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A student of leadership: Former Deloitte CEO Jim Quigley never forgot his roots

Published: Monday, Nov. 7 2011 8:59 p.m. MST

He walked on the football team at Utah State and played a season for the freshman squad. Then the Aggies brought in a transfer quarterback named Tony Adams, who became a star and later a starter in the professional ranks. Quigley quit the team and focused on his education. Many years later, Quigley told USU assistant coach Garth Hall, "Thanks very much for not giving me a chance, because my life has turned out pretty well."

After observing that accounting majors seemed to have the best opportunity for employment, he changed his major from business to accounting. He accepted a job with Deloitte in Salt Lake City after graduating from USU. It's the only employer he has ever had. He's been with Deloitte for 37 years, 17 in management.

"When I came to Deloitte I planned to stay two years," he says. "I found I enjoyed client service. You're learning from them — how they drive their business, how they succeed and don't succeed."

Maybe he lacked the Ivy League education and the MBA, but he believes he gained an advantage during the formative years of his career from a source no one would have considered. From age 22 to 32, he held a number of lay positions in his church that required him to work side by side with men who happened to be brilliant businessmen. As a young accountant, he served as finance clerk in his congregation in New Canaan, Conn., working with Don Staheli, a member of the congregation's bishopric who also was CEO of Continental Grain Co., one of the world's largest privately held food businesses. Later, Quigley was called to serve as stake executive secretary and stake young men's president under the direction of Rod Hawes, a stake president who was chairman and CEO of Life Re Corp., the largest independent life reinsurance company in the world. An LDS stake is a group of congregations, so stake leaders organize on large scales.

As Benedict notes, while Quigley's peers were golfing or watching TV, he was spending Sundays and at least one night a week observing and helping CEOs organize, administer and lead a church congregations. He learned how to hold effective meetings, prepare agendas, delegate, help leaders be more effective and motivate those around him through means other than money or promotion. During those 10 years, Quigley estimates that he spent more than 3,000 hours working outside the office with successful CEOs augmenting his professional education while performing spiritual duties.

"I was competing in a firm with 3,000 partners to be CEO," says Quigley. "I had better training than the people I competed with. Part of that was watching leaders in the church exercise that role. I got my advanced degree from church."

In 1985, at the age of 33, he was promoted to executive secretary to Deloitte's board of directors and assistant to CEO Mike Cook. Instead of working with CEOs in a religious setting, he was working closely with a dozen of the most senior leaders in Deloitte in a corporate setting. With the exception of Christmas, he spoke daily with Cook for three years, acting as liaison between the CEO and the other managers.

"When you're 33 years old, that is wonderful mentoring," he says. "You see their strengths and what works and what doesn't. I'm a student of leadership. I watch and I listen and I learn."

Quigley's 10-year tutelage with religious leaders was followed by another 10-year tutelage working closely with Deloitte's top management. This helped launch his meteoric rise through management.

In 1999, after five years of serving as vice chairman and regional managing partner of manufacturing, he was named the tri-state CEO (Connecticut, New York, New Jersey). Four years later he was named CEO for U.S. operations. And four years later he was voted global CEO.

"I was not even seeing myself as a leader," he says. "The nominating committee wanted me to be more aggressive in pursuing the leadership seat. It should be someone who wants it. That's not me. People were pushing me out there. My response was, I'm a client service partner. I was too busy to prepare a platform. I was head-down, nonstop working, and I was happy with what I was doing."

Later, during a meeting with the nominating committee chairman, Quigley was told why the 1,500 partners who participated in the election process selected him as the global CEO. The first thing they cited was not his professional accomplishments, but rather their belief that he was a man of principle and integrity.

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