PwC CFO Tells UVA Darden Students to Expect ‘Massive Change’ in the Workforce
By Dave Hendrick
For as long as she can remember, Carol Sawdye said she was motivated by a desire to make money and be in business. And from an early age, the future PricewaterhouseCoopers CFO showed an aptitude for both, taking her talents to the now-defunct Fayva shoe store chain at the age of 12, where her willingness to work hard meant she was soon running the store and closing up shop at the end of the day.
Sawdye joked at a Leadership Speaker Series event at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business that her long hours may not have put her on the legal side of child labor laws, but did help her establish a work ethic that would become a hallmark of her career. And the fact that she went to UVA with $20,000 saved from all that shoe store work was validation of time well spent.
After UVA, Sawdye took at job at PwC, convinced that her ability to work harder than anyone else was a key to career success. And for a while, Sawdye said, that belief was validated, as PwC pegged her as a high performer and sent her to get an MBA at Columbia Business School.
Then the carefully considered career priorities were dealt an unexpected blow as a result of a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease.
Sawdye was 25 and about to begin a year-long course of chemotherapy. Suddenly, simply working harder than everyone else did not seem like the biggest factor in career growth and fulfillment.
“It dramatically changed the way I thought about work,” Sawdye said, adding that the diagnosis lent “a sense of urgency about what I wanted to do with my life, personally and professionally.”
Formerly risk averse, Sawdye said she began to look at life as a series of opportunities, as opposed to risks that “might seem too scary.”
The goal recalibration made Sawdye realize she wanted to be part of a leadership team and drive strategy. That opportunity would soon arise when approached by the international law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to become the firm’s CFO. While there, Sawdye would eventually assume the responsibilities of COO, too.
Another significant career opportunity presented itself when then-National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern recruited Sawdye to become the organization’s CFO. The offer came at a critical juncture for the league, as a collective bargaining agreement between owners and players was soon to expire.
Sawdye was part of the team that drove a new bargaining agreement, one credited with putting the sports league on stable and lucrative footing.
Roughly three years ago, Sawdye’s career came full circle when she returned to PwC as vice chairman and CFO.
Perched at the top of the global business services company, Sawdye has a unique vantage point to witness what she called the “massive change” occurring in the working world, from rapidly evolving technology to seismic demographic shifts in the U.S. and across the globe.
The society of today is smarter and more capable and has higher expectations for business, the PwC CFO said.
“Societies expect that businesses that operate by building trust and differentiating themselves are the ones that are going to lead,” Sawdye said. “That’s a pretty big change from where we had been.”
Sawdye said this differentiation would come primarily through investment in both technology and people. The latter investment is particularly critical at a time when global businesses are under intense pressure to both attract and keep skilled labor while also bringing in employees from broader and more diverse backgrounds.
“When we bring that diversity into a room, that in and of itself is not going to accomplish the accelerated innovation that we need,” Sawdye said. “We then have to create an inclusive environment for people to thrive in and encourage openness of thought and sharing of thought.”
Moreover, the ideally positioned business is able to take that diversity of person and thought and align it around the company’s purpose and value.
Trying to lead a global firm amid a time of unprecedented tumult is clearly risky — but also ripe with opportunities.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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