EY’s David O’Brien: The Power of Authentic Storytelling

January 6, 2010 12:15 pm

By Barbara Frankel

David O'Brien, EYTwo of the most important transitions in David O’Brien’s life—his first major job and becoming a father—illustrate why he exemplifies diversity leadership.

David attended a Jesuit college and the Wharton School of Business, and became a licensed CPA. That led him to EY (then Ernst & Young) 27 years ago, where he found his true professional passion—“understanding the power of communications in realizing positive change.”

He and his wife, Noreen, married in their late 30s and decided to grow a family through adoption. They have adopted four children from China—three of whom have spina bifida and one with extensive urological issues.

Walking the Walk

David’s inclusive thinking has helped shape EY’s remarkable diversity journey. It helps to understand the person and his motivations.

When asked who was his greatest mentor, David responds: “I would go back to my parents—my father who would always say to give back a multiple of what you have received and my mother who by her generous example showed me how to do it.”

That belief has led David and Noreen to give four children a far better life. In China, he explains, poor families don’t have access to the type of healthcare these children need—“It would literally bankrupt the family”—and so they are abandoned and become wards of the state.

When they adopted their first child, Cai, who is now 10, “it seemed really daunting … but what becomes more obvious is that when you know how to navigate the system, you can deal with this. With good medical care, the results are extraordinary.”

Their experiences with Cai; Brendan, 8; and Sean and Yi Yi; both 4, led David to his involvement with the Children of China Pediatric Foundation, which sends surgeons and medical volunteers to China, and the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, which helps people with disabilities build self-esteem, confidence and skills through sports, recreation and educational programs.

David O'Brien EY kids

His involvement with the National Ability Center convinced him to buy a second home in Park City, which has become the family’s full-time home these days because he calls it “an ideal place for kids.” David maintains an apartment in New York, where EY is headquartered.

Power of Authentic Communications

DAVID J. O’BRIEN
Current Position
Partner and Americas Director of Communications and Marketing, EY (No. 3 in the DiversityInc Top 50)

 

Education
Bachelor’s Degree, Accounting, Wheeling Jesuit University

M.B.A., Wharton School of Business, University of PennsylvaniaLicensed CPA in Texas and New York

 

Community
Member, Board of Directors, National Ability Center

Member, Board of Directors, Children of China Pediatric Foundation

EY, with 190,000 employees in more than 600 cities worldwide, has a focused message of inclusion. “Connected messaging is essential to execute our global strategy. In a culture-driven organization, it is vital that communications are local, authentic and highly personal,” David says.

It’s that very personal style that first captivated David when he started at EY. “It was like I got a ticket to a gold mine,” he says. “There were so many stories and at their core they all involved people and teams—seeing opportunity, helping clients, growing teams, building communities.”

After serving clients in the Audit and Tax practices, he led the Global Pursuits Group “and traveled the globe nonstop for seven years working with teams on our largest deals—that gave me the best experience in understanding cultures.”

About 10 years ago, he was asked to take on the Communications and Marketing leadership role for the Americas. “You see the stories and issues right up front,” he says. “You see the power of mentoring, people development and inclusion. You get to see the power of so many talented people together to make a difference.”

Visible Leadership

David works closely with the company leaders, Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO, and Steve Howe, EY Americas Managing Partner, and says both use their own diversity storytelling to connect internally and externally. He cites Steve’s visible storytelling about his dad’s differing ability and Mark’s commitment to flexibility with his story about leaving his new partner meeting in China to attend his daughter’s driving test and his participation in the White House Summit on Working Families.

“When it’s genuine, people really tune in to listen and learn. The leaders who communicate most authentically are those most sought after by our people. And those are the leaders who best impact our culture,” David says.

David, and all the leaders at EY, “believe that our culture is our competitive advantage and so we talk about it a lot.”

That culture, which is the center of EY’s Vision 2020 strategy for its future, relies heavily on diverse teams with different perspectives.

“The reality is that the world is growing more complex, more global and more interconnected—not less. Our clients expect us to provide the most well-rounded insights and approaches. … It means we try to create a culture where everyone’s voice is heard. And I have to tell you, it’s amazing what you hear when you have people thinking about issues differently and they feel free to express what they think.”

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