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Power Sheet – April 13, 2016

April 13, 2016, 2:39 PM UTC

I caught up yesterday with Tim Ryan just a few hours after he learned he’d been elected PricewaterhouseCooper’s new U.S. chairman. He was at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, recruiting – “one of my passions,” he says. Top leaders of big organizations are usually groomed or hired for the job, but it’s done differently at most of the big professional services firms. Ryan’s U.S. partners had two weeks to vote from a slate of candidates chosen by a committee of the board. The outcome wasn’t known until yesterday morning. Suddenly Ryan is the new leader, taking up the job July 1.

I asked him about leaders he admired. One was his mother, and before you roll your eyes, understand that he has a surprisingly clear reason, which you can read about here. Another was the manager of a supermarket where he worked through his high school years growing up in Dedham, Massachusetts, and through college at Babson and even for his first two years at PwC. “I was making fun of a boy behind his back,” he recalls. “The store manager, Richie Ordway, called me in and said, ‘He’s giving you 100% of what he’s capable of giving you. What more do you want?’ That taught me more about leadership than anything else could have.” One of the lessons Ryan drew from the experience: “The best leaders set you up to give 100% of what you can give.”

Ryan, 50, sees that as one of his main jobs now, for a hard-headed business reason. PwC will recruit some 11,000 U.S. graduates this year for permanent and intern positions, and it’s in ferocious competition with Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and other employers to get the best. “My single biggest responsibility is to give our people the same unimaginable opportunities that my partners and I have had in our careers,” he says. “For that reason we have to respond to their needs – flexible work arrangements, technological advancement so they’re always on the leading edge of technology, continuing to invest in their development.” Enabling them to give all they can give helps attract the best young people.

Ryan knows he may well have to lead a change in the accounting and consulting business model, which is over a century old. “The traditional rate per hour model will be changed, and we welcome that,” he says. The new model may go beyond the pay-for-results model taking hold in many industries. “I see growth in solving problems through eco-systems,” he says. “Look at big societal problems – cyber, food safety. We could lead an eco-system to solve those. If we’re going to stay relevant, we need to be one of the leading forces.”

All the issues Ryan foresees are important ones for most business leaders. And his job includes an unusual feature that offers an instructive insight for others: He faces an end date, July 1, 2020. He can run for re-election, but knowing exactly when he’ll be formally judged by his peers imposes a discipline that would help virtually all leaders do their jobs.

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