FSB alum finds purpose along path to becoming CEO

Cindy Hook during her virtual talk

When Cindy Hook joined Deloitte after graduating from the Farmer School and Miami University in 1986, she intended to stay for two years in order to become a certified public accountant, and then move on. 34 years later, she’s gone far beyond being a CPA, leading Deloitte Asia Pacific as CEO in Singapore. “I have to tell you, I would have had no idea, when I graduated from Miami, that this is where I'd end up,” she remarked. “So I guess I'd say you just never know, when you're coming out of university, where your life or your career might take you.”

Hook took part in the Farmer School of Business Executive Speaker Series event to talk about her career and her ideas about how to lead with a global mindset. She centered her thoughts on three ideas, the first of which involved the ever-growing global reach of business. Hook said that one important idea was being open-minded – both personally and in deciding whom you team with in business.

“I consciously decided that I'm going to take a broader view of the world. And I think when I look back at the decisions I've made in my career and the values that have shaped and led me down this path, it is about having a very open mind that has been a foundation for my success,” she explained, noting that she made what some considered a bad career move by moving from San Francisco to a smaller business market in Australia. “But actually, I was able to do things in Sydney that I wouldn't have been able to do in the United States.”

Hook said that being open-minded about other cultures and embracing the differences will make an impact. “Even if you choose never to leave the U.S., the workforce that you're going to be part of is going to be increasingly multicultural. And so even if you stay in the U.S., having an open mind and seeking to understand the values and unique cultural backgrounds is really, really an important thing,” she said.

The second idea she impressed upon the event’s audience was the importance of being purpose-driven. “I've always been driven and loved a new challenge and trying new things, but I honestly was never very intentional about my purpose,” Hook said. She recalled that when she was considering applying for the CEO role in Australia, a career coach suggested she consider discovering her own purpose.

“It was very rewarding and now it centers me. I can tell you my purpose is clear in my mind and it's to be a leader of leaders. At Deloitte, the only asset we have, and what we sell every day, is the intellectual capital of our people and their ability to bring their intellect to solve complex issues for our clients,” Hook remarked. “So my goal is to create a firm full of incredible leaders to inspire young students to be the best that they can be and reach their true potential. Because it's only with that kind of talent and leadership that Deloitte is going to thrive as a business.”

Her third idea was the importance of people playing to their own strengths. “It’s not just playing to your strength, but it's also understanding and being comfortable with the areas of weakness,” Hook explained, relating the story of how she was asked to suddenly step into a more senior role that required information and experience she didn’t have yet. “After I settled myself down, I said, ‘All right, you just need to find the best (people for) all of those things that you don't know about and you aren't expert at. When you're in a new role or a new situation, you can't rely on your own personal experience and knowledge. You actually have to rely on others, ask a lot of questions, listen, and take input before you make decisions,” she said. “That's kind of shaped the way I work since then, which is really recognizing where I'm not the best and bringing someone else who is the best in a given area onto my team and empowering them to take me there.”

Hook answered a variety of questions from event attendees during her talk:

  • Advice for a senior on what to do between now and graduation to prepare for work: “I would spend your time enjoying the rest of your senior year, taking some time off. Because once you go to work, it will be pretty intense. Once you get into whichever firm you've chosen, build connections, try new things, learn every day.”
  • Advice for a woman entering a traditionally male-dominated field: “This is my number one piece of career advice as a woman -- pick a great life partner. I picked my husband and never in our whole marriage was his career more important than mine. We shared everything at home 50-50. This guy has moved twice around the world for my career. Those were choices that were made jointly. And oftentimes I think the biggest challenge for some women comes at home with a partner that thinks that their career comes first. So pick a good spouse or significant other.”
  • Should students be concerned about graduating into a COVID-impacted business world? “Six months ago, I was really worried for you. I am way less worried now. Even in the U.S., most major corporations thought that the negative impact was going to be worse than it's been on their businesses. I'm not saying it's going to be great, but I think it's not going to be as bad as they expected. You're still going to have to put yourself out there. You're going to have to work hard to get jobs. You're going to have to look more, you're going to have to be creative, but I don't think you're going to be walking into a situation where there's simply no jobs for you.”
  • Advice for a first-year student: “You're going to have so much fun. What I say is, your college years are a coming of age. If I looked back, I would have done more things. I had a great time. I had great friends, but I would have tried to experience more things, whether it was academically or organizations I joined. I just would've brought more into my experience while I was there and seized more opportunities.”

Ultimately, Hook said, graduates having a passion for their career path will go a long way to their success. “I seek to have people that have that skill and capability, but the real sweet sauce is when those people are passionate about what they do when they're engaged. They're going to give that little bit of discretionary effort, that extra bit of thinking, that little bit more creativity. So it feeds our business and it just makes it a great place for everybody to work,” she explained. “The thing is, I'm not just teaching our young people, I'm learning from them as much as they're learning from me.”