Brandon Bridwell, the new Managing Director of EY's Portland office, is tasked with bringing culture to the office — not just the rather plain space in the Brewery Blocks that hosts 132 people who work for the giant accounting and management consultant firm.
The London-based Ernst & Young, as it used to be known, has approximately 247,000 staff throughout 150 countries and Bridwell has to catalyze a culture in the company that will make the dull-but-reliable firm top-of-mind with companies that are trying to transform themselves in the digital age. The company is used to staying abreast of tax law and performing audits, but EY has been expanding its consulting practice, and digital transformation is a key term at EY right now.
EY took Royal Caribbean Cruises and applied digital first thinking to its business to drive growth and attract younger customers. Cruisers are basically mobile hotel guests who require round the clock entertainment. Going digital enabled them to interact more fully with the cruise experience. There was an app so they could explore the cruise before and after going on it, and goods and services were easy to book.
Part of making EY sexy is their January 2018 acquisition of strategic innovation, design and digital consultancy Citizen, which will maintain its office in Northwest Portland.
In 10 years at EY, his strength has been "leading global service teams to deliver the full scope of EY services, solutions and insights to some of the most high-profile consumer products and retail clients in Oregon and around the world." Now his official job is to "develop strong relationships with the community, government, and business leaders across Oregon and Southern Washington."
The slogan "build a better working world" was on Bridwell's lips frequently as he talks to the Business Tribune shortly after taking up his new position. Answers have been edited for clarity.
Business Tribune: What does EY do?
Brandon Bridwell: We're one of the largest global consulting firms. Historically people know EY from a tax and audit perspective, but we've invested in expanding our consulting practice. We're in every country, and a lot of our clients we serve from a global perspective, like large global consumer products or retail companies. We focus on their strategy and initiatives and assemble teams and coordinate from there.
BT: Which brands?
BB: I can't really speak to clients specifically but I imagine most of the brands in the Northwest, consumer, retail, technology, energy, life sciences…those areas, we've probably one way or another touched the majority of them.
BT: So, it's not just accounting?
BB: Our traditional service is being their auditor, their strategic tax adviser, helping them look around corner what's coming down with taxes. Then we get into advisory and our consulting business, and we've been expanding in our digital side.
BT: What is digital transformation? In the Royal Caribbean Cruises case study, it sounds like protection for businesses being left in the dust by disruption.
BB: Digital transformation includes robotics, analytics, artificial intelligence and cyber security. A lot of the companies are trying to figure out in finance, sales, distribution, how to implement strategies around these fields. We help them with end-to-end strategy, or with specific pieces around managing risk. So, if someone wants to implement a cyber security program and a vendor risk assessment, we can help them with that. Some might be looking at robotics, and looking to a proof of concept, and we will help them with that. And once they have proofed that concept, that's when we start scaling. It could be here, could be in another country. We just acquired Citizen, a digital strategy and user experience company. They have a cool studio in Northwest Portland and will keep it there and will join in nationally.
BT: What's driving EY's growth in the Pacific Northwest?
BB: A lot of it is the changing consumer. The biggest challenge I see is the consumer is changing dramatically. Companies in past have been able to sell services wholesale, or direct to consumers in retail. Now it's all about the consumer being able to access what they need anytime, anywhere."
BT: How do you respond to that?
BB: The cyber risk with all that data is across all industries. That's an area we're focused on, cyber risk. If someone is rolling out new technology across a corporation globally, we'll bring in some best practices of how it's done. My philosophy is don't go out to any company and try to sell them something. You need to understand what they're trying to accomplish, and how can it be relevant to protecting their business, optimizing their business and growing their business.
BT: Do you work with small businesses and startups?
BB: Yes, in fact the regional Entrepreneur of the Year gala in Seattle on June 15 will feature more Portland startups than ever. There's a lot of innovation here. They have very specific needs, and as they grow they have broader needs around finance, tax and automation. When you're small, you don't have a lot of money but you need advice to set the stage for future and that's where we come in.
BT: Do you take an equity stake?
BB: No. We meet to understand their focus and what their needs are, and if it makes sense to help them out. If they wanted to engage us and have the resources, we would. If not, we'd stay by their side to continue their relationship. We work with private equity firms quite a bit. We have large networks, we can help with their networking. The more you invest early on in a relationship, the more you get down the road. With a small company we're not there to sell them something, we're there to advise them and sometimes that takes investment up front of time to understand each other. We don't go in the door to try to sell them something immediately. That's not our style.
BT: Will you be building a better working world the Portland way, with dogs under the desks and kombucha on tap?
BB: We're trying to understand how we can build a better working world, by being an inclusive office, having everyone be involved and have a voice, that'll bring energy in and be transparent to our clients. EY has already gone to jeans, for the entire firm around the world. The Citizen office has dogs at work, that's new for EY too!
BT: What's your network like?
BB: I have been in the Portland business community for a number of years and my network is pretty extensive, from professional service firms and leaders and executives at all the companies locally. It gives me opportunities to connect them to startups who are maybe trying to meet mentors and get advice out of firms like ours. One of my strengths, why EY brought me into a role like this, was to focus on expanding our relationships. My network in Portland is deep, and at EY it's extensive: Globally, I've got a deep network in China and over in Europe. That's resources I can bring our clients.
BT: How would you describe your management style?
BB: Open communication management style. I don't believe in managing at all, I believe in leading and inspiring.
BT: What do you tell your kids about the changing job market?
BB: My daughter is at Cal Poly, she's a business major with concentration in accounting and an art minor. But I'm seeing analytics and data science everywhere. My son is going to University of Montana, a business major too. I wonder how I help them navigate that but let them make decisions? I hope I can inform them, because this is where the future will be.
BT: What jobs are in danger of disappearing because of automation?
BB: Nothing's in danger, it's going to change. When you automate, you have an opportunity to transfer those skill sets to do something of a higher value. It's not just take out talent. If there's something we can automate and have a person doing something of a higher value add, something thoughtful, we're going to be much more successful. Sometimes you're fighting for your internal talent to skill up.
BT: Where will networkers find you hanging out?
BB: It used to be the sports field in Lake O, with my son playing baseball, or out with friends at restaurants. In Portland, Bamboo sushi, and you'll find me at Starbucks (by the Armory) quite a lot.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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