Spotlight: Cathy Engelbert ’86, CEO of Deloitte LLP

Cathy Engelbert '86 rose through the ranks of Deloitte LLP to become its CEO. She's the first woman to lead a major U.S. professional services firm. Here she talks about her time at Lehigh, taking risks and balancing family and career. 

MY FATHER WORKED THREE JOBS and my mother worked too, sending eight kids through college, five at Villanova, one at Lehigh, very excellent colleges ... He had a goal to send his eight kids to college. He accomplished that goal. Unfortunately he died young, at 51 years old, but it was after I graduated and had started with Deloitte.

I’M ONE OF EIGHT KIDS WITH FIVE BROTHERS—so it’s kind of a male-dominated family. I came to Lehigh when it was four-to-one, male to female, kind of male-dominated. I then went into the public accounting profession. It was extremely male-dominated. So I think it was my training from family, school and then into a profession that I actually just felt comfortable with.

I WAS IN THE TOP 10 of my graduating high school class. But then I came to Lehigh where everybody was valedictorian and top 10 in their class. It kind of shocked me from an academic perspective to be with my peers who were just as smart, or smarter, than I was.

I DON'T REMEMBER who gave me the advice to transfer to accounting, but it was the best advice I could have gotten.

ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS I went to Deloitte was because I played basketball here at Lehigh. Over the Christmas break we got three days off … and the Deloitte people reached out to me knowing I was here at Christmas break in double sessions. In January when I scored I don’t know how many points in a game, they saw my name in the paper and wrote me a little handwritten note that said, "Congratulations, I saw you in the Philadelphia Inquirer!" So that kind of sort of connected me—sports and Deloitte.

FROM THE DAY I STARTED at Deloitte, people would say, "Oh she has presence beyond her years." Well, that’s what I got at Lehigh, the executive presence. And that’s an important part of leadership because you need to gain followership from people who report to you. If they see you’re able to handle stress—people call it grace under fire or be your best in your darkest moment—in a way that is measured, you’re the calming influence.

THE THING THAT STRUCK ME when I was being interviewed by all the accounting firms was that everyone said, Lehigh produces the most well-rounded people in the workforce. And I’ll never forget that because I always had that on my mind to prove that I could do it all.

ONE OF THE REASONS I was able to [balance career and family] is I had a supportive spouse, reliable child care, and really a passion for making sure I spent quality time with them.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF TAKING RISKS Don’t be afraid of an opportunity. Don’t be afraid of an overseas assignment.

IF YOU LOOK AT THE TYPES OF HIRES WE WANT, we want them to have traditional accounting and audit [skills] but we also want them to have skills around data science, analytics and visualization—people who are good at helping us figure out artificial intelligence and things like that.

PEOPLE WHO KNOW ME WELL know that I am uncomfortable with the attention around being the first woman CEO of a major U.S. professional services firm. What I’ve been inspired by the most are the handwritten letters I have received since my announcement went out ... They actually inspire me to be that role model.