Barry Salzberg (Deloitte LLP) in “The Corner Office”

Barry Salzberg (Andrea Mohin/NYT)

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Barry Salzberg, C.E.O. of Deloitte LLP, who will move up to be global chief executive of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, the accounting and consulting firm on June 1. When hiring, Salzberg wants the candidate and the company to be perfect for each other.

To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

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Bryant: What are some important leadership lessons you’ve learned?


Salzberg: Shortly after I joined the firm from law school, one of the managers asked me to find and make a copy of a ruling and bring it to her. So I got the ruling from the library, read it, and I wrote a little summary of it and gave it to her. I got a call from her and she said: “When I want you to interpret the ruling, I’ll ask you to do that.  All I wanted was a copy.” And I said to myself, O.K., if I’m ever a manager, I’m never going to do that. I was trying to be a little proactive and forward-thinking, and to this day, I really encourage people to think and act that way.

Bryant: What are some other lessons?

Salzberg: There was an early training program I attended at Deloitte, and the partner teaching the class told us about the five P’s: Proper planning prevents poor performance.  That must have been in the 1980s, but here I am in 2011 and I guide my leadership style by the five P’s.

I say it to people all the time, and I do it myself. If my executive team comes into my office to discuss their 30-page PowerPoint presentation, I will have read it and thought through it and be prepared to discuss it.  They know I do that, and they say it to their teams. You’ve always got to be prepared.

Bryant: What else is important to your leadership style?

Salzberg: I don’t like surprises.  I don’t like good surprises. I don’t like bad surprises. Obviously it’s better to have good surprises, but the idea is to be transparent and straight and tell it like it is all the time and to make sure that you are involving others along the way. People know that’s what I stand for today.  My board is never surprised by anything going on, good or bad.  The people who report to me are transparent, they’re right to the point. Sometimes surprise is unavoidable, and we all understand that.  But if you have control over it, there is no reason for there to be a surprise. You don’t want to blindside anybody in a meeting.

Bryant: How do you drive that message home?

Salzberg: It’s not only in the consistent and repetitive messaging. It’s also in the actions because people take their cues not only from what you say, but what you do.  And so, people know: Just come to Barry. You are not going to get yelled at.  It’s not going to be the end of your career if it’s bad news. You have to come forward with all of it. If you practice it long enough, it becomes routine.

Salzberg: What about your parents? Were they big influences?

Bryant: I’ll tell you one story. I was a great math student.  I remember on many occasions, I would come home from a test in math and my father would ask me how I did.  And I would say, “I got a 99.”  And he would say, “Well, where’s the other point?” So I said to myself, O.K., strive for excellence, and there is no excuse not to. That’s really what he was saying to me.  He wasn’t being cute.  He wasn’t criticizing me. He was just saying that if you got 99, just know you can get 100.


Bryant: Not everybody would take that feedback so well and see it as a challenge.

Salzberg: I did take it as a challenge, and I realized he had the confidence in my ability to do this, and so I’ve got to keep working on it. That would stay with me forever.

Bryant: How would you say your leadership and management style has evolved over the years?

Salzberg: In our firm, we are very open to feedback.  It’s a very open partnership and the partners like to be able to express their points of view. When I was first elected into a national role as managing partner eight years ago, it was a very hard thing for me to receive critical input about  some things. But I describe Deloitte as a self-improvement-addict firm.  We always want to improve what we do, and even with all the good things, it’s just never good enough. We are proud, but never satisfied. And I think that’s a good culture to have.  But when you have that culture and you are sitting at the helm, you constantly get feedback.

People would send e-mails all the time. At the very beginning I was very taken aback by it and it bothered me. But through proper coaching and proper learning on my own and maturing, I really took the feedback in a much more positive way over time. Today, I read through it and I find the pearls of wisdom.

My style has evolved now where people feel very comfortable sharing different points of view with me.  Maybe at the very early stages of my tenure, many years ago, people were uncomfortable because they knew that I wouldn’t react as positively and as openly and as constructively as I do today.

Bryant: What were some other important lessons?

Salzberg: At the very early stages, I was eager to give people longer time to succeed in roles.  Early on, I would just say, you know, he’ll improve, things will get better.  And then I learned the lesson that when you kind of get it, you need to take action. It’s worse to let this thing kind of go on, and it sends the wrong message to the individual.  They think that everything is O.K. So now, I provide feedback regularly to people, particularly when they are in new roles, and I really give them the lay of the land early.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on that he started in March 2009. In his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.


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