University of Southern California

Conference Helps Undergraduates Identify Building Blocks for Career Success
USC Marshall Students Encouraged to Develop Leadership Skills and Draw on Benefits of Diversity
January 8, 2010 • by Melanie Ciolek and Dia Turner

Ask most people what Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Mother Teresa have in common, and they might find it difficult to come up with an answer. But as business and accounting students at the first annual Ernst & Young Career & Leadership Impact Conference recently heard, good leaders come in all different forms and can possess a variety of qualities that define their brand of leadership.

Identifying different leadership characteristics and looking at how they relate to their personal strengths and weaknesses were just some of the lessons students who attended the conference learned about achieving success in the working world.

Held over three nights from November 10-12 at the Davidson Conference Center and the Radisson Hotel, undergraduate students from the USC Marshall School of Business and Leventhal School of Accounting had the opportunity to hear firsthand about some of the key building blocks that will help them launch successful careers. The conference was held in partnership with four of Marshall’s dynamic multicultural student groups: the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA), the Black Business Student Association, the Latino Business Student Association, and the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA).

Each night of the conference focused on different qualities that will help the students to succeed in their careers, from managing skill development to strengthening leadership abilities to appreciating the value of diversity. More than 75 students attended the conference, with over 50 attending multiple sessions.

The first evening opened with a welcome from USC Leventhal School Dean Randolph Beatty. Discussion focused on the importance of personal branding, making a good first impression, and learning how to give the right emphasis to your strengths and weaknesses. Guest speakers from Ernst & Young and group exercises helped to illustrate these points.

Leadership was the focus of the second night, with emphasis on the reality that leaders come in different packages, but that good leaders know their strengths and weaknesses and know where they need support.

Mike Bertolino, a tax partner with Ernst & Young and a 25-year employee of the firm, shared some of the wisdom about leadership he has learned over the course of his career. In an engaging talk, Bertolino stressed that the lessons of being a good leader, such as knowing how and when to give criticism, maintaining good relationships, and knowing how to constructively manage conflict on the path toward change, are ones that continue to apply throughout the various stages of a career. Learning how to recognize your own weaknesses and mistakes will be one of the hardest things to do as a leader, Bertolino noted. Asked how he might deliver criticism to a colleague without showing anger, Bertolino stated he would walk through how the issue should be handled and ask questions to make sure they receive the message, but noted "the most important thing is to build affinity and connections" with those you work with.

During a leadership exercise, students were presented with a range of notable personalities (including Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Mother Teresa, and Arnold Schwarzenegger) and asked to consider who they viewed as leaders and why. The exercise emphasized that all the figures had considered diversity in society and had different points of view and ways of approaching problems. Depending on whether the challenge required a person to be trustworthy, an effective communicator, a good crisis manager, or a skilled delegator, students were shown that their brand of leadership will likely include all of these characteristics but will still be unique.

A leadership panel with representatives from Ernst & Young and campus organizations rounded out the evening. Students in attendance, including Brooks Horn ('11) and Victoria Lam ('11), said that hearing from the different speakers and the opportunity for networking were the most rewarding aspects of the conference for them. Horn commented that "Seeing a charismatic person like [Mike Bertolino] and meeting someone in his position" was one of the most interesting aspects of the conference for him.

The final night of the conference began with a welcome from USC Marshall Dean James G. Ellis and focused on the impact that diversity of background and experience can bring to a career. Guest speakers and exercises focused on preparing the students to join a global workforce, building real relationships with people of differing experiences and viewpoints, and appreciating the differences that each person brings to the university.

During a sit-down dinner, students were paired with Ernst & Young employees, including partners, many of whom were USC alumni, which provided an intimate format where they could share their journey, network and answer questions.

"We are really looking to partner with USC in a major way," said Carlos Gutierrez, Jr., Ernst & Young partner and Pacific Southwest campus recruiting leader, "we see from past experience the quality candidates USC turns out, and we want to show them our door is open."

Conference organizers said they hoped the event helped USC students to "effectively prepare for their careers, sharpen their leadership skills, and appreciate the value of their unique diversity."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.