When Deloitte begins the new financial year from 1 June 2015, the 170-year- old professional services firm, which is also the world’s largest in terms of revenue and number of professionals, will have a person of Indian origin – Punit Renjen – as its global chief executive officer, for the first time in its history. Renjen, 52, will also be the first person of Indian origin to head global business of one of the Big 4 consulting firms – Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG. (Though earlier Mumbai-born Jamshed ‘Jim’ Wadia was the CEO of Arthur Anderson from 1997 to 2000)
Born in a business family from Lahore in undivided India, Renjen’s family moved to Rohtak after the partition in 1947. At age 7, Renjen was sent to a boarding school, the prestigious, The Lawrence School in Sanawar, Himachal Pradesh.
But, at age 14 he was called back from the boarding school when his father’s business was on a decline. In the following years, post school hours Renjen worked as a dye operator in his father’s factory before attending a local college where he attained a degree in economics. Armed with the economics degree, Renjen chanced upon a job advertisement in a newspaper and got a job at Usha International, a home appliances manufacturer.
But, it was a Rotary Foundation scholarship that he won in 1984 that took Renjen to the US. He joined Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management in Salem, Oregon, and graduated with honours in management. Renjen always describes the scholarship which covered air fare, studies and housing as very generous; one that gave him his big break. He is now on the board of trustees of Willamette University.
How he got his job at Deloitte is another interesting story which began at the Willamette University in 1987. A local magazine had profiled 10 best students in the university, which included
* Renjen. The magazine was picked up by a Touche Ross, USA, (now Deloitte & Touche) partner in an aeroplane, who then asked his assistant to track down Renjen.
His assistant called Renjen to ask him to come for an interview. Renjen was happy to go but enquired if the company could reimburse his travel expense for the interview. After 15 rounds of interviews, Renjen says, he had a job offer from Touche Ross with $37,000 annual compensation. He accepted the offer, but, he had little idea what consulting was. Looking back at it now, Renjen says, “If someone had asked me when I was 21-22, do you want to be a consultant? I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question, because, I had no clue.” In 1989, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, USA, merged with Touche Ross, USA, to form Deloitte & Touche, and which now, after several mergers, is just Deloitte.
After working for 7-8 years in Deloitte, Renjen felt he was burnt out and wanted to take a sabbatical when a large re-engineering project was offered to him. He immediately regretted the decision to take the sabbatical. But, he didn’t have to regret it for long because it was during this sabbatical that he met his wife, Heather. And Renjen goes on to say that he would have never met his wife had he not taken that sabbatical. He calls it a profound turning point in his life.
Renjen’s rise from an analyst to partner, then to the chairman and CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP in 2008, chairman of Deloitte LLP (US business of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu) in June 2011 – and now, CEO of Deloitte Global has been built on one core skill: mergers and acquisitions. “I’m really good at M&A because I’ve spent more than 10,000 hours perfecting the craft,” says Renjen in a video interview recorded this- month before he was announced as global CEO. “I love what I do. But, I didn’t start out doing this.”
According to Renjen, there are a small groupof people who know exactly what they want to do and they’re blessed. But, most people fall under the category of those who do not know what they want to do. Renjen claims he belongs to this latter category who didn’t know what they wanted to do. “But I found myself a career and taught myself to love it,” says Renjen. “And so now it comes easy. It’s not a job. I view it as my life’s work.”
Renjen shares how he became really good at what he does, which also gives insights into the culture at Deloitte. According to Renjen, it was because of a partner at Deloitte’s Dallas office who took him under his wing that he was able to master the craft. “You never make it by yourself. You always need others to help you. Mentorship is incredibly important,” says Renjen. “It is important for us to teach the craft to the next generation of individuals, so that we can pass on the skills that we have learnt on the job and off the job.”
During his tenure as CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP, US, which began after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the consulting practice experienced tremendous growth despite an ongoing recession, helping Deloitte Consulting LLP become one of the largest consulting providers according to leading analysts’ rankings. Of course, it helped that Deloitte managed to ward off pressure from SEC to spin off its consulting business, though KPMG and PwC spun theirs off. Of course, since then the tide has turned again and US policymakers have allowed the accounting firms to build back their consulting practice.For Deloitte, Renjen says, it made no difference that he was from India or that he looked different than everybody else. Deloitte hires the best people, and through mentorship and apprenticeship creates leaders. “We’ve started measuring mentorship by taking feedback about mentors,” says Renjen. “If you’re a partner-director in this firm, you better be a really good mentor. If you’re not a really good mentor then you will not remain partner-director for long.”
Renjen sets pretty high goals for himself, which are usually higher than what most other people set for him. And he says he’s very driven to achieve them. “When I left India I knew I was going to make a life for myself and do whatever I could possibly do to succeed by working hard,” says Renjen. “But this job has not just changed my life, but, even my family’s life.”
When asked what the tipping point in his life was, Renjen says, “Being proficient at what I do has
been the driving force for me all along. Because I came from an underprivileged background to the United States can be a tipping point.”
On 1 June 2015, Renjen will move from his current role as chairman of the Board, Deloitte US member firm, take charge as the global CEO of Deloitte, though he will continue to be based in New York and lead the Deloitte network’s operating in 150 countries, and employing more than 210,000 people worldwide.
“We are an organisation led by a purpose – to make a positive, meaningful impact that matters to everyone Deloitte touches,” says Renjen post the announcement of his promotion to head Deloitte global. “I will do my best to serve the network by helping enable our leaders and people to fulfil their passion to make a difference.”
Renjen succeeds Barry Salzberg after a rigorous and comprehensive nomination and member firm partner ratification process that occurs every four years and includes all member firms of the Deloitte worldwide network. “Punit’s experience as chairman of our US firm – the largest and most complex in our network – combined with his 28-year career with Deloitte and strong core values – make Punit the perfect choice to lead Deloitte Global,” says Barry Salzberg, the current Deloitte Global CEO.
Renjen believes Deloitte’s member firm structure is a source of great strength. “But the biggest challenge for the magnitude that we have and the number of countries we operate in is to get the best ideas and get them propagated throughout the network as quickly as possible.”
In addition to being chairman of Deloitte LLP, Renjen currently serves as a member of the board of directors of Deloitte Global, and as chairman of the Deloitte Foundation board of directors.
Outside of Deloitte, Punit is a member of the boards of directors at United Way Worldwide and the US-India Business Council.
He tries to maintain balance between personal and professional life with the help of technology, but, at times they conflict. “This is my life’s work. What I do here (at Deloitte) defines me,” says Renjen. “The second thing that will define me is what my 10-year-old son says about me when he becomes a man.”
“There’s no substitute for hard work,” says Renjen as advice to students and new hires. “There’s nobody on planet earth like you. You’re unique. You’ve unique gifts that nobody else has. Why try and be somebody else?”
ROHIT PANCHAL firstname.lastname@example.org