Giving Back to the Business
Cap Gemini Ernst & Young VP responds to a caring work environment with loyalty and commitment

Deanne Handron joined the consulting firm Arthur Young because the people she met there "felt like family." Twenty-three years later, she's still loyal to Cap Gemini Ernst and Young, which the company has become after two mergers. Why? Handron wants to help maintain the supportive environment she has enjoyed.

"What happened for me is I recognized that some people made a significant difference in my life when I needed help. As I gained status in the company and had the ability to influence the lives of other people, I felt like it was my turn to make a difference for others," says Handron, who is now a vice president at Cap Gemini.

Interviewed on "Information Technology Leaders," Handron notes that the firm stood by her when her first child's birth coincided with her husband's serious illness and she needed a longer leave. That cemented her loyalty and influenced her decision to pass up a new job shortly after when a biotech firm came courting.

"Information Technology Leaders," produced by the University of Washington’s School of Business, presents multi-faceted portraits of the people filling the top IT positions at major corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing, and AT&T Wireless Services. The revealing interviews show that personal characteristics often play an important role in the unpredictable career trajectories of this industry.

Handron was the first in her southern Californian family to go to college. Early on, she had altruistic career goals - in her words, "I really did want to try and save the world." At the University of Southern California, she started studying medicine, but found she wasn't "cut out for the blood-and-guts of being a doctor." She switched to psychology, which may have been her life path if not for an accounting class she took in her last semester. She found the subject a refreshing change from the theoretical diet of the rest of her classes.

"Accounting is about laws. You balance your debits, you balance your credits, and it always works," she says. "I thought, 'boy, I like this.'" In graduate school at Cornell, she found a hybrid for her interests in pursuing an MBA in hospital administration.

Handron planned to work for a hospital after she graduated, but in the 1970s, consulting firms were "the hot places to go." Her first position with Arthur Young was in San Jose, California, just when the Silicon Valley was starting to boom (Handron remembers Apple when it was a "garage kind of thing"). Her office served the high-tech industry. Though the field was entirely new to her, she dove in, working through the night to get up to speed with what her clients needed. After a successful assignment with Advanced Micro Devices, "I didn't look back. I was in high technology from then on," she said.

In nine years, Handron rose from staff consultant to manager to senior manager to partner - the first woman of her rank on the West Coast. But she downplays the gender distinction: "I fell very privileged that I came along in consulting at a time when there was receptivity to women."

The firm allowed Handron to make geographic moves benefiting her family. She transferred to the Los Angeles office in 1984 to follow her husband's career. Later the family moved to Seattle, where it was more feasible for them to live on one income as Handron's husband stayed home with their five children. In Seattle, Handron became a vice president, describing her role as "filling in the cracks" by managing and recruiting for all the client industries. For five years she has also handled the Microsoft Alliance, which brings in half a billion dollars a year to Cap Gemini Ernst and Young.

Handron says the merger between Arthur Young and Ernst and Whinney was smooth, as the companies were similar in size, culture, and U.S. emphasis. But when Ernst and Young was acquired last year by Cap Gemini, a European, publicly held company, it was "a much harder transition," she says, especially coming at the brink of an economic downturn. Consultants thrive in both a growing economy and a stagnant one, Handron explains, but they don't do well in between, when clients hold tighter to their wallets and wait to see what will happen. The company has had to downsize, with Handron involved in many difficult layoffs.

Despite tough times and transitions, Handron's enthusiasm for her work has not wavered. "Consultants love to consult," she says. "Whatever's going on with the economy or the office, you forget about that when you're out with the client."

Produced By: Christopher Redner

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