Career Q&A: Work/Life Balance in the Financial Services Industry
The modern work force has faced taxing conditions in recent years, with staffing reductions and global competition largely resulting in greater workloads and longer hours. As these demanding circumstances often come at the expense of personal time, employers seeking to attract and retain top talent must now offer more than just benefits—they must guarantee a life outside the office. This has led companies to put increasing emphasis on flexible office environments that promote a healthy work/life balance for staff. One such firm is professional services leader Ernst & Young, which demonstrates its commitment to accommodating personal lives with FlexSpace, an illustration of the diverse endeavors and interests its staff are able to pursue in harmony with their job.
Ernst & Young's own Nick Bueti is a prime example of achieving a successful balance between one's professional and personal responsibilities. A senior manager at the Stamford, Conn. office, Mr. Bueti excels in a variety of roles: He leads the financial services unit in public asset management, administers employee training programs, and manages recruiting events at colleges in southern Connecticut and Westchester County, New York. And when he's not lighting fires at work, Bueti puts them out as a volunteer fireman in his hometown. The Bedford Hills Fire Department benefits not only from his dedicated service, but the leadership he provides as its treasurer, committee chairman and board member. In an interview with Vault, Nick discussed dividing his time between the office and the firehouse, his activities as a campus recruiter, and the mindset that is vital to sustaining a career and a life.
VAULT: At first glance, there would seem to be a great disparity between being an accounting manager and a fireman. How did you come to pursue both volunteer firefighting and a career in financial services?
Nick Bueti: Accountants and firefighters both run in my family. As I was growing up, I had several cousins, uncles and my mom who were all accountants. I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in accounting from being around them and hearing about what types of work they were doing. The one difference is that all of them were in the tax field or private sector. I wanted to be different from them and after learning so much about public accounting in college, I chose to pursue the public accounting field.
One day I was at an uncle’s house and my cousins were there, both of whom are firemen. They basically told me I couldn’t leave that evening until I filled out the application for membership. At first I had mixed emotions about joining, but once I did, I became very active, took many specialty courses, and just loved helping out my community.
V: Having flexibility at work is no doubt vital to your fire and rescue duties. How accommodating has Ernst & Young been in allowing you to maintain an active schedule with the department?
NB: Ernst & Young has always been supportive of my activities with the fire department. Even during our very busy times, I have the flexibility of attending trainings, meetings and, of course, fire calls which usually occur in the evenings during the week. The partners at Ernst & Young often ask if there are any ways the firm can assist the Department by providing financial support to meet our needs. As our department is 100 percent volunteer and our activities are funded through donor contributions, this becomes critical to fund our activities.
V: Have there been instances of your fire department activities interrupting or taking precedence over your work at the firm?
NB: There have been several instances by which the department activities have taken precedence. Two that come to mind were an evacuation of our local elementary school for a chemical spill and the rescue efforts of 9-11. I’ll never forget the support Ernst & Young gave me during the 9-11 attacks on our country. I was a Captain of the Rescue Co. and we were dispatched to assist in Harlem. We remained with that 125th street firehouse until their other units were able to return. Many of our tools and equipment were given to the local firehouse to replace what they had used. During this time, I received countless phone calls of support from co-workers, and some I never even met before. Ernst & Young created a very sizable grant for our fire department to replace our lost or damaged equipment. Words could not express the gratitude that was shared by all the members of the department.
V: Along with auditing, your professional duties include training and campus recruitment. How much of your schedule do these additional tasks take up? Do they often take you out of the office?
NB: I spend approximately ten percent of my year assisting with campus recruiting. This ranges from visiting several colleges for various events and career fairs, to assisting with our Ernst & Young “superdays” where candidates visit the firm for interviews. I enjoy visiting the campuses and sharing my experiences with the students, as well as provide them with valuable information about accounting, Ernst & Young and the interview process. Most of the recruiting efforts are out of the office and at the college campus.
V: In recruiting at schools, what are some key factors and qualities you look for in the students you engage? Do you encourage candidates to pursue personal interests as you have with firefighting?
NB: When I’m on campus, I’m looking for candidates who are motivated and eager to learn. I want to engage in a conversation that is rich, informative and feels natural—not just a question-and-answer session. It’s important that candidates are able to hold a meaningful conversation and feel comfortable speaking to a representative of the firm, because soon we’ll be asking them to speak with clients.
I encourage all the students that enjoy participating in personal interests to continue those activities. If you truly enjoy them and are not able to continue participating in them when you start your career, you’ll never want to stay at the firm. Working at Ernst & Young has a lot of flexibility for its employees to participate in activities outside of work. It’s all about how well you manage your time, your team commitments and your client commitment.
V: You lend your accounting expertise to the Bedford Hills Fire Department as treasurer, and as chairman of both the fundraising and death benefits committees. Conversely, are there skills you employ as a firefighter that translate to working at Ernst & Young?
NB: Teamwork is a skill that is equally valuable in my work as a firefighter and at Ernst & Young. All the activities while firefighting consist of teamwork. Whether it’s at a fire call, during training exercises or during one of our meetings, the members all need to work as a team to meet the objective. The same translates at Ernst & Young. We not only work as a team to serve our clients, but we also work as a team to make sure everyone has time to pursue our own personal as well as professional interests.
V: What advice would you offer to professionals similarly seeking to achieve balance between their professional and personal lives?
NB: The best advice I can offer is to remember that the more effort you put into something, the more you get in return. You have to look at it as if it’s a two-way street. The more effort and flexibility you offer to your employer, the more flexibility that they will provide to you. If I know that there is an event that is taking place for the department or for my personal life, I’ll make sure my teams know and work out when I can make the time up. The key is to have open communication with your employer and earn that trust.
Keep up with the latest developments at Ernst & Young and other leading financial services companies with In The Black: Vault's Finance Careers Blog. Vault's 2011 ranking of the Top 50 Accounting Firms arrives on September 23rd, 2010.