We Read Another Vapid, Metaphor-riddled Interview with a Deloitte Bigwig So You Don’t Have To

By | March 6, 2012

Communications teams at accounting firms, particularly the Big 4, have a difficult job. And for the most part, they're nice people. I've talked to plenty of them. NO! I'm being serious. They work for private companies that are notoriously secretive, newly regulated, but still have come under heavy scrutiny as capital market servants, thus, leading nosy reporters and bloggers to ask all kinds of questions whose answers are best not revealed. The job of these spinmeisters is to deflect/ignore the bad news (usually around failed audits) and to find opportunities for their sharpest professionals to provide quotable quotes in the most prestigious publications.

For whatever reason, it's abundantly clear that Deloitte's PR team is running on all cylinders. They're quite good at declining comment (or simply not returning calls and emails) to every newswire reporter or blogger that calls them up  when there's bad news and they seem have no problem finding publications that want to sit down with a CEO to hear their recycled thoughts on the business of accounting that is ubiquitous throughout the very little coverage that actually exists. Don't believe me? Here's Global CEO Barry Salzberg talking to the New York Times. Here's Salzberg talking to Reuters. Here's U.S. CEO Joe Echevarria talking to the Wall Street Journal. Here's Joe E. talking to Reuters. You get the pic. All these on-the-record conversations with nothing of any real consequence being discussed but Barry and Joe are getting their faces out there and telling the story that the PR team has teed up for them.  

Today in the continuing Deloitte PR offensive, we have a relative unknown being offered. Deborah DeHaas is a Vice Chairman and Central Region Managing Partner. Impressive, right? John Carpenter interviewed her for the Chicago Tribune and at first, you almost sense that Carpenter knows what he's getting himself into:  

Deborah DeHaas says a company is nothing without integrity, and that people are its most valued asset. She says that difficult challenges and a sense of obligation to the community have shaped her outlook and leadership style. Boilerplate stuff, right? [YEP!] The kind of pronouncements you find on every management bio on every corporate website. But there's an extra measure of intensity when DeHaas says those words.
Oh! The extra measure of intensity factor! Up until that point, I really thought this was going to be some groundbreaking stuff. But judging by this last sentence, Ms. DeHaas is considerably more sincere about these platitudes than say, her boss, which makes this particular interview even more banal. Is there anything more gag-worthy than an executive who actually believes the script they've been handed is a real story?  
 
Of course, when Carpenter (who I'm sure is a fine reporter) starts to get to some questions that might actually require honest answers, DeHaas steers the conversation in the direction she wants to take it:
When asked about Andersen, DeHaas, now vice chairman and central region managing partner of Deloitte LLP and one of Chicago's most visible executives, likes to talk not about the Enron scandal but about the neighbors who showed up when the house burned down.
 
"What was incredibly inspiring here in Chicago was the support that we had from business and government leaders to help find places for our people," she said. "We had about 5,000 Andersen people in Chicago. I remember Mayor Daley having a press conference with a bunch of leaders, saying: 'The people in Chicago had nothing to do with the issues that Andersen was facing. These are great people. Let's find jobs for them, because this would be a tragedy, to lose this talent from Chicago.' That was really quite an amazing experience."
This is probably standard rhetoric from an Andersen refugee – focusing on the positive things that came out of tragedy. That's all well and good but I know a few people who were at Andersen when Enron went down, and you know what? Their stories are AWESOME. Offices were like ghost towns, people were sitting around wondering if the sun would rise the next day, unconfirmed accounts of fisticuffs breaking out over mechanical pencils and 10-key calculators. PURE MAYHEM. And seriously, Enron was 10 years ago. Aren't we laughing about it yet? At the very least we should be grateful that the whole thing is behind us and we've all moved on.
 
ANYWAY, as for all the recent troubles Deloitte has been having (e.g. Diamond Foods and Part II of the PCAOB's 2008 inspection report), DeHaas has those talking points down too.
Of the current climate in general, DeHaas said: "Perhaps at no time has our role been more important —thinking about the investor, that they have good information to make decisions."
God, who writes this stuff for them? How many different ways can "Our role is critical to the markets and we have a bigger responsibility than ever," be articulated? And if that's not enough, they squeezed in work-life balance as well: 
DeHaas' thinking on the question of work-life balance has evolved over the years. Indeed, she prefers other metaphors. Speaking to a group of about 100 female college students at a recent Deloitte Women's Leadership Seminar, she said she sees her life less like a scale and more like a tapestry. "The balance concept to me means they're kind of separate from each other," she said. "What I've thought about is how do you integrate them? How do you weave them together?"

Anyone else nauseas yet? And you didn't even read the whole thing.

Executive profile: Deborah DeHaas, vice chairman and central region managing partner of Deloitte LLP [CT]