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Stacy Janiak of Deloitte: “Don’t overthink the next opportunity”

Don’t overthink the next opportunity. If you’re being asked, then you’re ready — even if you don’t think so. You need to trust in people’s views of what you’re doing. And if you’re not being asked, then seek them out. It’s good to ask questions about how to get to that next opportunity to show you have […]

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Don’t overthink the next opportunity. If you’re being asked, then you’re ready — even if you don’t think so. You need to trust in people’s views of what you’re doing. And if you’re not being asked, then seek them out. It’s good to ask questions about how to get to that next opportunity to show you have your eyes on the path.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacy Janiak of Deloitte.

As Chief Growth Officer of Deloitte, Stacy Janiak is responsible for bringing the breadth of the firm’s service capabilities and assets to the market to accelerate growth for the organization and create a differentiated experience for clients. Stacy drives a go-to-market strategy to optimize the organization’s capabilities across service offerings, industries, and geographies, with an emphasis on bold, integrated, digitally-enabled solutions, services and insights. Currently a member of the US Executive Committee, Global Clients & Industries Member Firm Executive Committee, and Global Board of Directors, Stacy has held significant leadership roles throughout her Deloitte career. Stacy is a proud graduate and trustee of DePaul University and a board member of Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, New Profit, and The Executives’ Club of Chicago.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I graduated from high school in the late 80s and my most important objective in going to college was landing a career where I wouldn’t live paycheck to paycheck. Growing up, my dad was a mail carrier and my mom was a homemaker as well as a polio survivor. I had a wonderful family life but money was always a concern. I had the great opportunity to attend DePaul University with a scholarship. I loved the fabulous, urban environment and the fast-paced city. At the time, I knew very little about business but figured that was the best path for me. I had the opportunity to learn about the accounting profession while I worked in the school’s internal audit department and really became hooked on the problem-solving aspects of the job. It was exciting as a student to work with other professionals who were decades into their own careers. I had free reign to help make the organization better and I loved that challenge even at a young age.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’ve been part of the U.S. executive team at Deloitte for the last three years in different roles and am currently the Chief Growth Officer. I had the opportunity to represent the firm at the World Economic Forum, which was phenomenal to be around that energy and to engage with other business leaders. While I was there, two important things stood out. First, the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) and the framework on how we approach it from an ethics standpoint, job creation standpoint and more. Second, the focus on women in business — which is a passion of mine — and how we can get more female opinions into the board room and C-Suite. At the event, I found myself face-to-face with Angela Merkel — one of the most admired women leaders in the world. It was a very surreal, pinch-me moment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My first audit experience! This was pre-laptop which tells you how long ago it was. I had completed a set of working papers, ensuring that I addressed all of my supervisor’s feedback very diligently. When I was finished, I threw away her feedback notes and submitted the updated version to her. She immediately asked where her original feedback was and I had to sheepishly go pull it out of the trash, un-crumple it and hand it back to her. It was a learning experience, to say the least. From that experience, I learned to clarify expectations at the outset of a project — a helpful lesson today when working with clients. I also learned that the best training is on-the-job training and how important it is to participate in that and provide that to your team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Such a true statement. There are so many people who have helped me throughout my career, all of whom I am extremely grateful for. There’s one story though that I often tell about one of my managers early on in my career — Tim McCarty. At the time, he was a manager on the account I worked on, a large account for our firm. He was probably one of the first people who explicitly said I had leadership potential and would be the future leader of the account. He consistently pushed me outside of my comfort zone and made me see what I was capable of. On one occasion, we were heading to an important meeting and I was prepared to deliver my specific slides as part of the presentation. As we were walking to the meeting, he turned to me and said, “You’re doing the whole presentation. I have confidence in you.” Looking back, I was extremely nervous but I knew the material backwards and forwards. This propelled me forward and enabled me to get comfortable in the moment — even if I didn’t know I was ready. It was important to have that trust, support and validation from Tim.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

First and foremost, I’m big on getting regular exercise and I often talk about how it helps relieve stress. My fitness regimen has varied in intensity over time but I’ve been consistently working out since college. I’m a morning person so I always work out in the morning. To me, stress relief is achieved through proper wellness every day including getting enough sleep, eating healthy and working out. It’s important with demanding careers. And last, specifically for a big meeting, some good 80s music will get me in the right mindset and mood.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

The short answer: they’ll simply be more successful. There’s a correlation between diverse leadership and greater financial performance. A diverse team is more likely to stimulate creative thinking and that leads to better business outcomes. There are richer, fuller conversations, broader perspectives, and new ideas to be leveraged. These are all important for competitiveness and financial performance. It’s a critical part of how businesses thrive.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

At Deloitte, we have increased our efforts to champion social justice and racial equality internally and more broadly in society. We have been acting very purposefully to dismantle systemic equality.

We believe there are seven key areas:

  1. Empowerment — creating opportunities that better empower Black and diverse professionals as well as sustaining an overall anti-racial culture. For example, at Deloitte, we have a Black Action Counsel with leaders who are specifically focused on what we’re doing to better enable Black professionals at Deloitte and sustain an antiracist culture for our people and organization. Leaders of this counsel report directly to the CEO and Chairman.
  2. Leadership and accountability — holding everyone accountable for defining measurable goals and fostering a culture of listening, learning, empathy and compassion. At Deloitte, we plan to release our diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) report in 2020.
  3. Recruiting and development — removing any barriers in our talent program to create more opportunities for diverse candidates — it can’t always be a supply issue.
  4. Education and understanding — engaging with thought leaders in the social justice space to help educate ourselves and others.
  5. Civic engagement — encouraging deeper community engagement at a national and local level. For example, Deloitte sponsored the “Get Out the Vote” campaign to increase awareness about the importance of voting and how to do so.
  6. Business engagement — prioritizing investment spend to enable more Black-owned and Black-led business.
  7. Community engagement — identifying opportunities for pro-bono projects that improve social justice, employment, wealth, equality and equal educational opportunities for the underserved.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I think the biggest difference is the focus on purpose and long-term strategy. It’s important for leaders to set a vision which melds both purpose and strategy in a way that individuals across the function, or organization can both see themselves as a part of that vision and also be excited to contribute to the achievement of that vision.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

There are a few commonly held myths:

  • That CEOs are all extraverts. There are some great leaders who are introverts. Its important to realize that there are different paths to leadership.
  • That they are the smartest person in the room and have all the answers. Many strong CEOs know what they don’t know. They are very adept at putting together a team and they’re comfortable acknowledging what they don’t know.
  • That CEOs are too busy to talk and are inaccessible. One of the best things in my job is hearing from my partners and managing directors, and our professionals — getting input on what’s working or not working. It’s important to be approachable.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Expectations — the expectations we put on ourselves as well as societal expectations; both of which are very different from male expectations. Many of us our challenged with expecting perfection from ourselves before putting ourselves forward for an assignment or promotion, versus our male counterparts who often times feel much more comfortable doing that even if they are less qualified or have checked fewer of the boxes. That means we’re not going for a position we’re likely qualified for when we should. We need to push ourselves for positions we may not feel ready for.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I started my career as an auditor, became an audit partner and expected to have a fantastic career delivering that service to my clients. I didn’t expect to do all of that PLUS do so much more — from leading a cross-business industry practice to managing the marketplace and community activities for a large office to managing a P&L in our audit practice to now being responsible for how we manage our brand and how we go to market across all of our businesses, industries and sectors. And the opportunity I have had to advance the careers of our best talent, especially our women and minorities, into leadership roles, has been one of the most energizing aspects of each of the roles I have served in. I never anticipated the breadth of opportunities that would come from getting my CPA from DePaul University. It’s been phenomenal what I’ve been able to experience and I’m so grateful.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

From an enterprise level, a couple core traits that make a good executive are curiosity or a strong interest in seeking new experiences. Being curious about what you don’t know and about your own self is important. Also, be open to getting feedback and seeking feedback along the way so you can improve your skills. You also have to get energy and be inspired from problem solving. Every day there is something new to tackle and that should excite you! You have to look at the status quo from a new perspective and genuinely connect with other people. Doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or extrovert. You have to share a sense of purpose and caring about individuals because you’ll be building the next generation of leaders. Lastly, and most important, what we all have come to realize in these last eight or nine months is the need to be resilient. The hallmark of leaders who have been successful during the problems we encountered this year have been able to move forward and stay committed to their vision and values. Resiliency is very important.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Your team feeds off your energy. You don’t’ have to be “on” all the time but you have to be conscious of it and bring your best as much as possible. You need to be able to inspire them and help them accomplish their goals by getting to know them and helping them grow. Most importantly, you have to have some fun along the way!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve been very grateful for my education from DePaul University and giving back to the school is very important to me. I’ve served on the board of trustees at DePaul for nine years. My husband is also a graduate and together we launched the Janiak Scholarship Fund as we both believe its important for others to have access to education. I’m also serving on DePaul’s committee for their new “Now We Must” campaign, which is a new campaign they just launched during these unprecedented times to support the students who are facing enormous challenges amid the global pandemic, economic uncertainty and more. The “Now We Must” campaign will support the students with scholarships, emergency assistance, technology access, career readiness, and mental health & wellness support. I’m proud to be part of the community.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Importance of maintaining relationships. Back when I started, it was literally just a rolodex, not Facebook or LinkedIn. Its not about volume but making a connection and nurturing it. Whether it is for personal or for professional reasons, the broader your reach, the more opportunity to advance and help others do the same.
  2. Blocking time on your calendar to actually work. This is a lesson I’m still trying to uphold. You need time to process, connect and actually have time to think. Short meetings also work! You can have a productive 15 minute meeting so don’t overschedule if it’s not necessary.
  3. Don’t overthink the next opportunity. If you’re being asked, then you’re ready — even if you don’t think so. You need to trust in people’s views of what you’re doing. And if you’re not being asked, then seek them out. It’s good to ask questions about how to get to that next opportunity to show you have your eyes on the path.
  4. When you hear an idea or proposal that you don’t agree with, ask yourself the question, “What if they’re right?” It generates much better questions and typically gets to better solutions. I purposefully put people on my team who I know will push my thinking. By asking myself what if they’re right, it gives me space to ask questions about their views and their approach in a positive, constructive manner.
  5. It’s a marathon not a sprint. You don’t have to get there faster than anyone else. You need to lean into the impact you’re having in the moment, keeping your personal priorities in focus too.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would inspire a movement for movement. I’m a big believer in the positive physiological and psychological benefits, short and long term, of moving your body. Especially in our COVID world with so many people working from home, its important to get up and move — go for a walk or just simply stand up. I’m impressed by GirlTrek, a non-profit organization, which is all about the health and healing of Black women and girls through the power of walking.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” — Leonardo da Vinci

It’s actually in my home office and it’s a nice reminder to be active and think about where you should be, who you should be with and what you need to do to make that impact happen. It’s likely the earlier version of “Just Do It.” You have to make change happen and you have to be the one to do it.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d say Sarah Blakely of SPANX. She’s a woman entrepreneur who makes my life, as well as all women’s lives, easier. I admire her tenacity and how often she was turned down on her road to launching SPANX. She’s the ultimate problem solver and I’m impressed with her products, her customer-centricity and her unabashed support of women.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thank you!

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