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Deloitte COO Joins Accounting Students in Class

Echevarria and KahnSchool of Business alumnus Joseph J. Echevarria, Jr. (BBA ’78), a self-described “latchkey kid from the Bronx” who rose to become the U.S. managing partner and chief operating officer of global accounting giant Deloitte LLP, returned to his academic roots on February 17 when he sat in on an undergraduate accounting class. Echevarria, who was on campus as a School of Business Executive In Residence, participated in Professor Dhananjay Nanda’s Cost Accounting class discussion of the case study of Owens & Minor, a medical supply company.

Through reading and discussing the case study, the class learned about the roles of a distributor, overhead fees, keeping up with technology, different ways of pricing, effects of pricing decisions on the business, implementing and impact. While Owens & Minor was not able to sell the concept of activity-based pricing to the health care system, it has become one of the most successful service providers in the industry by consulting for health care businesses and creating technology that keeps medical treatment centers moving efficiently.

“The class participation was impressive,” Echevarria said, “Professor Nanda kept all the students engaged in discussion for the duration of the class. It’s much different than the lectures as I remember them when I was a student thirty-something years ago.”

That afternoon, Echevarria gave an extremely engaging presentation to a large audience of students, faculty and staff. His talk was not about accounting, nor was much of it about his career. Instead, he talked about growing up as a “latchkey kid” of Puerto Rican descent in the Bronx, one of the boroughs of New York City. Why did he do this? Because, he said, his childhood was the foundation for his career and “when you speak with people, you need to know their personal filter.”

Echevarria grew up with a mother who worked two jobs. That meant that when he got home he found his dinner wrapped in aluminum foil with the instructions “heat and eat.” But that also meant “I was free until 11:00 p.m. when she came home,” he said, “so I got a job.” That first job could be called nothing other than “entry level”: working in a gas station for 50 cents an hour. But Echevarria was nothing if not observant; he noted one customer who drove a Cadillac El Dorado and obviously made a lot of money. “What does he do?” he asked. “He’s an accountant,” was the reply. “Right then and there, I decided I wanted to be an accountant,” he laughed. That was the unlikely beginning of a career in which he became the highest-ranking Hispanic executive at any professional services firm in the world.

Echevarria offered the audience his four keys to a good life and a successful career, which he believes are inextricably intertwined:

  1. Passion is the foundation of success. “Passion and effort compensate for a lot of things you may lack. What distinguishes you from other people are passion and commitment.”
  2. Make smart choices. That means thinking about the long-term impact. “The choices you make shape your outcome.”
  3. Be a people person. “How you treat people matters. It also affects your ability to be a leader. What defines leadership is how many people are willing to follow you.”
  4. Be original. “Try to be different in some context so you will stand out, so other people will see you.”

As might be expected, Echevarria had opinions about the cause of the current global economic crisis, and his commentary was blunt: “We loaned money to people who didn’t have the ability to pay it back. And we put trust in people who didn’t deserve it.”

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