa J. Anderson

“There is a lot of research that shows, and we believe, that diverse teams create better solutions to client problems than homogeneous teams,” explained Jim Wall, Global Chief Diversity Officer for Deloitte.

Wall said he appreciates the firm’s organization’s commitment to diversity – not only because it’s strategically important, but because it has enabled him to do work that is meaningful to him for almost three decades.

“When you go to work, you don’t leave your value system at the door. In my 27 years at Deloitte, I’ve been allowed to do my best work from my value base. And I hope I’ve made an impact,” he said.

An Equal Chance

“I come from a family with very strong values,” Wall began. “My mother and grandmothers were very strong women who all had careers inside and outside the home.”

“I think because of that I was always committed to social justice – I’ve always believed that everyone deserved an equal chance, in this country and in all parts of the world,” he said, pointing out the events going on in the Middle East.

Wall said he has been enthusiastic about civil rights his entire life. “I was very involved in the civil rights movement as a student. And I’m married to a very capable, successful woman. I have a daughter, and I want to be sure she has every opportunity to be successful.”

“The whole notion of ‘to whom much has been given, much is expected’ has been important to me. If you have the opportunity, you have the responsibility to help others,” he added.

Building a Career in Diversity

Wall said that for the first ten years of his career, he was working in higher education (and loving it), when his wife, who was a senior executive at Hyatt, had the chance to advance her career – but they would have to relocate to Boston for the new role. Wall, who had been working at Michigan State, said he agreed to the move. “There were 85 colleges and universities in Boston – I thought I should be able to find a job,” he said.

Wall was offered a role, at an institution in Boston, but he had also applied for a job in recruiting for Touche Ross. “I thought, “I can do this,” he recalled. He ended up talking on the phone to Touche Ross for an hour, and after going in to meet the team, he took the job.

He said, “Among the Big 8 in Boston, I was the first person to hold the recruiting spot who was not an accountant.” Eventually Wall moved into HR, and then worked on mergers and acquisitions for the firm. Several years after Touche Ross merged with Deloitte, the managing partner asked Wall to take on the Chief Human Resources Officer role in the US. After twelve years, in 2004, the firm’s Global CEO, Bill Parrett, asked him to move into a global role, and Wall became the global Chief Human Resources Officer. In 2007, Wall said, the organization made a strategic push for diversity.

“I’m really in a career of helping people become what they want to become,” Wall explained.

“One of my biggest professional achievements is the quiet satisfaction I get when I see the people I’ve worked with become successful – however they define success – whether that means becoming partner, or in their daily work, or if that means they are more effectively able to balance their commitments.”

Looking forward, Wall said while he will be formally retired in a few years (Deloitte has a mandatory retirement age of 62 for partners), he sees himself going back to teaching or working in the non-profit sector. “Probably a portfolio of stuff,” he said. One of the issues he has become passionate about recently, and hopes to get more involved with, is the work of getting veterans back into the workforce.

He said, “Veterans need and want to get back into the mainstream of society and to have a career. They deserve every opportunity to succeed and live a productive life.”

Diversity Coming into Its Own

Wall said he has seen diversity become a leading factor in making a firm a great place to work. He said, “I’m very proud of being part of a team that helped put Deloitte on the map in terms of being a progressive place to have a career.”

He explained, “We’re in the business of solving client problems and protecting the capital markets. We do that with the intellectual capital of our people.”

“Our largest expense is salaries. We have the very best people in the world, and we keep a broad sense of diversity around us.”

Wall pointed out that there is a growing body of research showing that diversity is good for business, from academics like Martha Maznevski at the IMD Business School in Switzerland and Scott Page at the University of Michigan, as well as the recent Deloitte report, The Gender Dividend, which explores the business case for investing in women.

“The whole area of diversity is coming into its own – not just at Deloitte, but in general,” he added.

While Wall says he has been energized by his current work on generational diversity, he is also consistently involved in Deloitte’s global efforts toward gender diversity with its member firms. He mentioned working to implement the firm’s Mass Career Customization platform in a number of countries, working with women on assertiveness and negotiation training in Japan, and helping women build career resiliency skills in Australia, to name a few.

“What we do a lot of is surfacing best practices and sharing them with our member firms for implementation,” he explained. “No one has to start with a blank piece of paper.”

“Diversity can mean different things in different parts of the world,” he added. “It is integral to our strategy.”

Learning to Learn

“After a career spanning 37 years, I’ve learned a lot,” Wall said. “But I had no idea that it would be as much fun as it has been.”

He continued, “I’ve realized that the longer I’m alive and working, the the less I know. It’s a bit of a paradox and that’s okay. It’s about learning how to learn and being humble.”

He said that one of the most important lessons he’s learned in his career is the importance of occasionally being silent, and listening. He said, “One of my mentors, Ed Kangas, said ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.’ In many situations it’s more important to listen than to speak. It means truly understanding what the person is saying, rather than preparing your response while they’re talking.”

Wall continued, “I rely on that advice every single day. I think it’s one of the downsides of technology – the whole issue of multitasking. One of the casualties is the notion of undivided attention.”

In His Spare Time

Wall says that while he spends a lot of time traveling for work, what he really loves is the outdoors. “I was born in Boston and I grew up on the water,” he explained.

“A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I play the saxophone. It’s a great stress reliever,” he said. “I play a little bit of golf, although my wife is really the one who’s the golfer.”

Wall’s two children, adopted from South Korea, are now attending college.

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