Date posted: 07/10/2020 5 min read

Difference makers of 2020: Richard Deutsch FCA

In this crazy, uncertain year, the Deloitte Australia CEO is focusing on the things that he can control.

In Brief

  • Deloitte Australia CEO Richard Deutsch FCA says in a crisis it’s important to create a sense of stability and confidence in your own organisation.
  • Leaders should push their businesses to be innovative and economically sound, but they should also have compassion.
  • He believes the COVID-19 lockdowns have been a catalyst for change.

Story Susan Muldowney
Photo Nic Walker

As the world continues to stare down a health and economic crisis of unprecedented scale, Deloitte Australia CEO Richard Deutsch FCA is focusing on the things he can control. And he suggests the rest of corporate Australia should do the same.

“We need to look at what we can do to control our own destiny,” he says. “We can produce in Australia and create in Australia, irrespective of the fact that our international borders might be shut for a while.

“We need to talk about the fact that there is a lot of investment that needs to be done in Australia by governments and by corporates – in infrastructure, in health, in education, in transport. Let’s start looking at the things that are in our control to drive economic growth.”

Change makers of 2020: Richard Deutsch FCA Picture: Richard Deutsch FCA.

“Let’s start looking at the things that are in our control to drive economic growth.”
Richard Deutsch FCA

Control has become a relative term in a year characterised by uncertainty. The COVID-19 crisis is estimated to cost the Australian economy at least A$170 billion and there’s no doubt professional services firms are feeling the pressure.

UK-based Source Global Research predicts the pandemic will cause a 13% contraction in the Australian consulting market in 2020. The fallout has led to wide-scale cost-cutting measures at the local arms of all the Big Four firms, and Deloitte Australia recently cut 700 jobs – or about 7% of its local workforce.

Driving a culture of innovation at Deloitte

Despite the significant setbacks, Deutsch is continuing to drive what he describes as a culture of innovation at Deloitte. That includes upskilling employees via the launch of a new Deloitte micro-credentials online learning platform, as well as continued investment in digital platform engineering and cloud technologies.

“COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change – it has accelerated the need for digital capabilities, and we’ve got the best capability of any firm in Australia.”

During the past six months, Deloitte has also intensified its focus on – and invested heavily in – Australia’s A$5 billion space industry, which Deutsch says may help to fuel the country’s economic growth.

“For me, it’s an area that’s really exciting because it’s a field where Australia can become a global centre of excellence and ensure that our status as the lucky country continues going forward.

“I also think people find meaning and purpose in the work they do if it is deeply connected to the ways that Australia can reboot its economy.”

The importance of respect

Deutsch was appointed CEO of Deloitte Australia in September 2018. Before joining the firm in 2015 he held senior roles, including partner and head of audit, at rival Big Four firm PwC, where he worked for 25 years. He was president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia in 2009.

Deutsch is also a former chairman of OzHarvest, which redirects excess food from restaurants and supermarkets to charities, and a director at Adara Group, a charity that provides support for underprivileged children and their mothers in Nepal and Uganda.

“I have a very strong belief in showing respect for everyone, no matter who they are or what they do,” he says.

“Frankly, that’s really why I wanted to be the CEO of Deloitte Australia. I want to provide an environment where people can be who they are and let their light shine. And that’s really what drives me in the role that I’m in.”

How to look beyond crisis to recovery

Since the bushfire crisis in January, Deutsch has sent a weekly email to all staff that includes “a blend of things that will help them think about their own resilience and their own mental health”.

“What we’re experiencing now is different to past crises in that we don’t know when it will end,” he says. “You can’t give anybody a guarantee and that raises anxiety because people are looking for certainty and you can’t provide it.

“But I do think about creating a sense of stability and confidence in your own organisation and, from a personal perspective, you’ve got to make sure your own resilience is intact.

“For me, that’s all about perspective, gratitude and finding meaning and value in things.”

Despite the economic hardship, Deutsch believes the current crisis may present opportunities for corporate Australia, “if you are very clear about the purpose and role you play in supporting what’s important to clients and communities right now,” he says.

“We need to focus on the current issues at hand, as well as looking beyond the horizon for the things that will be relevant in recovery.”

Deutsch believes leaders have a responsibility to ensure “that we are innovative, that we are economically sound and that we are compassionate toward one another.”

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