Please welcome Jason onto our stage, and immerse yourself in his story—soak up his passion, determination, and wisdom.
I quickly ripped off my suit and tie in the bathroom of UCLA’s Career Center. I knew that my intramural basketball team was counting on me, and I had to change and get to the courts across campus in less than seven minutes. As I rushed out of the bathroom and down the hallway, I almost ran over the woman who had spent the last hour interviewing me. She had come out of the interview room to get some water and was shocked to see me in a T-shirt and shorts, because only three minutes ago, I was in my one and only blue suit, trying to impress her in my first-ever professional interview. I sheepishly grinned and mentioned that it was the semi-finals and kept on running.
I was extremely disappointed that I had ruined my first grown-up interview. It was the middle of my junior year at UCLA and the Big 6 (now Big 4) accounting firms were on campus interviewing applicants for summer internships. My top choice was Deloitte and Touche, but I knew that they only took two UCLA students out of the sixty that applied. I felt the interview went pretty well—it was more of a conversation than an inquisition—but running over the recruiter had to count against me. I was already on the fence, I felt, by having a 3.4 GPA compared to the 4.0s that were interviewing alongside me. Regardless, I still wanted it. I had never left an interview without getting the job. Of course, these other jobs were fast food and UCLA student store positions, but I had a perfect track record, one I was afraid was about to be broken.
The next morning at 7:00 a.m., my phone rang. I had learned by my junior year not to take any classes before noon, so this startled me. I groggily grabbed the receiver and barked out an annoyed, “hello.” “Jason, it’s Mary, the recruiter at Deloitte. I wanted to get in touch with you immediately to let you know that you are our top candidate for the summer internship. Can you come down to the office next week to meet a few more people? If all goes well, I want to extend you an offer for a summer internship.”
It took me a minute to process this information, but eventually a smile came across my face. I had learned, in this moment, a lesson that would repeat itself over and over in my career: Charisma goes further than talent. I was definitely not the best accountant who applied for the position, but my interpersonal skills, my ability to communicate, and maybe even my loyalty to my basketball team proved to Deloitte that I was someone they wanted to put in front of their clients. Deloitte already knew what I found out that day: Accounting could be taught, charisma could not.
I enjoyed my summer internship and learned a lot about the business world. I accepted a full-time offer shortly after that summer and was able to relax during my senior year. Okay, maybe not relax, but it was one less headache. I spent the end of my senior year preparing for the CPA exam. The CPA exam is a 2-day, 16-hour, gut-wrencher that less than 8 percent of the test-takers pass. I enjoyed learning from my UCLA professors about the strategies to pass the exam and really put my mind to studying for it. I took the test at the end of my college career and got the news that summer that I had passed it in full. I was excited, but it was expected. Everyone who knew me, knew that I would pass. Even my professors had no doubt that I would be successful. I was the only one who appeared to be unsure. That is when I realized my next lesson in business (and life): The price of potential is the burden of expectation. Throughout my career, everyone has expected me to succeed with every chance I took, so I never really exceeded anyone’s expectations. My success was always the expected, the norm, the given. I guess for most people, this is a compliment.
I started at Deloitte as a bright-eyed staff accountant ready to change the world. It was only a few weeks into the job that I realized that a hundred-thousand person company had more bureaucracy than I could handle. While I enjoyed doing audits of different companies in an array of industries, I didn’t appreciate taking orders from senior accountants who were my bosses only because they were a year older than I was. I learned that in large companies there is an “up or out” mentality that you can’t get away from. My partner-advisor was a bright woman whom I really respected, and she laid it out for me: “The D and F students get fired; the A and B students move on to do bigger, better things; the C students hang around and keep getting promoted until they eventually make partner.” This was not for me.
I knew that I wanted my CPA designation, and a requirement of getting that certificate was that I work at an accounting firm for two years. Knowing that my hands were tied for a while, I made the best of my situation. I spent one year in tax and one year in audit, learning anything and everything I could about the business world. I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up, but I wanted to know what my options were. Deloitte was very flexible in giving me the clients that I wanted, but they couldn’t fix the fact that some of my seniors were not people from whom I could learn.
Very quickly, Jason determined that Deloitte was not the Right Fit for the long term, and that he could not fix the fit. It’s remarkable that at age twenty-three, Jason figured out exactly what did not meet his needs and standards. Let’s see what Jason decided to do next.