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January 13, 2017 Blog 3 min read
Diversity can inspire a new generation of leaders. At our recent Emerging Professionals Summit, Jina Etienne, president and CEO of the National Association of Black Accountants, gave the keynote and shared some insightful advice.

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Here at Plante Moran, we host a number of leadership and mentoring events to help young professionals bridge the gap between college and their careers. We’re always looking for ways to inspire incoming staff, while offering a different perspective of our unique firm culture. In fact, just last month, we hosted our first ever “Emerging Professionals Summit” for incoming African-American interns and full-time staff from across the Midwest. It was sponsored by the firm’s African American Staff Resource Group in conjunction with the campus recruiting team, and none other than Jina Etienne, president and CEO of the National Association of Black Accountants, gave a keynote presentation to the group.

What a great honor for our firm — and what a perfect role model for the young PMers who attended.

Here are just a few points of advice she offered:

  • Every experience comes with a lesson, even if it’s difficult to see them at times.
  • Our paths are not always clear-cut; opportunities may present themselves when you don’t expect them. Be prepared to take advantage of them so that you can take ownership of your career. Obstacles are only something you see when you lose sight of your goals.
  • Engage — raise your hand for assignments. Express interest, and people will take notice.
  • Always ask questions. The worst you’ll hear is “no.”
  • Relationships matter — create a professional network. Take the time to reach out.
  • Have the right attitude. Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
  • Appreciate and embrace the differences you share with your colleagues. I promise you’ll find endless opportunities to learn and grow.

As a leader in accounting and professional development, Jina is committed to sharing the importance of diversity when coaching our young professionals — urging them to have a strong work ethic, build a professional community, and achieve success on their own terms. If you’d told me a year ago that Jina would be speaking at our firm, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But what a great honor for our firm — and what a perfect role model for the young PMers who attended.

I can see so much of Jina’s advice as integral parts of our own Plante Moran culture. Although all of her advice resonates deeply, her first point is one I come back to again and again. I often tell a story about my early days at the firm interacting with co-founder Frank Moran. Frank was an avid racquetball player, and he invited me to play. I eagerly accepted — what a great way to spend time with the managing partner — but I was worried about Frank’s reaction should I beat him too badly. I needn’t have worried; he wiped the court with me.

As we were walking out, he asked me if I’d learned anything. I looked at him, confused. “You underestimated me, didn’t you?” he asked. I agreed that I had. “Never underestimate anyone,” he said. “People are capable of so much more than you might think they are — and more capable than they think they are.” That lesson has stuck with me for 40 years.

I have little doubt that the lessons Jina shared with our new staff will similarly resonate as they embark on their careers and are exposed to new experiences. After all, our future leaders learn from us, but they’ll learn just as much when they share their experiences with each other. That’s how culture is shared, and that’s how we pave the way for the future.

How do you think diversity inspires our new generation of leaders?