Deloitte Day celebrates long-running partnership with Foster

Dean Frank Hodge chats with Deloitte executive Don Heisler

Deloitte, a leading worldwide professional services network, returned to the UW Foster School of Business for Deloitte Day, a day-long celebration of the partnership between the company and the business school.

“We are delighted to be here. Deloitte and UW have a long history together, and I love the students I have met from here,” said Deloitte Consulting CEO Dan Helfrich. “The UW creates well-rounded diverse and energized young professionals.”

Deloitte employs over 500 UW alumni and continues to contribute to academic investments at the UW. Deloitte Day at Foster had been a regular event prior to the pandemic, and its return this year was marked with strong attendance at events and an enthusiastic response from students.

The day kicked off with Deloitte representatives meeting and greeting UW students and showcasing the Explore Your Fit tool. This interactive online tool helps students and working professionals determine which opportunities within Deloitte may be a good fit for them by asking questions on background, motivations and goals, and synthesizes the answers into a guide to career opportunities at Deloitte.

Senior Deloitte executives, including Helfrich, Chief Operating Officer Pete Shimer (BA 1984), and Seattle Office Managing Partner Don Heisler (BA 1994) met with Foster leaders including Dean Frank Hodge, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Christina Fong, Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Michelle Purnell Hepburn, and Professor Jennifer Koski among others for a discussion of how Foster can best prepare students for their future careers.

A culture of collaboration

The candid and far-reaching discussion covered topics including hybrid work models, diversity, and the future of artificial intelligence (AI). Deloitte executives stressed the importance of Foster teaching the soft skills and adaptability necessary for a workplace in which norms are rapidly evolving.

“Enterprise communication skills are what will help students have the most successful careers,” said Helfrich. Helfrich explained that enterprise communication is the ability to adjust communication delivery thoughtfully and dynamically across a broad range of stakeholders and topics. “Students need to know how you refute a point thoughtfully with data.”

Helfrich and his team emphasized the importance of building a culture of collaboration and preparing future leaders whose interpersonal skills have been shaped by the pandemic and hybrid work models that differ from previous generations.

The Foster team acknowledged the challenge and the need to adapt accordingly. “Our job right now is focusing on relationships,” said Andy Rabitoy, executive director of Foster career services. “We’ve pivoted to have all our programs focused on engaging with professionals.”

Helfrich spoke frankly about the importance of embracing change and a diverse workforce. “We can’t say we embrace diversity if we actually promote conformity. Standard of professionalism can be coded language. We need people who aren’t afraid to wear natural hair or show a tattoo. We don’t want to fall into a trap of trying to turn the clock back.”

Those topics and more were addressed by Hodge, Helfrich and Heisler during a Fireside Chat, in which Hodge posted questions on DEI, climate and mentorship to the Deloitte executives in front of a large audience of Foster students in PACCAR Hall.

Hodge opened the session by asking the duo how they are handling leading during turbulent times, to which the CEO provided a forthright answer.

“I have a mentality that the privilege of helping 85,000+ employees navigate these times outweighs the burden,” said Helfrich. “But I am a leader in training. You have to have the courage to say that sometimes you don’t know. The bigger strength is to listen.” Especially in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion, Helfrich said Deloitte is committed to learning from the past and continuing to adapt and improve.

Helfrich and Heisler shared insights on how Deloitte is achieving measurable goals on social justice and climate initiatives, which were the topics of many of the questions posed by the students.

In response to a query of what he would tell his younger self, Heisler offered some sage advice. “Don’t grow up too quickly. Don’t force yourself into a mold that sets your path in life. What’s really valuable about being in college is the chance to learn and to develop. Give yourself the chance to explore.”

Insights on the future of AI

The role of artificial intelligence and how it would impact the workforce as well as society overall was a major theme throughout the day. In a smaller session with a select group of Foster MBA and undergraduate students, Shimer said AI was essential to the future of Deloitte.
“There is no greater investment opportunity right now than AI,” Shimer said. “We are looking at it across the three dimensions. One is how does the work change in our profession based on the demand from our clients. Two, how do we create market activation around that. And finally, how we do we think about innovation in this space and what’s around the corner.”

Helfrich fielded multiple questions about AI across the day’s sessions and provided an optimistic viewpoint. “I am of the view that technological progress is generally a good thing,” he said, pointing out that trepidation has accompanied all technological innovations. “If we can provide the same or better outcomes in less time, that is a positive thing for the world.”

Helfrich said the challenge is in ensuring the tools are being used ethically and in how to best utilize the additional time saved. To that end, Deloitte has established the Deloitte AI Institute and recruited AI pioneer Beena Ammanath, who serves as the company’s Technology Trust Ethics Leader.

In a day dedicated to career advancement, technology innovation and global challenges, Shimer left students with a reminder not to forget about another essential component of the collegiate experience.

“Make a bet of what would be fun to do, and people who it would be fun to do it with,” he said. “Start the movie and see where it takes you.”