Marna Ricker “always had natural gravitation toward math and numbers.” After a short stint in a law firm, where, she said, “I was bored stiff,” she moved to Ernst and Young (EY) 25 years ago. “I work in the corporate world, with large corporate clients and international tax law. I don’t do any individual tax work. I do my individual return, and I have to study the rules to do it.”
Although she’s had two promotions in the past two years, Ricker says her “greatest accomplishment” is her two sons, now ages five and seven. Her oldest son is showing a “natural gravitation to numbers,” Ricker said. “My husband says, ‘That’s not me. That’s clearly you.’”
As a managing partner, she oversees EY offices in 17 cities, with a 16-state footprint and 1,400 employees. “I do still serve clients directly,” she said. “I visit those 17 cities regularly, and at every visit I go see clients. I meet with chief financial officers and vice presidents of tax to talk about their business issues.
“There is no way to do business today without a really thorough and rich global footprint. That’s a strategic advantage our firm has. Our former chairman, who just retired, that was his vision. We created the internal structure, streamlined internal processes, created one language and one global process. It’s now very easy to do cross-border business. That’s one of the pieces that’s accelerating our growth.”
Ricker was raised “one generation off the farm,” she said. She had never been to New York City until her job took her there. Her first travel out of the country was on a business trip. “I would not describe myself as ambitious,” she said. “Outwardly it might look that way. I haven’t thought out anything. I’ve just been focused on mastering the job I had. Good things come from that. I think people can get caught up in ‘what’s next?’ I can articulate the things I’m interested in and the things I enjoy and the business opportunity. Where that leads me will be determined by the needs of our company and our clients.”
What changes have you seen in 25 years?
Technology has been a huge piece, in terms of how we do our work. We have video conferencing, Excel for tax returns. We used to hand-do returns, send them in, get them back in three days, revise them, wait another three days. Regulation is another change. The collaborative relationship with regulators has come since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Globally there’s the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
How do you balance career with family?
I manage with technology and shorter trips. I take a no-fly week every month. My husband works and travels, too. We have a “two feet on the ground at all times” rule. Our children are really cared for and loved.
What advice do you give women about advancing their careers?
I stopped underestimating what I was capable of handling. The counsel I give the most to women and to men who are co-parents: Life events happen. Take it day by day, quarter by quarter, year by year. Don’t leave before you leave. See what you’re capable of every day.
What’s the key to success in your industry?
If you become a really great question-asker, you can really get after what the client needs. □