Bob Moritz on the economy, diversity, and preparing students to enter the workforce

Oct 26, 2017

You might not know the name Bob Moritz, but you probably have heard of the company he runs. Moritz is the global chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, an accounting firm with offices in more than 150 countries around the world and more than 230,000 employees. He's also a graduate of SUNY Oswego and he stopped by our studios recently.

Moritz knows a lot about the economy. Each year, PwC puts out a survey of CEOs from around the nation as a way to gauge how the economy is performing. And right now, despite all of the political uneasiness, the economy is doing pretty well.

“Clearly up until the election and after the election there was this promise and hope for less regulation, more certainty on taxes, and a better tax structure. So that confidence went up a lot more so,” said Moritz. “Now lately because of now the politics coming in, there's a little bit less of that.

“Having said that, the resiliency of corporates has actually increased quite a bit. So they've actually done a really good job of right sizing their business, going after a different portfolio or a mix of businesses, and the ability to deliver top line and bottom line results is pretty strong,” he said. “And again it comes back to irrespective of the politics, the customer confidence willingness to spend is out there and they see that in a really positive way right now.”

The more positive a company's performance, the more people it may hire. As the head of a large company, Moritz always has to be changing and adapting the ways he recruits new workers to his company, because the workforce itself is always changing.

PwC global chairman Bob Moritz during a visit to SUNY Oswego in October
Credit SUNY Oswego

“Business has been able to keep up because they have brought a tremendous amount of new talent in, and they let that new talent actually drive the changes that they need to make,” he said. “Second thing that's happened is they're doing a lot more alliances with other partners. So if you sit down and talk to a CEO of a technology company, they have many alliances with many of what I'll call the old historical corporates and the combination of those two working together are changing the way the old corporates are actually doing their business. That therefore has changed, then, the way they actually go get talent, and the way they look at their customers, and using technology to do both.”

Moritz spends a lot of time talking with college students as they prepare to enter the workforce and giving them advice. So how should a college senior be getting ready for that first job?

“First thing you want to do is you want to demonstrate that you actually can problem solve no matter what types of problems have come your way,” he said. “And that's important because whatever job you walk into today at a corporate, or a small enterprise, is going to change two to three years from now. So the ability to demonstrate you can be agile and resistant and resilient to the changes that will be coming your way is a really important soft skill, as opposed to just the technical acumen, or the business acumen that we're actually looking for.

“So to me, as you look in this fast paced world where businesses are changing radically, there are competitive threats, economic implications, etc. Don't walk in assuming you're going to have a linear career path and definitely demonstrate the skills that will demonstrate that you can go from job to job to job even within one corporate, and you can still be successful,” said Moritz. “So adaptability, agility and resiliency are key skills. How do you demonstrate that? It's not what's on the resume, but it's the stories of what you did to get the resume you have.”

But it's not just companies and CEOs that have to make those adjustments. SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley sat in on our conversation as well and says colleges and universities also have to adapt in order to prepare that changing workforce. But it can be challenging for the academic world to keep up.

“It is, as a matter of fact, built to turn the ship around slowly, so that the traditions and historical understandings about learning can remain the same. So it's somewhat challenging, that is a huge challenge in today's day and age,” said Stanley.

Academic institutions like SUNY Oswego have to go through periods of reinvention every so often to adapt to the way students learn. That, says Stanley, could mean simply changing the way classes are taught.

“You will see teamwork in classrooms, you will see flipped classrooms where students are really controlling the environment within that classroom and then taking it out to experiences that give them an opportunity to apply what they've learned in theory and then change what they know. Because the theory matches reality,” she said.

But more than adjusting to a changing workforce, Moritz has spent much of his career working to increase diversity and inclusion in companies around the world. And while he says corporate America has done better at increasing diversity and gender equality over the last few decades, more needs to be done.

“While we have great profile examples of where you have a Mary Barra at GM, or you had the potential for Hillary Clinton as the President of the United States, or today you've got [Angela] Merkel and Theresa May and others like that around the world in leadership positions, there is not enough in what I would call middle management and senior management that has fed the pipeline where there's enough parity going on right now,” said Moritz. “So I think there's a lot more work to be done both on gender but also let's not forget race and LGBT and other aspects of what inclusiveness really means.”

On the academic side, SUNY Oswego's Deborah Stanley says colleges and universities have made much bigger strides to increase diversity and inclusiveness on their campuses.

SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley
Credit SUNY Oswego

“When we talk about education and access to higher education, we're talking about social justice. We're talking about equity in a slightly different way than economic equity only. We're talking about giving someone a threshold into a different life, not only for themselves, but for their families and for their future families as well,” said Stanley. “Changing the culture moving forward.”

But when it comes to closing the gender gap in companies across the country, ultimately, both Stanley and Moritz say waiting for the culture to change in corporate America probably won't work and it may take legislation to force companies to be more inclusive.

“I don't think you can afford to wait,” said Moritz.

“You can't afford to wait for legislation these days,” said Stanley. “Or you could do it by executive order. But then it would change when the next administration came in.”

“The reality is we as a business community, or we as those in higher education, cannot afford to be demonstrably different than the society we are part of,” said Moritz. “And as a result we're going to have to move faster. Otherwise, the trust between society and business, or the trust between society and the education system is going to continue to deteriorate and that's a bad thing for everybody involved.

“We see some examples of that today, where that fairness and sense of opportunity is available to all. So I would tell you that the system is ill equipped to wait. And as a result you are going to need both businesses to operate differently and have a higher degree of expectations which starts at the top of the house in the boardroom. And second, you're going to have to probably move in terms of some legislation, which is not going to make people happy.

“And I would tell you, when I first came into my roles, I was not a big believer in more regulation in this area. I thought the human aspect, the heart, mind and soul would overcome these. The reality is it's not going to make it fast enough. So I do think you have to move in some of those directions.”

PwC global chairman Bob Moritz (right) and SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley (center) talked with WRVO's Jason Smith (left)
Credit Matt Cummins / SUNY Oswego