Vice Chair & National Assurance Leader
Only at Deloitte: Dive into a 32-year journey of unexpected turns and extraordinary growth as a tax professional becomes a game-changer.
From CPA to leading a consulting powerhouse: Discover how Etienne Bruson, despite challenges, revolutionized Deloitte's BC practice, outpacing ambitious goals.
Uncover the transformative power of empathy in leadership that propelled Deloitte to new heights, driven by teamwork, adaptability, and cross-cultural understanding.
In the dynamic world of global consulting, adaptability and resilience are not just desirable traits; they are essential. One leader who embodies these qualities is Etienne Bruson, a seasoned professional with an impressive 32-year tenure at Deloitte. His journey, marked by embracing change and a deep commitment to teamwork, offers invaluable insights for mid-career professionals and corporate executives navigating the complex business landscape.
Etienne's career at Deloitte began in the audit practice as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). However, after four years, he yearned to be part of the transactions rather than merely reviewing them. This led him to transition into tax work, eventually becoming an international tax partner. "I moved into tax," he recalls, "helping our clients, like Cirque du Soleil, Saputo, and CGI, expand globally."
Working in international tax allowed Etienne to be exposed to various ways of working around the world; as his clients expanded outside of Canada, he got a deeper understanding of different cultures. With his involvement with Cirque du Soleil and other arts-related clients, Etienne sincerely appreciated the intersection of business and art. This experience influenced his community work, particularly in the arts sector, as he believes in the power of art to build open, inclusive communities. Indeed, navigating the business world within the arts has been an engaging journey, stimulating both sides of the brain.
Etienne’s journey took an unexpected turn when he was asked to relocate to Vancouver. Despite having no connections there, Etienne saw it as an opportunity to challenge himself and demonstrate his adaptability. "I had built a pretty good business as a young partner in Montreal. So, was I lucky, or can I do it again?" he muses. This move also served as a valuable lesson for his children about the importance of seizing opportunities and the ability to rebuild.
Upon arrival in his new home, Etienne embarked on a leadership journey, leading the tax practice for nearly six years. Unexpectedly to him, the firm offered him the role of managing partner of Deloitte’s BC practice. Initially, he was hesitant, being a "tax guy" now tasked with leading an entire practice, including consulting and other businesses. However, this challenge sparked the performance anxiety that would significantly influence his leadership style and drove him to work with his partners, fostering a collective vision for their market goals.
After six years of leading the BC practice, during which they experienced significant growth, Etienne wondered if he had the energy required to deliver another 3-year plan. With the advent of COVID-19 and amid the construction of the Deloitte Summit, he felt it was time to move on, planning to take on a vice-chair role with no operational responsibilities.
Yet, life had another unexpected turn in store for him. He received a call offering him the leadership of the assurance practice, the advisory arm of their audit practice.
Despite being a tax professional and having been out of the accounting world for 26 years, he accepted the challenge. This new role felt like a rebirth, allowing him to ask different questions and connect the team with a common objective. They built a three-year plan to double the practice, and after two years, they're ahead of that goal.
Reflecting on his 32-year tenure at Deloitte, Etienne imparts some wisdom: "I'm all about the team. Our world is complex, and when I tell our partners, ‘Go,’ they sometimes ask me, ‘How can you be so calm?’ I answer, ‘Because we are together, we will support each other and achieve it together.’" His journey is a testament to his evolution and the transformation of Deloitte from an accounting and tax firm to a global consulting powerhouse. " Deloitte was not always where it is today, the biggest privately-owned professional services firm in the world," he proudly states. His narrative underscores that success is not just about reaching the top but also about the journey and the lessons learned along the way. "I never do anything alone. And in my career, the only times I've been stressed out is when I hadn't consulted enough or teamed enough, and then suddenly something happened, and I felt alone, like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. That never happens anymore," he shares.
Etienne's approach to leadership is deeply rooted in understanding and empathy. He believes in asking questions and immersing oneself in different cultures and perspectives. "So, to me, that's important," he says, "So if I travel, I will buy several books from authors from that region and country. And so you start to immerse yourself, get a deeper perspective of where people can come from in their thinking, which allows you to ask better questions." His empathetic leadership style extends to his negotiations, where he strives to understand the other side and build trusting relationships.
"I'm a relationship person; I like to drive performance, to drive outcomes, but not at the expense of anything or at the expense of what I think is right, fair, and that's how I like to operate."
When asked about the possibility of leaving Deloitte for another company, Etienne's response reflects his commitment to the firm and belief in its potential impact. "We have a saying, ‘I could only have done it at Deloitte.’ And that applies here…I feel I have the platform to make the impact I want beyond building successful practices." Etienne's journey is a powerful testament to the importance of empathy, curiosity, and long-term thinking in leadership. His experiences, from planning his client's affairs in tax to navigating complex negotiations, have shaped his unique approach to leadership and decision-making and provided him with invaluable insights. However, it is not just about reaching the pinnacle of success but also about the experiences and knowledge gained during the process. As he affirms, "In my professional life, the instances where I have succeeded have always been when I have had the support of others. I always rely on teamwork." This is a potent reminder that success is not a solitary pursuit but a collective effort.
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