By Sam Combest —

The University of Louisville hosted the inaugural Vince Tyra Family Speaker Series on Leadership Excellence with Tim Ryan, U.S Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC North America, and Ron Parker, Former President and CEO of Executive Leadership Council, Oct. 22.

The two executives discussed their hardships in learning about leadership and offered advice on how to run a business and how to keep relations positive within the corporate world.

On July 1, 2016, Tim Ryan started his first week as U.S. Chairman and senior partner for PwC. To Ryan, this was a big turning point in his career. He said he used the opportunity to push for discussions involving race relations and to create an open discussion forum for current racial tensions. One of his first tasks was to draft a 100-day plan.

“My first week as senior partner, that Friday morning we woke up to the shootings and violence in Dallas,” said Ryan, referring to the shootout on July 7 and 8 which killed five police officers and injured 9 and two civilians.

“All of a sudden, that 100-day plan didn’t seem to matter much.”

“Look, clearly something bad happened and I know it’s on your mind, and I know you’re hurting, but we will figure this out together,” Ryan recalled writing in an email to PwC employees. Ryan and his team then began collecting data from partners across the country.

“What we were hearing from our people is that they were coming to work and they didn’t know how to behave, they didn’t know what to share,” Ryan said.

Ryan said PwC had been recognized for its mission of promoting diversity, but they were not where they needed to be.

“[We were] missing what I call a foundation, and the foundation was, that we hadn’t created a culture where people could really talk about how they feel and that’s when I partnered with Ron [Parker],” he said.

“We decided that on July 21, 2016, we would have our first day of discussion about race,” Ryan said. “We knew it was a risk, especially with a new CEO it was risky, but I felt it needed to be done and we had enough data points and so we did it and it ended up being a huge success.”

Ryan shared stories he learned during the sessions where race was discussed.

“I did the first session in Atlanta that day and I learned so much of what it was like to be a black professional who was teaching their young children how to get pulled over, which to most of our white professionals was completely foreign,” Ryan said.

He said later that week he ran a session in New York where one professional said he dresses up in a suit every day because it makes him feel safer.

“’When I take my jacket and shirt off, have one my tee, jeans and lid on, I don’t feel safe walking through the park to softball past the cars because I feel judged,’” Ryan recalled the man saying.

“We would never understand that if we didn’t create a culture of understanding.”

Parker said in corporate America, race as a topic of discussion is virtually unheard of.

“[Ryan] is being modest, in the world of the private sector, CEOs would not even venture close to having and doing what he did, not without putting points on the board with data. Tt may turn against you,” Parker said.

Parker continued to praise Ryan.

“He decided from his core values ‘This is something I have to do,’” Parker said.

Ryan said this was beneficial to the company on many levels.

“We wanted to pull everyone along, we shouldn’t be competing on diversity and inclusion, because it’s the biggest social opportunity we have in front of us,” Ryan said.

Both said they received mixed reactions from other companies but were lauded for their efforts for the most part.

“It created an interesting dynamic because a lot of black professionals and CEO’s were the one’s most uncomfortable talking about it,” Parker said.

Photo By Sam Combest / The Louisville Cardinal