How Punit Renjen became the first Asian global CEO of Deloitte

Punit Renjen attributes his success in Deloitte to hard work, good luck, inspirational mentorship and never forgetting where he came from

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 August, 2015, 9:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 August, 2015, 9:40pm

Punit Renjen grew up in the small Indian town of Rohtak. Hard work and a battery of mentors have seen him rise to become the first Asian global chief executive of accounting firm Deloitte.

The key to his ascension is "hard work, a bit of luck and great mentorship at Deloitte".

The 53-year-old believes his background and experience will help Deloitte become the world's most reputable professional firm by 2020.

"Asia is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world. My background and my culture will help me to lead the team to develop in the region," he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post earlier this week when he came to meet clients and colleagues.

Rohtak has a population of 370,000, which is not much more than Deloitte's global staff in 150 countries of 220,000. His father ran a small shop and the young Renjen worked hard and won a Rotary Foundation scholarship to study in Willamette University in the US, where he earned a master's degree in management.

When he was still in university, a local magazine profiled him as one of the top 10 students. A Deloitte partner read the article, tracked him down to offer him an interview and he was hired.

"During the interview, I just showed my self confidence and that I am comfortable with who I am and what I can do. For any young people looking for job opportunities, good grades and academic results are important but what is more important may be showing you are someone who has the drive and capability and can fit in the company culture," he said.

He moved to the US and worked in consulting for the firm, focusing on mergers and acquisitions. Thirty years on, he was elected by the 10,000 partners of Deloitte to become the global chief executive in June.

During his three decades in Deloitte, he has helped many clients complete their merger deals successfully.

"We would help the client with their merger strategy. We would help them to execute the merger and aimed to have no issues on day one, ensuring that all staff were paid and all customers continued to receive services uninterrupted. That is what I'd call a successful merger," he said.

Renjen wants Deloitte to be near the top in 2020.

"We want all clients to think of us first when they want to hire an auditor or if they want to have an adviser to solve difficult corporate problems. We want the best talent to join our firm," he said, adding that of the 3.5 million applicants last year, only 50,000 were hired.

"Deloitte gives back 5 per cent of net earnings in terms of both time and money to society and we want other regulators and professionals to consider Deloitte as a reputable firm," he said.

Renjen did not set any profit or earning target but said "if we can get all these four dimensions right, the money will come and we will get the financial rewards".

Deloitte has 25,000 staff in India as it houses many of the firm's back office operations. The firm has hired 10,000 in China and Hong Kong under the leadership of China chief executive Lawrence Chia and Derek Lai, managing partner of the country's southern regions.

"I want to emphasise how Lawrence and Derek led the team in Hong Kong and China, which is one of our most important operational areas. We are very bullish on the Chinese economy. We have a very long-haul plan to develop audit and consultancy services in China," he said.

Renjen's success has not spared him from running into discrimination over the past three decades.

"What I would say is that if someone faces discrimination, they should never back down. They should be self confident and educate others not to have such an attitude."

He is grateful that Deloitte has an equal opportunities policy for women and people from different races and backgrounds. The firm's US and Australian operations are led by female chief executives.

"Diversity is not just the right thing to do but right for business. Fifty per cent of the global population are women. We need people who understand the cultural and local issues of China, India and Asia to expand our business in the region," Renjen said.

Married with one son, Renjen does not have a lot of free time but he reads, runs and is a keen cricket fan.

"Cricket is a team sport that needs people with different skill sets to work together to succeed. The same spirit applies to the leadership of Deloitte, which is a firm that relies on great team work," he said.

Renjen and his younger brother are now both based in the US but his 86-year-old father and 75-year-old mother still live in Rohtak.

"The most successful people never forget where they came from. I am grateful to have grown up in India and my father was my first mentor who led me to believe in hard work and to commit to what I love to do," he said.

"I do not ask my 11-year-old son about his grades, but I always ask if he has done his best in his studies. It is important for him to find something he loves and to work hard to do it in an excellent way," he said.

"We all have one chance in life. When one gets old, you are remembered by your work and your family. I will do my best to make sure my Deloitte colleagues and my son think of me well."