Deborah L. Byers
Managing Partner, Houston, Ernst & Young LLP
What you’d be surprised to learn about me
I am a science fiction fan. I have been since second grade when I read Tunnel Through Time.
My Greatest Strength
My greatest strength is problem-solving, coupled with the conviction that we can solve problems. I’ve always been a real optimist. No matter how hard the issue is, it can be solved.
Who Inspires Me
My mentor, Marcela Donadio, who recently retired. It was a bittersweet moment. She was the first woman partner in the Ernst & Young LLP Houston office. The way she conducted herself had a huge impact on me. She has a very positive, can-do attitude. She doesn’t worry about politics—she thinks about people.
The Model Minority Myth
There’s a bias that you’re very good with numbers. This may seem like a good thing, but it may mean you’re viewed as more of a technician than an executive. Our cultural tendency toward being deferential and not speaking up tends to reinforce the stereotype. This can limit upward mobility.
Right before I was promoted to partner, I was doing everything I needed to do, and yet there was a concern about my executive ability. Someone asked me if I would be able to go toe-to-toe with the senior partners in the firm and clients in the boardroom. I was very grateful to get that direct feedback, because I had no idea about that perception. It was a critical learning moment for me.
I went to the leadership team and said, “I’m going to be a partner in the Big Four. If you don’t believe in me, I’m leaving and going somewhere else.” It demonstrated exactly the traits they thought I was missing.
Thankfully, our culture has evolved and there is a greater understanding that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all leadership template. Many different styles can be and are effective.
My Best Career Advice
Don’t look too far into the future. You want to have long-term goals, but you need to focus on the task at hand and do it to the best of your ability. If you’re always looking to the next goal, you lose your way and don’t get as much from the journey.
My Favorite Quote
There’s an ancient Latin proverb: “If there’s no wind, row.” It personifies my attitude that things are not going to always fall in your favor. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes there’s no wind at your back, and sometimes there’s a headwind. When there’s no wind, there’s nothing to do but buckle down and work hard.