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Deloitte & Touche USA Chairman Sharon Allen Addresses Much More Than “Numbers” at Stern’s CEO Series

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On March 27, 2007, Sharon Allen, chairman of the board at Deloitte & Touche USA, discussed employee retention, her management style, and Sarbanes-Oxley’s affect on the auditing profession and boards of directors at Stern’s CEO Series. Ms. Allen was interviewed by Paul Maidment, executive editor at Forbes magazine and editor of Forbes.com.

In front of an audience of MBA and undergraduate students, as well as alumni, Ms. Allen discussed her upbringing in a small town outside of Boise, Idaho. She believes her management style is reflective of the good values and fair judgment she learned on her parents’ farm, values that she says contributed to her professional success. During her more than 30-year career at Deloitte, Ms. Allen had many firsts – she was the first woman hired as an auditor at the firm’s Boise, Idaho, practice, and in 2003, she became the first woman elected as board chairman, and the highest-ranking woman in the organization’s history.

As chairman, Ms. Allen sees employee retention as a key priority for Deloitte. And as a woman, she understands that creating flexible work programs for the firm’s working mothers will help to assure that the firm retains its top talent. New technologies, such as e-mail, cell phones, webcams, among others, have helped to make this possible. In fact, Ms. Allen’s executive assistant works in the Portland, Oregon office, while Ms. Allen’s home base is in L.A. Other programs aimed at recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce are also giving Deloitte an edge in today’s competitive market.

Since the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), the auditing profession has changed quite a bit, and so has the role of boards of directors. For companies, the instances of earnings restatements have gone down. According to Ms. Allen, many of her clients, who found SOX costly and difficult to implement at first, are recognizing the benefits today and are more confident with their companies’ disclosures. On whether the integrity of boards has improved, Ms. Allen said that it would be easy to say “yes” because boardroom processes have changed as a result of SOX, but they may have changed on their own because of scandals, such as Enron and WorldCom. While the boards she has served on have always acted as fiduciaries, she does think that SOX has helped keep people more focused on doing the right thing.

Following the interview, Ms. Allen spoke with undergraduate students who recently received offers at Deloitte, and other students and alumni at a small reception.

View the Sharon Allen CEO Series in its entirety.