EY Day: 7 tips for success from Managing Partner Dan Smith

Dan Smith, managing partner of EY's Northwest practice

Dan Smith, managing partner of EY’s Pacific Northwest practice

In his lunchtime keynote at yesterday’s “EY Day” at the UW Foster School of Business, Dan Smith (BA 1979), the managing partner of EY’s Pacific Northwest practice, offered pearls of wisdom to the throng of attending Foster students as they prepare to embark on their careers.

1. Don’t over-plan your career
Smith shared his own circuitous path to illustrate the point. After taking a year off from the UW to figure things out—in Hawaii!—he traded his union card and brick mason’s assistant job to join the accounting firm of Ernst & Ernst (taking an initial pay cut, he noted). Nearly four decades with EY has taken him on a tour of the evolving northwest economy, doing assurance work in banking, real estate, software, life sciences, telecom and dotcoms, before shifting to advisory work with Microsoft and, finally, managing the firm’s regional services, headquartered in Seattle. “Don’t try to lay out your entire career, there is so much that you can’t control,” Smith said. “But do be prepared to make decisions when opportunity arises.”

EY-day2. Recruit a mentor—or mentors
Smith said he has mentors inside and outside the firm. He advocated finding people who are “independent-thinking and who really know you and the way you think. You can’t overestimate the value of mentors to give you counsel.”

3. Find your work/life balance
“Balance is different for everyone,” Smith said. “How much do you focus on your career? How much do you focus on your personal life? It changes throughout your life. You have to be flexible. But you also have to be serious with yourself, and serious with the teams you’re on. Balance is key. Don’t let somebody else control it. Young people want to demonstrate their commitment. But teams can only be successful if everyone on the team is equally valued when it comes to balance.”

4. Become a team player
“In my day, we didn’t have nearly the teaming opportunities that you have now at the Foster School,” Smith said. “Embrace it. In business, everything is a team. I encourage you to expand upon your skill at working in teams.”

EY-day25. Think (and act) globally
Through his work with global organizations such as Microsoft, Smith has traveled the world: Dublin, London, Paris, Moscow, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, to name a few of his professional ports-of-call. “I am the beneficiary of this travel; I feel like I’ve earned a global MBA with all that I’ve learned by being in those environments and working in those cultures,” he said. “I wish I had more global exposure in school. And I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad or participate in student exchanges.”

6. Embrace diversity
Joking that he is referred to as “male, pale and stale,” Smith pledged his—and EY’s—commitment to promoting diversity, and encouraged the Foster audience to do the same. “Inclusion is key,” he said. “I want my team to reflect my community and my clients in every way.”

7. Build your resume
Smith acknowledged that careers don’t often play out at one firm or company these days. “Hopefully you can get what you want out of your career from one firm,” he said. “But that’s less likely now. Focus on your resume, and finding opportunities that extend it in the directions you want to go. (As a manager) it’s my job to help you build your resume. I see a lot of people leave our firm, but a lot come back, too.”

EY-Day3EY Day was a celebration of the firm’s extensive partnership with the Foster School that ranges from sponsorship of the Young Executives of Color program and Beta Alpha Psi to investment in the EY Center for Career Advancement and student scholarships to service on advisory boards and mentoring programs to leadership in the Accounting Development Fund—some $1.5 million invested in Foster over the past couple of years.

“People say that business schools need partnerships with businesses,” Smith said. “But it goes both ways.”

He noted that EY will hire 100 UW students this year, across offices and practices. Foster graduates work for the firm in 23 cities, and 21 current EY partners are Foster alumni.

“You guys are the future of EY,” Smith said. “We need to continue to support schools like Foster. Without you, we can’t be successful.”

“I’m so blown away by PACCAR and Dempsey Halls—I went to ‘Balmer High,’ ” he added. “What you have here is pretty special. I’m confident that it attracts everything at a different level from when I was here—the dean, the professors, the students.”