Deloitte CEO Salzberg: ‘Business should make people’s lives better’

Author: Carol Elliott

Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte Global), began his commencement address to the University of Notre Dame graduate business students with a concession:

“I remember my own graduation from college and law school, and I remember my mother beaming in the audience,” said Salzberg. “But I don’t remember what either commencement speaker said. You probably won’t remember what I say either. But maybe you’ll remember I ran some large organization. And that I resembled Dr. Phil.”

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Salzberg served as speaker for the Mendoza College of Business’ 2015 Graduate Commencement and Diploma Ceremony, held May 16 in the Joyce Center Purcell Pavilion on the Notre Dame campus. All told, 477 graduates received their degrees from programs including: Notre Dame MBA, 194; Executive MBA, 107; Master of Nonprofit Administration, 29; Master of Science in Accountancy, 101; and Master of Science in Management, 46. (Watch the video of Salzberg's address.)

 After the appreciative laughter from the large crowd died down, Salzberg went on to charge the graduates with bringing a greater focus on ethics into business leadership as they enter the workforce.

“I believe that business has a far greater role in society than just making money or delivering value to shareholders,” said Salzberg.  “And I know that students and faculty here at Mendoza share that view.  Business can and should be a force for good and not just through its corporate social responsibility programs. I’m talking about the core activities of a business, the goods it produces or the services it delivers. 

“Business should make people’s lives better.  It should bring prosperity to a wider group of stakeholders including the community.  It should disrupt, it should innovate, and it should drive societal progress.” 

Salzberg became CEO of Deloitte Global in June 2011. Deloitte Global sets strategic direction for the Deloitte network, which consists of 47 member firms operating in 150 countries. The network of member firms employs about 210,000 people worldwide and provides a range of services including auditing, consulting, financial advisory, risk management and tax.

In anticipation of his commencement address, Salzberg said he solicited advice for the graduates from the followers of his LinkedIn blog. Although the contributions came from professionals all over the world who are at many different stages in their careers, there were a number of common themes, many arising from mistakes made and lessons learned the hard way.

The first piece of advice Salzberg passed along to the graduates was to focus on their relationships, starting with the ones they have built at Notre Dame. “So much of success in business is determined by the quality of relationships and the strengths of our networks,” he said.  “The bond that you share with your classmates is an incredible foundation that you can build upon as you pursue whatever you do next.”

He also urged the audience to be proactive in their careers – not to wait for an invitation. “Don’t expect to be handed a great opportunity, a plum assignment, or a dream job. You must actively seek it out and make it happen,” he said. 

Salzberg also charged them to be open to exploring new ideas and ways of thinking, and to learn from mistakes instead of being daunted by failure.

“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not trying hard enough or taking enough risks,” he said.  “One person wrote [on LinkedIn}, ‘Always have a plan, but be aware that life won’t go according to it. And that’s where the adventures begin.’”

Salzberg, who first joined Deloitte in 1977, will retire from the company at the end of May. He then plans to become a member of the full-time faculty of Columbia Business School as a professor of professional practice. He earned his undergraduate degree in accounting from Brooklyn College, his Master of Laws (LLM) in taxation from the New York University School of Law, and his Juris Doctor (JD) from Brooklyn Law School. He was also awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and a Juris Doctor Honoris Causa from Brooklyn Law School.