Rice University, Jesse H. Graduate School of Business
In his role as chair and CEO of Ernst & Young from 2001 to 2013—one of the most turbulent periods in the public accounting industry’s history—James Turley was committed to enhancing three things: the public’s trust in professional services firms, the quality of financial reporting, and the culture at EY.
During his time leading EY, Turley encouraged and participated in discussions across the globe regarding the many changes facing the world capital markets, including the advent of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the U.S., the introduction of International Financial Reporting Standards in more than 100 counties, and the overall movement toward greater convergence of global governance and auditing standards.
Turley believed that EY and the accounting industry at large impacted the public through assurance of financial systems—developing, serving, and strengthening the future of the world’s communities and companies. That potential for impact came with a great obligation to society. Independent oversight helped EY root out underlying weaknesses and refocus on fundamental issues related to quality and culture. At the same time, he understood the world was shifting. Turley was explicit in his philosophy that capital shifts are as important as demographic shifts and that countries and companies needed to embrace both to succeed.
Turley’s message at EY focused on quality, integrity, and professionalism. He addressed women in leadership positions and made sure that dialogue included ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, and physical ability in the success of any organization. EY was consistently recognized by Fortune magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and won repeated honors from Working Mother magazine, Black Collegian, Hispanic magazine, DiversityInc., Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, Catalyst, and others.
Under Turley’s tenure at EY, the inclusivity mindset became ingrained in the culture—from the global search for talent to the impact of diverse teams on the firm’s profitability, creativity, innovation, and decision making.
Turley was honored by the White House Project with the EPIC Go Lead award for advancing women in business and championed internal programs such as Career Watch, Inclusiveness Leadership Program, Women's ACCESS, and others. Extending his commitment to gender equity, he served from 2009 to 2013 as chair of the board of Catalyst, a nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business.
Turley valued his employees. He saw the sense of purpose in what EY did, in creating a context for economic and personal success—not only for their clients but for the communities EY served. His number-one priority as chair was to be the conscience of the organization. Employees needed to know right from wrong, what was expected of them, that nothing was more important than their own integrity. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act placed much more responsibility in the hands of audit committees as the agents of investors. Turley helped form the Audit Committee Leadership Network to bring together audit committee chairs from some of the largest companies to learn from one another, share best practices, and embed greater rigor in governance processes.