BizTimes Bubbler Executive of the Week: David Gay

David Gay, Milwaukee managing partner of Ernst & Young LLP
Address: 875 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee
Industry: Professional services
Employees (in Milwaukee): Approximately 200
Family: “Married to Jackie, whom I’ve known since age five. We have very spoiled rescue boxers – Hedley and Gunnar.”

What was the smartest thing Ernst & Young’s Milwaukee office did in the past year?
“We increased our local investment across all four of our service lines — advisory, assurance, tax and transactions. This investment was in the form of increased hiring, a focus on developing our people and broadening the set of services we can bring to our clients.”

What’s new at your company?
“Two things come to mind quickly. First, consistent with the investment I noted above, we welcomed five new leaders (partners, principals or executive directors) to our practice earlier this year through a combination of promotions and inbound transfers. This investment in executive-level resources speaks to the commitment we have to Milwaukee and our expanding capabilities.

“Second, at a global level, EY acquired the Parthenon Group last fall. We now work with companies to develop investment strategies across the capital lifecycle, helping them determine when and where to invest. This includes assessing the viability of potential targets. As a result, we are helping Wisconsin-based companies in ways we never have before.”

Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your office in the next year?
“Between internships, campus hires and experienced hires, I would anticipate we’ll bring well over 40 new professionals into our practice over the next 12 months. This is balanced across all of our service lines. We are particularly focused on attracting senior managers in our assurance and tax service lines to help lead our growth and deliver exceptional client service.”  

Looking back on your last several months at the helm of the Milwaukee office, what has been your top accomplishment?
“Instilling a sense of urgency and excitement around our office priorities, the most important of which is our focus on people development. Investing in our people increases our employee engagement and the resulting creativity and impact of services we can bring to our clients.”

What will be Ernst & Young’s main challenges in the next year?
“I mentioned we anticipate bringing in over 40 new professionals, but we can only do this if we identify and attract the right candidates. Our competitors are similarly focused, so we need to leverage the strength of our diverse and inclusive culture and the opportunities we can provide as the fastest-growing Big 4 accounting firm. We’ve been named to Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list for the 17th year, and EY is a top choice for accounting students as ranked by Universum. We have a great story to tell.

“Heightened regulation is also a challenge for our profession. While public accounting is more regulated than it has ever been, helping our clients and our professionals navigate ever-changing regulations presents both an opportunity and a challenge.”

How much of your career has been spent in Wisconsin? What has kept you here?
 “I’ve spent essentially my entire career in Wisconsin. We are fortunate to have many dynamic and significant companies, and I’m thankful to be a part of an organization that serves over 95 percent of the Fortune 1000 and over 70 percent of the Russell 3000 located in our state. EY serves a similarly large share of privately held companies, and my focus is on ensuring we continue to grow our brand and expand our influence.

Do you have a business mantra?
“I’ve found, ‘How can I help?’ to be a very powerful question and an even more important state of mind.”

From a business standpoint, who do you look up to?
“Leaders who make it a priority to have an impact on the community, whether that is through volunteerism, philanthropy or advocacy. We are fortunate to have many examples in southeastern Wisconsin.”

What was the best advice you ever received?
“To focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses, was great advice. First because it made me identify what I was truly good at and what I loved to do, which I hadn’t done before. And then I realized I could have the greatest impact when maximizing my strengths. That is how we all achieve our highest potential. Being well-rounded is important, but it’s not what will determine our ultimate trajectory.”
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?
“Well, there was that Saturday when I was a manager and I had a client that had an urgent need for our help in Mexico. I went through the firm’s international directory, dialing the home phone number of every partner near Guadalajara, telling them that I loved them. Of course, that wasn’t my intent. Apparently saying ‘Quiero (I want…)’ is much different than ‘Quiero hablar (I want to talk to…).’ Lesson learned.”

What do you like to do in your free time?
“Spending time on our farm doing just about anything — yard work, restoring outbuildings, walks in the woods. It’s a mental break and great stress reliever.”

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