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

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 7:38 a.m. MDT

Jim Quigley is shown at his company's headquarters in New York City. Quigley, a senior partner at Deloitte, was previously the CEO at Deloitte where he has worked for 37 years. (Deloitte) Jim Quigley is shown at his company's headquarters in New York City. Quigley, a senior partner at Deloitte, was previously the CEO at Deloitte where he has worked for 37 years. (Deloitte)

Jim Quigley is an oddity in the corporate world of high finance. His peers tend to be graduates of leafy old Ivy League schools – Wharton, Yale, Harvard, et al. Then there's Quigley. He grew up in a town of 400 in southern Utah. Graduated with a class of 92. Earned a B.S. degree from – ahem – a state school. And that advanced degree? Didn't get one.

"Not exactly the credentials you have to have to be CEO of a large company," he likes to say.

The odds were stacked against him when he competed for jobs with Harvard-trained peers and their graduate degrees. It's a closed fraternity that thrives on take-care-of-our-own networking. Quigley graduated from Millard High School. Then he graduated from Utah State University. That was the end of his formal education, but he will tell you that's when his real education began.

 (Quigley family photo) (Quigley family photo)

Quigley believes he earned an advanced degree in leadership and organization while serving in various capacities in his church — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Try selling that one in the boardroom.

Quigley, the guy from Kanosh, Utah, rose to become the global CEO of Deloitte, the largest professional services company in the world, with more than 180,000 employees in more than 150 countries. The company, which provides advisory services for audits, taxes, consulting, finances and enterprise risk, produced a record $28.8 billion in revenues during the last fiscal year — the last year of Quigley's term as global CEO before he stepped down in May.

"Explain to me how someone who has a B.S. degree in accounting from Utah State University becomes the CEO of Deloitte & Touche," he tells author Jeff Benedict in "The Mormon Way of Doing Business." "Try to think that through logically. You can't get there."

JIm Quigley, right, and his future wife Bonnie, at graduation. (Quigley family photo) JIm Quigley, right, and his future wife Bonnie, at graduation. (Quigley family photo)

These days Quigley, 59, serves as a senior partner at Deloitte and devotes himself to his real passion: the art of leadership. He is consulted by CEOs around the country. He also co-authored a book on leadership with Alchemy Growth Partners founder Mehrdad Bahai called, "As One: Individual Action, Collective Power."

"I am reinventing myself from being a leader of a professional services firm to being a client service partner helping leaders succeed," says Quigley. "That's what I care about."

His on-going book tour has led to speaking engagements at London Business School, Harvard, Wharton, New York University, Stanford, Duke and the University of Texas. It's an ironic turn of events for the guy from a state school.

"I'm part of the American dream," says Quigley, who is scheduled to speak at Utah State next month, the University of Utah in February and Brigham Young University in March.

Jim Quigley is show at his company's headquarters in New York City. (Quigley family photo) Jim Quigley is show at his company's headquarters in New York City. (Quigley family photo)

There was a time when Quigley would tell audiences that he had climbed to the top of the corporate ladder despite his background. Now he says it's because of his background. For Quigley, it's an important distinction.

"I'm a values-based leader," he says. "Everything I needed to know I learned from growing up in rural America — the value of work, ethics, principles."

For that reason, Quigley's speeches almost always include mention of his formative years in Utah. It's a slice of Americana — one of six children, a small-town boy who married his high school sweetheart, played three sports, quarterbacked the football team, irrigated and bucked hay in the fields of the local farms and fought wildfires for the BLM. His father, L. Glen Quigley, one of the few Baptists ever to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (he later joined the church), worked for the forest service; his mother Audrey was a school teacher.

 (Quigley family photo) (Quigley family photo)

Quigley, an all-state football player, led Millard High to the state championship game, where he threw three interceptions and fumbled in a losing effort to Delta High — an experience he often uses as a lesson in moving on after failure.

"I just worked and did sports," says Quigley.

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.

 (Quigley family photo) (Quigley family photo)

"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.

Jim Quigley as a young man. (Quigley family photo) Jim Quigley as a young man. (Quigley family photo)

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.

"Jim was an exceptional leader," says Tom McGee, who was Quigley's chief of staff. "He's very much a visionary leader, very strategic and, more than anything else, he's inspirational. People really look to Jim and are inspired by who he is and what he believes in. He's incredibly moral and ethical. You can't spend any time with Jim and not see that."

Deloitte continued to thrive under Quigley's leadership (see graphics). The job, not surprisingly, placed huge demands on Quigley and his personal life. He traveled to Europe and Latin America monthly and to China at least quarterly and several times a year to major commercial centers in Asia. For four years he spent 60 percent to 70 percent of his nights away from home.

"You learn how to operate on five hours of sleep and rest on a plane," he says. His life was running from one conference room to the next, or from one airport concourse to another, for meetings. "There were times when the only time I was alone was when I went to the bathroom," he says.

Quigley says a balanced life was difficult, if not impossible. "I had an integrated life," he says. "Work fits into my life and my life fits into my work." He had to make choices. Instead of playing golf or joining a country club, he spent Saturdays with his wife, Bonnie, and their three children. Sundays were devoted to church. He served as bishop of a congregation while he was a Deloitte CEO. He included Bonnie on many of his business travels.

"Work needs to fit into your life and vice versa," he says.

If there is a recurring theme in Quigley's career — one that he restates frequently during interviews — it is that he has remained a student of business and leadership every step of the way. He carries a leather-bound notebook wherever he goes, making notes about leaders, lessons learned and personal observations. He has filled an entire shelf in his home with these notebooks.

"A degree gives you the opportunity to have a job," he says. "The job gives you an opportunity to obtain a real education if you are committed to lifelong learning. It will dramatically surpass what you learn in the classroom."

Quigley considers his access to so many of the world's top CEOs to be an opportunity to learn from them even though many are relying on him as a consultant. "I like to listen and get them talking about leadership and the challenges they face," he says. "I ask them, 'What is your view of leadership?' I take notes."

McGee believes it is that ability and willingness simply to listen to others that helps set Quigley apart. "He was constantly traveling and meeting lots and lots of people," says McGee. "He always remembered who he was meeting with. No matter who it was, he was focused on them. He was listening. He was in the moment. He really appreciated the viewpoints and feedback of others. It's a skill I admired."

From the outset, Quigley believed that if he were going to take the performance of Deloitte to the next level, his most important role was to help his partners become more effective leaders. Years ago, while working with a leadership consultant, Quigley was asked what he believed about leadership and why. Quigley said he needed the weekend to think about it.

"It took me six months to write down what I believe about leadership and why I believe it," he says. "That's what takes you back to your roots. The things you learned in your home, on the sports field, things you learned at church. It becomes the foundation on which you're now going to build a series of experiences that will augment your education."

Some four decades later, Quigley has traveled the world and risen to the top of his field, but he has never forgotten his roots and the lessons he learned on the fields of Kanosh.

email: drob@desnews.com

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