Pascal Desroches describes his path from Haitian immigrant to CFO at the world’s biggest telecom company

Good morning,

“I was born in Haiti, and my parents immigrated to the U.S. when I was five-year-old,” Pascal Desroches, senior executive vice president and CFO of AT&T, told me. In their late 30s with four kids, his parents were in search of better opportunities for their children, Desroches says. Today, he is the finance chief at the biggest telecom company in the world.

Desroches grew up in Queens, N.Y. His parents were strict about one thing—education, he says. While his older brother pursued medicine, his sister, law, and his younger brother, engineering, “I just wanted to do something different,” Desroches says. A family friend was a CPA and made a nice living, so he went in that direction. 

AT&T CFO Pascal Desroches.
Courtesy of AT&T

He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from St. John’s University, then began a 12-year tenure at KPMG. Just before he was promoted to partner, he was granted a fellowship to serve as a senior adviser to the chief accountant of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. During his time at KPMG, he earned an MBA from Columbia Business School. Desroches’ next step was joining Time Warner Inc., where he became SVP and controller. He then took on the job as CFO at Turner. Next, CFO at WarnerMedia. In April 2021, he began his tenure as AT&T’s finance chief.

Research published in January by Crist Kolder Associates analyzed the ethnic and racial diversity of CFOs at Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies (678 sitting CFOs). Between 2020 and 2021, the number of companies with Black CFOs increased from 12 to 20. That is an all-time high, according to the report. As a CFO with more than 30 years of finance experience, it’s safe to say Desroches has helped pave the way for other Black executives.

I asked him if mentors and sponsors were vital in his career, “Without a doubt,” he told me. “No one gets there by themselves. It is a combination of opportunity meeting preparation.” He joined Time Warner, Inc. in 2001, shortly after the merger with AOL. Dick Parsons, CEO of Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) from 2002 to 2007, was one of his many mentors, Desroches says. Parsons was one of the first Black men to lead a Fortune 500 company.

“Over the years, I’ve been really fortunate to have really good and talented people take an interest in helping me along my journey,” he says. “I’ve mentored people of color because I understand how lonely it could be, especially as you elevate yourself to improve the organization.” As AT&T works to increase diversity in senior leadership roles, it offers development programs for employees including the Executive Black Leadership Experience, Executive Women’s Leadership Experience, Lift and Connect, Women of Color Initiative, and Executive LatinX Leadership Experience, according to the company.

His advice: “You have to believe in yourself,” he says. “Get out of your comfort zone, learn new skills, and expose yourself to different areas of the business.” He chose his brother, Reginald Desroches, as an example. “Twenty years ago, he declared to me, ‘I’m going to be a university president,'” Desroches says. “He’s just been named the next president of Rice University.”

I asked Desroches about his first year as AT&T’s CFO. “Even though I grew up in the media business, I am staying in the connectivity business,” he told me. The company is now in the second year of a transformation process, he says. AT&T is going back to its telecommunications roots. For example, the company completed a DirecTV spinoff in the Q3 of 2021. Also a spinoff of WarnerMedia for a merger with Discovery, Inc., is expected to close in the second quarter of 2022.

As AT&T refocuses on connectivity, Desroches told me he feels strongly that a renewed investment in telecom networks will support underserved communities. Last year, the company made a three-year, $2 billion commitment to address the digital divide, including low-cost broadband offerings. 

“There is no opportunity without access,” Desroches says. “Access opens the door to equity. Equity is how we realize equality for all.”

See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada

Big deal

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