[Editor’s Note: Join us this week as we celebrate the Women of PwC. Today’s article is the fourth in a series of five.]
“We want to keep our best people.” A central mission of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Margie Dhunjishah, who started her career with the company as a college intern, took that notion to heart. Margie worked and worked hard and, when that internship ended, she received her first job offer—also from PwC. That was 18 years and many promotions ago.
But, it was her ability to make an ask that really has made her job work for her. When Margie had just graduated from college and received an offer with the firm in their Austin-based office, she also was a newlywed whose husband was about to move to the East Coast. She wanted her new family to stay together, so she built up the courage to ask the firm if they could place her on the East Coast as well, and they did.
That story has repeated itself time and again, whether Margie has worked part time due to raising a young family or her time working remotely. But Margie also is quick to point out that this type of give-take arrangement goes both ways, and it’s important as an employee not to forget the ‘give’ as well.
“Flexibility truly means if I need to go to a parent-teacher conference at 2 p.m., then I’m able to do that,” Margie says. “On the other hand, if I need to hop on a 30-minute conference call at 8 p.m. after the kids are tucked into bed I’m able to do that, too. With flexibility it’s a give and a take, and we often focus on the take but forget about the give.”
It’s this no-nonsense, work hard approach that led Margie to making partner with the firm. Currently she serves as the U.S. Tax Diversity Leader. Prior to this role, her focus on corporate taxation and tax accounting led her to assist several clients with their efforts to successfully gain efficiencies in the area of accounting for income taxes, post deal integration and tax audit defense. She also spent time living in Peru, focusing on tax accounting and compliance outsourcing programs for multinational companies.
Usually when you’re working your hardest, you’re also learning the most. Don’t be afraid of those challenges when they come in the door.
How did you develop the confidence to make asks of PwC to adjust your role part-time or to work remote at different phases in your career?
You have to have confidence that you are a strong contributor to the team, and to the firm. You’ve got to be confident that you’re bringing your best every day, you’re doing good work and working hard, you’re reliable and you’re dependable. I trust the firm when the firm says, “We want to keep our best people. We want to keep our best resources.”
I trusted the firm meant that when they said it, so when I needed some flexibility in my life, then I made the ask. And I’ve made it multiple times. While at PwC, I’ve worked full time. I’ve worked part time. I’ve moved within the United States. I’ve moved overseas—twice. I’ve telecommuted from my house for a year. I’ve been on 100% travel schedules. I’ve done it all. And because I have been with the firm my entire career, my life has changed over these past 20 years. So, as my life changed, and I needed my work to flex with it to make my work and my life both work, then I’ve had to ask for things.
What was it like when you found out you had made Partner at PwC?
It was surreal. I’m very goal-oriented, and previously all my career goals had been 1-year or 3-year goals. This moment was the first time in my life that I really accomplished a goal that had taken me over a decade to achieve. So, when I finally crossed the finish line, it was surreal that I made it. I was excited that I made it. I was relieved that I made it. But, then there was a part of me that worked for this so long that I fully expected to make it.
It’s like running a marathon. In your heart you know you can do it and that you’ve trained and prepared, so you’re not surprised when you cross the finish line … But it’s a satisfying feeling when you’ve achieved the goal you’ve spent so much time and effort investing in. And then once I crossed that finish line I thought, “I can’t believe that it’s over!”
And then how long was it before your mind started saying, “Psst, Margie: What’s next?”
It took about five minutes! It just opens your eyes. You suddenly become the least senior person in a new group of folks. You’re now the youngest and least experienced Partner in the bunch. You rapidly figure out that you’re the new kid in school again and that you’ve got new responsibilities and new goals. You do have to really stop and think about it. It’s reflective in that a lot of my goals up until this point were focused on me making Partner. Shortly after I made Partner, a lot of my goals became much more externally focused on helping my clients achieve their goals and helping my staff achieve their dream career.
Do you think that living in different global regions contributed to this view to think more about helping others outside of yourself?
Business is becoming more global. Startups get launched, and they can have an international footprint on Day 2. Because companies can expand globally so rapidly, we have to have people who have these global acumen skills to help our clients—even clients with businesses in their infancy. It’s not like before when you’d maybe start domestic and then branch out to one or two more jurisdictions. Growth doesn’t happen like that anymore. So, we need our people to have good global acumen.
For example, how do you do business in China or Brazil? That’s a hard question. Having lived overseas, however, I don’t want people to be scared of that question. People are people wherever you go. People are interested in having safe and happy families. They want to have a successful career outlet. They want to contribute to their community. I don’t want people to be afraid of global expansion or global mobility and helping their clients. This isn’t scary; it’s exciting. There are differences in different cultures about how you achieve those similar goals, but don’t be afraid of the small differences. Underneath those small differences are a lot of large similarities with everyone you’re going to work with.
I also think you learn best when you go and try it. A lot of our people get the opportunity to live and travel overseas. When you see it, view it and experience it, then you’ll have a better understanding about conducting business in that foreign country.
With so much work on your plate how do you organize your day and divide your time?
It’s incredibly important to take charge of your schedule. Your calendar can fill up with meeting invitations, and if you accept every meeting invite, then you’re not spending your time on your highest priorities. I am a morning person, so I am my sharpest, best-self first thing in the morning.
Generally I try to block out working time every morning between 7 and 9:30 a.m. to research the hard things that need to get researched and to think through the challenging questions that require deeper thought. At that time my phone isn’t ringing and it’s very quiet in the office, and I get a lot of very constructive and challenging work done at that time. Then, the remainder of my morning is spent in meetings and on calls to work with others. My afternoons are a bit more flexible in that every day is different. If I need to be working with my staff, then I’ll be working with my staff. If I need to be out with clients, then I’ll be out with clients. I like to make sure that I’m spending my time on the things that I feel are the highest priority instead of getting sucked in and carried away with the flow.
Do you feel you have to separate work and life, or do you feel like you have more of an integration where the two blend and work in tandem?
I have more of a work-life integration than a distinct cut-off. At the same time, there were years when my kids were young and I worked part time. On my part-time schedule, I did not work on Fridays; however, I did realize the rest of the world worked on Fridays. So, if I took a 30-minute conference call on Friday with my client that gives them an answer to a burning question so they can proceed with the rest of their day, then that’s a 30 minutes I’m happy to give. It was the same thing with my team.
I feel like people use the word flexibility, but sometimes by flexibility they actually mean rigidity. When they say flexibility, they want the Fred Flintstone whistle to blow at 5 p.m. every day and then walk out the door. That’s actually the opposite of flexible. Flexibility truly means if I need to go to a parent-teacher conference at 2 p.m., then I’m able to do that. On the other hand, if I need to hop on a 30-minute conference call at 8 p.m. after the kids are tucked into bed, I’m able to do that, too. With flexibility it’s a give and a take, and we often focus on the take but forget about the give.
One of the things that made me the happiest is that a lot of my clients told me they didn’t even realize I was on a part-time schedule. It’s because when they needed me, I made myself available. I think sometimes when we think we need to make ourselves available, then we only think in 8-hour blocks, but a lot of times 30 minutes is all it takes to give people that little bit of information, guidance or instruction that they need.
What is something about your job that others might not realize?
I think people don’t realize that underneath it all, we’re teachers. The tax law is complicated and is always changing. A lot of my time I spend teaching and training my people. When new rules come out, I spend my time teaching clients about how the new rules are going to impact their business. I also teach the audit teams I work with about how the tax components will impact the financial statements.
Sometimes there’s this perception with accounting that we’re all sitting by ourselves in the office with a calculator and Excel spreadsheets, but I spend a majority of my day working with other people teaching and learning together. A lot of times I sit with specialists and they teach me what the new tax laws or tax developments mean. In my job, it feels a little bit like school every day. [She laughs.]
What advice would you give to a reader who wants your job?
Bring your A-game. Do high quality work. Be dependable. Be reliable. When the tough projects come in, don’t be afraid to jump in, contribute and be a part of that team. Usually when you’re working your hardest, you’re also learning the most. Don’t be afraid of those challenges when they come in the door. Once you’ve worked on those hard projects and learned a lot in a short period of time, then you are that go-to resource. You become that resource that my firm wants to retain and all kinds of opportunities will begin to present themselves.
I think sometimes people miss the forest for the trees. They’re so focused on thinking, “What should my career path be? What is step A and step B?” A lot of times if you just focus on what’s in your span of control and do good work on the project right in front of you, then when a new project shows up and we need people to work on that project, you’re going to be invited to be a part of that team. Why? Because you’ve already demonstrated that you’re the kind of person we want on our team.
I think sometimes that people want to map out every single step of their career. I agree; you do want a general plan. But, while you’re filing out the details of that general plan, never forget to do a good job, be reliable, do quality work, be dependable, and raise your hand when the tough projects come into the office. Don’t look so far in the future that you forget to focus on doing a good job today.
I’d love to grab coffee with: Michelle Obama.
My favorite quote is: “This too shall pass.”
If I could tell my 30-year-old self one thing it would be: This is a chapter in your life, and someday this chapter will close and a new chapter will start. So enjoy this while it lasts, because the next chapter will be different.
My favorite show to binge-watch is: Mad Men.
I can’t live without: My phone. I hate this answer, but it’s true!
My favorite way to unwind is: To read. I love reading a good book.
I feel my best when: I’m working and engaging with my team at PwC. They’re smart and motivated people. Most of the time it’s just channeling their efforts in the right direction, and letting them go for it.