Barcode PWC 2012, Bjørn Erik Pedersen , CC BY 3.0

PwC Alum Okorie Ramsey Discusses Importance of Community

Originally published on PwC.com.

A former accountant aligns his career and his personal values at an organization that’s helping shape the future of healthcare.

Okorie Ramsey

President of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Hospitals (also known as Kaiser Permanente).

What were your early years like?

I grew up in Berkeley, California, and I first got the idea to become an accountant during a two-year simulation course in high school, where we had to develop and run our own business. After that, I knew I wanted to keep exploring the accounting space.

Did you study accounting in college?

Yes. I was also involved with the National Association of Black Accountants [NABA]; Beta Alpha Psi [BAP], which is an accounting fraternity; and the Accounting Students Organization [ASO]. I became president of the NABA student chapter and director of membership for Beta Alpha Psi.

What then led you to PwC?

During my last year and a half of college, I interned at Coopers & Lybrand [C&L], which later became PwC. By the time I graduated, I had an offer to join C&L’s banking team in the San Francisco office where I had been interning. I had offers from a few other accounting firms at the time, but I chose PwC because of the people and the strong relationships I built there.

Since then, you’ve built a very successful career at Kaiser Permanente. What’s your role now?

I’ll start by sharing the mission of Kaiser Permanente, because that mission is at the center of everything we do. Our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.

I’ve been here for 11 years, and I’ve had many different responsibilities, but my main responsibilities in my role are to help develop the strategy for identifying and mitigating risk, and to evaluate the effectiveness of our internal controls over financial reporting across the organization. I have a team of about 16 people who help me in working on the checks and balances supporting the internal control teams and finance leaders across the organization. In other words, we work to help confirm the accuracy of our financial statements, which protects our brand and reinforces the trust that our members and the public place with us.

What do you love most about your job?

I love that I’m able to align my work with my personal values of supporting less fortunate communities. For many years, I’ve done community-based work with organizations outside of my job. At Kaiser Permanente, I get to work in a day-to-day environment where my personal values are strongly encouraged and supported.  It’s also very clear at Kaiser Permanente that the brightest come in different ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations. I see it not only in the people that I hire, but also within our executive team.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I try to lead like a coach. In most cases, I won’t just tell you the answer or show you what to do. I’ll usually ask you questions and challenge you to come up with what you think is the right solution. Sometimes, that might feel uncomfortable and requires that you think and stretch. But I really want to understand your perspective, and see where you are. That way, I can be a better coach and help you THRIVE.

Of all your achievements so far, what makes you the most proud?

The ability to help others to be their best self and achieve their career goals. I remember teaching an MBA course at San Francisco State University and doing an exercise on legacy with my students. We asked everyone to describe what they hoped their legacy would be in six words. My statement was “To live a life that mattered.”

What’s the best advice you can offer to others?

First, remember that you are more than your career. Second, focus on developing your technical skills early. Third, be a student of your organization, and try to recognize when you’re no longer in the right place for you. Fourth, build relationships with a broad group of people. You can’t rely on command and control to get things done. It’s much more effective to use influence and build broad relationships with the people who are invested in you as well as the work that you’re trying to do. Fifth, develop your personal brand. Think about what you’re known for. What’s your headline? What do people say about you? If it’s not that interesting, or if it’s not what you want to be known for, then make some adjustments. Lastly, always think and work beyond the benefit of yourself. Try to make a positive impact on your community.

Outside of work, where do feel happiest?

With my family. My wife and I have been married for 22 years, and we’ve been together for almost 30 years. We have two amazing children — a daughter in sixth grade and a son in 11th grade — who challenge and inspire me every day. They’re really good kids.

What lesson do you most want to impart to your kids?

I try to impress upon them the importance of being involved in your community and living a life that matters outside of yourself. That’s something I learned from my parents and my grandmother. I serve on several boards, including the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. I’ve also served on the board of NABA at the national, regional, and local level. And I’ve served as president of the California Society of CPAs Education Foundation Board of Trustees and as chairman of the Accounting Career Awareness Program [ACAP]. In ACAP, which my son actually participated in this year, we expose high school students to career opportunities in finance and accounting through office visits to multinational technology organizations and the big four accounting firms, and others. It’s kind of like coming full circle.

 

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