Natasha Granholm

[Editor’s Note: Join us this week as we celebrate the Women of PwC. Today’s article is the second in a series of five.]

Natasha Granholm was a junior in college when she was called to the office of the dean of students, and little did she know that her life was about to change. As one of the top five students, Natasha had been hand-selected by the dean to interview the following day for a job. Curious, Natasha asked what the job position was. The dean told her that she wasn’t sure, but the opportunity was big – for Natasha, but also for the university to form a relationship with this public accounting firm. “It wasn’t an ask,” Natasha recalls. “It was more of a tell. I was on full scholarship, which she reminded me.”

The next day when Natasha went to the interview, she met with the Partner in charge of the tax practice at Coopers & Lybrand (a predecessor firm of PwC). When Natasha asked what the job she was applying for would be she was told it was to copy tax returns and mail them in the firm’s processing center. “I paused for a moment, and I thought a little bit,” Natasha says, “Though, not a lot. I was only 19. But, I said to her, ‘I really was hoping this would be an opportunity for me to use the skills I acquired in college. I’m majoring in accounting. I’d really like to have an accounting-related job.’”

At the time, Natasha was attending school full time, she was working to maintain the high GPA that was required for her scholarship and she was playing soccer for the university’s women’s soccer team. In addition to all that, she had a part-time job—a job that paid for her meals and monthly train ticket. The position offered to her at Coopers & Lybrand would have required her to quit her part-time job. As Natasha recalled, “If I was going to give that up, I wanted it to be for a job that would help me secure a better future and I wasn’t sure copying tax returns was the right experience at that time in my life.”

That bold statement led to an offer for Natasha to be a client service intern at the firm. “So it was not copying tax returns and mailing them, but rather being a true intern in the accounting firm in their tax practice,” she says. And when the Partner she made the confident statement to retired, she also recalled that story, telling everyone at the party how brave Natasha was to let her know that.

Now Natasha is a Partner as well at PwC, with more than 19 years of public accounting experience. And by the way, when that same Partner retired, Natasha was admitted into the partnership and granted her office. “It was a truly special moment for me,” she says. “That office held a lot of meaning for me. It was held by the person who gave me my first chance … ”

And she hopes to give other young professionals their first chance by serving as a mentor to many. Natasha is involved in a number of PwC and external initiatives to help foster diversity in the firm and industry—she participates in “Select Senior”, PwC’s initiative that shows high-performing multicultural men and women how to channel their leadership abilities and accelerate their career progress. In addition to “Select Senior,” Natasha participates in PwC’s Vanguard program for African American new hires and has helped build a recruiting pipeline for students from the alma mater—Robert Morris University—where she’s helped over 100 students gain unique opportunities with PwC.

I’m not your parent’s accountant. I don’t do bookkeeping … CPA’s, these days, are way more than that. We’re trusted business advisors, we’re leading teams, developing talent and running our businesses.

Did you always know you wanted to work in accounting?

I wanted to be in a profession that would provide financial stability. That’s what I needed. My grandmother and my mother predominantly raised me. Neither of them graduated from high school. The thought of being able to have a career that provided that financial stability and an opportunity for me not to live paycheck to paycheck was really honestly, at that point in my life, all I strived for.

I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to be in the financial services area, but what I did know is that accounting seemed to be a natural fit for me. I took accounting classes in high school. My high school accounting teacher asked me to compete with a small group of students in accounting competitions. I did that, and we did well. That’s what introduced me to the profession, and I think that’s what inspired me initially to major in accounting. Back then, even though I was majoring in accounting, I didn’t know the type of job or role I wanted to have. I wanted to use my accounting skills and find a job that would provide that stability, but I didn’t necessarily know that public accounting, or a certain particular subsector within the firm, would be for me.

That gives us goose bumps! Once you were in the firm, how did you find that working in asset management was right for you?

One of the fantastic things about the firm is that it allows you to work in a lot of different areas and specialties. The full array of what you can do as an accountant is available at PwC, and so I have been blessed with the opportunity to live in different cities and work in different groups and on different teams. Even now, I split my time between Chicago and New York, and I am able to do things that are fulfilling—not just client work, but I also do other things in my role as a partner that are fulfilling.

How do you organize and shape your day?

I take it day by day. I don’t necessarily have a typical day. My typical day is that every day is different. I am a mother and a wife. I have three young kids. I do split my time between Chicago and New York, and so I have protected times. There are certain things that I discuss with my kids or with my husband, or just that I personally for sure want to be a part of. Those are Family Must’s. I block those Family Must’s on my calendar and they take priority. When I do my calendar I try to project out one, two, even three months ahead of time. Between now and Christmas, I know exactly which city I’m going to be in and I know when I’m going to be participating in family activities, because those are my Must’s. I can tell you next Tuesday I’m going to be home in Chicago working from home, because that is picture day and my girls told me last year daddy did not comb their hair the right way. So I promised them next Tuesday I’d be working from home and there for picture day.

In terms of the rest of my calendar, sometimes it changes instantaneously depending on what my client’s needs are, what my other roles and responsibilities are inside and outside the firm. It depends week by week. The foundation is my Family Must’s, and then I organize everything around that.

So, would you say it’s fair to say that you have more of a work/life integration, instead of a work/life balance?

Absolutely. My kids are often in the office, and my team members are often at my house. They have seen my kids grow over the years, and my kids are comfortable with my team members. I try to go out to dinner in very small groups with some of my team—two or three team members at a time and their significant others. My husband also goes to these dinners with me. I have them closer to home. It’s something nice we do on a Friday night, and my husband enjoys getting to know my team as well. It absolutely is integration.

Over the summer, I was asked to be a Partner leader at a leadership development conference. During the course of the conference, there were a few opportunities to network with staff from across the country. Prior to one of our networking receptions, I asked my husband, who was at the pool with the kids, if he would take the kids back to the room, and get them ready to attend a networking reception that would be taking place later that evening.  It’s hard to get kids out of the pool but I told my husband to explain to them they could order water or a soda and eat hors d’oeuvres. And of course, my 7-year-old twins were like, “Food? We’re there.” They’re just like adults. I wanted them to experience what it was like to be at a cocktail reception and introduce themselves and shake hands. I never knew what that was like as a kid. They loved it. They ate it up.

What a great example you are! On that topic, do you still have mentors? Are there now others you mentor within the company? How big of a role does mentorship play in your life?

Yes, I absolutely still have mentors and I probably will for the rest of my life. I hold mentorship in high regard, and honestly it keeps me grounded, challenges me and helps me see things more broadly. My mentors inspire me to mentor other people so I can help them accomplish things both personally and professionally and see things more broadly. My mentors see more in me than I see in myself at times. They broaden my view, perspective and capabilities and give me the confidence that I sometimes need to take on a new assignment or new role. My parents were not exposed to the professional environment. Without those mentors, I don’t believe that I would be where I am today.

I am truly passionate about mentorship and I try my very best. That’s part of the reason why I do have so many folks at my house or I go out in smaller groups to dinner. I try to connect with my teams in a very personal way so I can understand what’s important to them and what they’re trying to accomplish professionally and personally. I think the personal side of it is an equal equation to the mix. I don’t think you can accomplish things fully at work without being satisfied outside of work. So I like to bring in their significant others to the extent they have one, because certainly they have a point of view and weigh in. I am very passionate and have always been involved in women-and-minority-focused mentorship programs, but I have a significant amount of men who work for me, and I treat them the same. I am passionate about mentorship for everyone I come into contact with.

What are your thoughts on this whole concept of ‘If you can see it, you can be it’?

It’s a mantra of mine. I do tell people, “If you see it, you can be it,” but I don’t necessarily mean if you can see me, you can be me. What I mean is if you can envision something for yourself … you can really see yourself in that vision, then you’re more likely to accomplish it. Sometimes it’s easier to see yourself in a certain role when someone similar to you has been in that position. Sometimes it doesn’t occur to you that you can achieve or accomplish something unless you say, “That person’s kind of like me,” or “I grew up there,” or “I kind of look like them. Maybe that could be something for me as well.”

A lot of people might be unfamiliar with your role and think it’s shrouded in mystery for those who don’t have a deep understanding for what you do. What is something about your job that others might not realize?

I mean, do you really believe that I don’t wear a pocket protector? [She laughs.] I joke. But, I honestly, truly believe that the vast majority of the folks out there do not understand what a modern-day accountant looks like. They don’t understand what we do.

I think what’s important to explain is that I’m not your parent’s accountant. I don’t do bookkeeping. I’m not crunching numbers all day long. I’m not sitting behind my desk in front of a computer all day long. CPA’s, these days, are way more than that. We’re leading teams, developing talent and running our businesses. We’re out talking to our clients. We understand our clients’ business, and we’re bringing a broad perspective, innovation and insight to our clients so they can better operate their businesses and we can help them grow in a strategic way.

In public accounting in particular, we’re really more business advisors. We’re leveraging technology and data analytics. The profession has changed so much over the last 10 years with the advancement of technology and other global factors impacting the world, that we really can’t be number crunchers anymore. That’s not a sustainable business model.

What career advice do you have for our readers?

I encourage people today to have a point of view about what they want to accomplish—and then share it. As women in particular, we tend to take a step back and let people guide and tell us what is the next step. They’ll say, “You do this for two years. And then you do this and then this.” But it’s really not a one-size-fits-all, and you should have a point of view about what you want personally and whether that aligns with what your coach, supervisor or mentor is telling you. It’s the point of view that I find is missing. I think because up until that point, you’re in school and your parents and teachers are telling you what to do. Then you come to work and you’re a professional, and I find too often that young professionals are still waiting for somebody to tell them what to do.

What is a career accomplishment you’re particularly proud of?

I am very proud of being admitted into the Partnership. I am the first black female tax Partner of the U.S. firm. Getting back to the “if you can see it, you can be it,” and what it means to other people … It means a lot to me. But what it means to other people – what the title means and what it represents in terms of all of the hard work that went in to obtain that level, and what it means to my family members (to have my niece, my brother and my sister be so proud) … It means a lot to a lot of other people, in addition to me. I didn’t realize initially the impact that accomplishment would have on other people around me. That I am very proud of.

If one of our readers were to say, “I want your job” then what would you tell them?

“I would say, ‘You should want my job, because it’s awesome.’” It takes a lot of hard work and patience, and you need a lot of good counsel and support around you to accomplish it. But never let go of the things that are most important to you. If you let work take your life, it will. You have to remember that.

I’d love to grab coffee with: My longtime girlfriends.
My favorite quote is: “We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” –Oprah Winfrey
If I could tell my 30-year-old self one thing, it would be: You don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward.
My favorite show to binge-watch is: I binge-watch a lot! I’ll go with the most recent, The Night Of.
I can’t live without: I hope I never have to live without my kids!
My favorite way to unwind is: Dance party with my kids every night I’m home!
I feel my best when: I’m spending quality time with my husband and my kids.

Learn More: Follow PwC on TwitterInstagram and Snapchat. Plus, don’t miss the first installment in ‘Women at PwC Week’ featuring U.S. Tax Sectors Leader Barbra Bukovac.