Rich Jeanneret is EY’s Northeast Region Managing Partner and a member of its Americas Operating Executive and United States Executive boards. He leads more than 12,000 professionals across all business units in more than 22 offices stretching from Boston to Richmond, and has also served on the firm’s Global Advisory Council.
In both his personal and professional life, Rich has long been a strong ally for the LGBT+ community – a commitment that deepened when his son, Henry, came out as transgender and began the process of transitioning.
Please describe how and when you first became an Ally.
Being an ally has been a bit of a journey. I’ve run a variety of different businesses at EY for the past 15 years, and at the beginning my first instinct was to build leadership teams with people I knew and was comfortable with. You need that to some extent, but if you put too many people on your team who think the same way as you do, you minimize the opportunity for better questions, better answers, and better outcomes. So one of the things I learned early on was that if you want the best thinkers, the best minds in the business, you need to create an inclusive leadership team, a team of diverse thinkers. People who think differently from me make me a better leader.
Over time I begin to appreciate that people who thought differently than I did, who had different experiences, whether professionally or in life generally, and most often that meant a different identity, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The more diverse a team was in that regard, the better it performed. The teams that I built started to include more LGBT+ professionals, and I found myself wanting to be more of an advocate in their careers.
I would say it was an evolution. It was probably turbocharged about four years ago when my youngest of four children came out as trans and I decided that in addition to being a responsible, caring parent to him, it was a great opportunity for me at EY to use that experience, my platform and stature as a member of our board to be a greater advocate inside and outside the firm. And so, about a year ago I asked to become the board sponsor of Unity, which is our lexicon for the LGBT+ affinity group at EY.
My first job was:
My first job, besides cutting lawns or working at a fast food restaurant was for a company in the Maryland technology corridor that manufactured solar cells. It was the early 1980s when solar technology was just starting to emerge and my job involved manufacturing the solar cell itself. I worked with scientists and people from all around the world who brought impressive skill and expertise.
This was actually during the Cuban immigration crisis, and the chief scientist at this organization was Cuban. He sponsored a number of Cuban refugees to come work in the organization, people who had literally just gotten to America, didn’t speak an ounce of English and needed a job. I had the privilege of being a be part of the team that helped them get adjusted to life in the United States.
The most important thing I have learned from a boss is:
Humility. Surround yourself with people that are much smarter than you are. Lead them, but make sure they get all the credit for their success. If you do that, more and more people will want to be part of your team, and your team will be better because of it.
The most important thing I have learned from an employee is:
Again, humility. Knowing that I don’t know everything, and at the end of the day I will only be as good as the team that’s working for or with you. There are many moments over time that I could point to, but I think it’s more the lesson itself. Don’t be afraid to have someone on your team that could eventually replace you.
The best piece of advice I ever received was:
As you shape your career, you’re going to have the opportunity to work with a variety of different people. You’re going to have more than one boss, and if you’re in a great organization, you’re going to have more than one mentor. As I was fashioning my own brand and ultimately the kind of leader I wanted to be, I certainly looked to the attributes of those I admired and tried to take the best of them and make it my own. And they weren’t always men – I had the great fortune of working with a number of tremendous women throughout my career. They taught me a little bit about compassion and humility and ego (or lack thereof).
Though I’m in the twilight of my professional career, I’m never am satisfied with who I am and who I could be. I continuously look all around for inspiration and knowledge and I fully believe. the best advice doesn’t always come from someone who’s older than you or has more experience.
If you were planning a dinner party and could invite anyone from history, who would they be, and why?
Jesus Christ. Abraham Lincoln. Winston Churchill. Mother Teresa.
I got the chance to meet and have lunch with John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach, about 20 years ago. I asked him how he had achieved the success he had, and he responded with such incredible humility. He said, “Well, I just had the best players.” He didn’t take any credit for himself. Those kinds of people I admire. Lincoln, Churchill, Mother Teresa and obviously, Jesus Christ were all that way.