Michael O’Leary started his career at Ernst & Young straight out of college and spent several years as a managing partner in upstate New York before taking a global leadership position in the firm’s Chicago office. Now, he has taken over for the retiring John Wilgers as managing partner of the 660-person Minneapolis office. In that role, he will be responsible for developing and engaging talent, creating high-performing teams, driving market leadership and amplifying branding and engagement efforts in the Twin Cities. He said he’s in a “positive situation that [Wilgers] is really making a great effort to help transition and help get familiar with the community.” He spoke to the Star Tribune about the office’s growth, its focus and its interaction with the community.
Q: What is it about the Twin Cities community that appealed to you?
A: I think you can pretty quickly feel like you are part of the community but at the same time you have this amazing vibrant, diverse base of businesses across sectors. Obviously, it has incredibly well-established global public companies, but then a pretty healthy start-up and venture capital and private equity environment as well. For a city of this footprint to have such a strong economy, I think, is really rare and unique, so that made it very attractive.
Q: How big is the Minneapolis office and what the growth plans for here?
A: This office right now is about 660 employees. We will be hiring about another 185 off campus during this recruiting cycle — that includes interns as well and most of the interns end up becoming full-time employees. If you look at that relative to other offices, it puts us in the top tier in terms of size in the U.S. Most importantly, our board has identified the Twin Cities as one of our priority growth areas.
Q: How quickly will you add employees here?
A: What I would expect is in the next few years we would grow by several hundred. In terms of the exact number a year from now, it will be hard to predict. We will have some attrition. That being said, what we are finding is that our turnover rates here in Minneapolis are some of the lowest in the firm. So we’ve had 90 percent plus stability, which for our business is actually really, really strong.
Q: Are you adding any new service areas?
A: We are, so as a firm if you think about our different service lines we have four primary areas: Assurance, which is the traditional audit space, which is really a foundational practice for the firm and I think when people think of the brand oftentimes that is what comes to mind initially. Tax is another traditional service area, that has been a particular bright spot historically in the Twin Cities. Transaction advisory services, which is a suite of offerings around transactions, M&A. And finally, advisory. If you look at advisory, we are continuing to look at a lot of innovation in that service line particularly.
Q: Which new areas are you investing in for the Minneapolis office?
A: For this office I would view pretty much all of these as being in process, where the investment has already started — and then depending on the area, they will be at different stages. Big data and analytics; cybersecurity; digital transformation (and clearly digital transformation means different things to different sectors); supply chain and operations management; and I think the other two that I would probably focus on would be just the overall investment in having deeper strategic level sector expertise. So we are making conscious decisions to base hiring not only on your functional background or your technical abilities but do you have a deep and rich understanding of a particular sector where you can be relevant in the boardroom at their very highest levels of business strategy; and then finally I think just the transaction space. Historically, we’ve been known for our abilities in areas like diligence, or tax planning relative to a transaction, but now getting much more involved in things like post-merger integration or the strategy around carve-outs.
Q: What is your forecast for local M&A activity in 2016?
A: We expect the deal flow to continue to be pretty healthy in 2016. I think from a volume perspective it will be meaningful, obviously depending upon the sector and the company there are some headwinds out there that everyone is aware of. The whole notion of having a lot of discipline with transactions I think will get a heightened focus in 2016.
Q: Are you planning any new community engagement efforts?
A: We have a new program we are really excited about. Its called our college MAP program. We’ve done this in some of our other offices, and now we are adopting it here. MAP is Mentoring for Access and Persistence. We will have a large number of our professionals, many of them millennials, partnering with Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. We will have a group of students starting in their sophomore year in high school where we will have significant weekly interaction.
Q: Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year program celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. What are your plans for the program?
A: The Entrepreneur of the Year program has become an important part of our EY brand globally. Here in the Upper Midwest, it’s especially meaningful and exciting to host our 30th anniversary event where the program originated for the entire firm. We will have about 500 attendees — including finalists in various sectors as well as past winners — join us at the gala on June 9 in Minneapolis. It’s going to be a special night with a few surprises as well!
(Ernst & Young is currently looking for nominees for this year’s EY honor. Founders or leaders of multi-generation family businesses or transformational public and private company CEOs are eligible. Self-nominations are encouraged; there is no fee. Nominations are due March 11, with the Upper Midwest award banquet set for June 9.)