Spruell, recently named global managing director of the Financial Advisory Practice for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, just came off a four-year stint as chief of staff to Deloitte LLP’s former U.S. CEO (and now global CEO), Barry Salzberg. (Deloitte is No. 8 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity.) How Spruell connected with Salzberg, the leadership lessons he’s learned at the firm and at Notre Dame, and how he gives back to others is quite a story.
Spruell grew up in the Cleveland area, the son of a seamstress and a city engineer. In sixth grade, his teacher told him he was so good at math and science that he should consider a career in engineering.
“I was fortunate and blessed to be skilled, not only academically but also athletically, so when I looked at colleges, I wanted a great academic and athletic combination,” he recalls. He found it at Notre Dame, where he played offensive tackle and was co-captain his senior year. Legendary football Coach Lou Holtz was his coach for two years and a lifelong mentor.
“He taught me that it’s up to the individual to take advantage of learnings and experience, and I’ve certainly done that,” he says.
Since entering the workplace, Spruell has been an excellent networker and now counsels others on how to maximize workplace relationships. “When you get into the professional workplace, you have to carry yourself in a way that you can reach out to people. I can find a commonality with people, whether they are Black, white, male, female, Latino,” he says.
In 2004–2005, he was given the opportunity to be a representative on Sharon Allen’s Board Council (Allen was chairman of the board of directors at the time). This is a group of younger partners who provide advice and input to the board. After the first year, the vice chair of the board, Sandy Cockrell, who was CEO of Deloitte’s U.S. Financial Advisory Services, told him he was doing a great job but advised him to “take advantage of this opportunity in terms of the people that you’re interacting with on the board and management,” Spruell recalls. Cockrell gave him a list of four or five people to reach.
“I took that list, checked them off, and had breakfast, dinner, and real conversations with each of those folks. Guess who one of those folks happened to be? Barry Salzberg,” he says.
Salzberg was then the managing partner, and Spruell pursued a relationship with him, scheduling breakfasts, lunches and meetings whenever possible. Four years later, when Salzberg became U.S. CEO, he asked Spruell to be his chief of staff.
“He told me it would give me experience, awareness and opportunity to learn what the organization is truly about beyond financial advisory,” Spruell recalls. In this position, Spruell was involved in operations, communications, strategy, regulatory/policy, talent and clients/markets matters for the U.S. firm.
Salzberg, who has twice spoken at DiversityInc events, was a remarkable teacher, friend and mentor, helping Spruell grow enough to take on his latest role, where he chairs the Global Financial Advisory Executive Committee and leads an 8,500-person practice covering almost 150 countries.
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For Deloitte and the clients it advises, globalization is a huge challenge and opportunity, especially finding and retaining talent. Mobility, he notes, is a great challenge as people become comfortable within their own perspectives and may not want to take on diverse global experiences.
“Our ability to give them the right experience and match up those opportunities with what they want and expect to do on a global basis is very important,” he says.
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Having benefited so much from others, Spruell now makes a point of mentoring, coaching and sponsoring Deloitte employees and external people who need advice. “My whole world is to be approachable and let people know that I’m willing to have those conversations,” he says. “Helping to tell people a little bit about my journey always gives people a perspective about what they could to as well.”
He views his career in terms of a football field; working with Salzberg offered experience, exposure and the opportunity to learn and helped him move, he says, from the 40-yard line to the 20-yard line. Now he’s in the red zone and his end zone is being considered at some point for an elective leader position in the firm, either at the U.S. or global level.
“I need to make a couple more successful plays to get over the goal line without any penalties or any turnovers. I’ve been looking to my coaches and mentors for advice in terms of what those plays are,” he says.