Consulting's 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award: EY's Robert Patton

Robert C. Patton EY Vice Chair Americas, Accounts

Ask Robert Patton what has motivated to him excel over the course of his career and he’ll say without hesitation: Passion! “I love springing out of bed and throwing 110 percent of my energy into a purpose I care deeply about and working with people for whom I care deeply,” Patton says. 

And it shows. That same passion for purpose drives Patton today as it has over the course of his entire career, including two stints at EY. He is currently EY’s Americas Vice Chair of Accounts where he leads the firm’s growth strategy by engaging some 71,000 people to drive top-line growth and propel the EY brand.

Patton says it was his mother—the most selfless individual he’s ever known—who taught him at an early age about purpose… and to get out of his own way, in so many dimensions of life. And her advice has guided him throughout his career, all the way to being named Consulting magazine’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

“I found in my career that living a purposeful life produces strong conviction and that strong conviction produces the exceptional courage needed to lead well,” he says. “I have always tried to lead with a focus on something way bigger than myself which is why I have so enjoyed waking up every day activating our firm’s purpose and my personal purpose.”

Prior to his current role, which he assumed late last year, Patton served as EY Americas Vice Chair of Advisory Services where he used that purpose to help clients improve performance, manage risk and transform industries. During that time, he helped grow the practice from $1.5 billion in revenue with 6,000 consultants to nearly $5 billion in revenue and 16,000 consultants. During his tenure, Patton oversaw more than 25 strategic acquisitions. 

It was also under his advisory leadership that the firm rebranded from Ernst & Young to EY, and launched its passion with a purpose message of “Building a Better Working World,” which is still the basis of the firm’s advisory work today. 

In a Consulting magazine interview back in 2015, Patton said: “Our purpose around building a better working world is really exciting. EY is a purpose-driven brand, and that’s not just because we just have a purposeful slogan but we are actually leading purpose throughout our company. Every EY employee—whether it’s the industry teams, competency teams, regional teams, account teams, engagement teams—is connected to the overall theme about how we’re passionate about our purpose of building a better working world.”

And they did: The Advisory Practice Patton handed off to Hank Prybylski is in outstanding shape and on target to top $10 billion by 2023. When Patton took it over in late 2011, it was just a shade over $1 billion. 

“What you permit, you promote,” he says. “Part of having the courage to lead is having the courage to confront behaviors that are unbecoming to your personal values and/or your firm values. Consulting has given me amazing experiences to work on the most challenging problems, with some of the brightest people on a global stage. I have been fortunate to work with and learn from incredibly talented people… and not just colleagues at work, but clients as well.” 

He says he’s always enjoyed the collaborative nature of client relationships and stresses EY doesn’t simply solve problems for clients. “We solve with them. This paves the way for deeper relationships and a sense of teaming that’s impossible to manufacture in any other way.”

When looking back over the course of his career, Patton says he often battles with the appropriate balance between results the firm’s achieved and the relationships he’s formed. But now he realizes, he says, the most rewarding points in his career all fall firmly into the “relationship” category. 

“The Partner Promotion parties and the client celebration events are the things I remember most,” he says. “Inspiring others to find their purpose is singularly the most rewarding experience of my career.”

Patton has extensive experience working with Fortune 500 companies. He spent 10 years with EY serving on its North American Executive Committee providing leadership to fast-growing, high-performing businesses within EY’s North American portfolio before joining Cap Gemini EY and then Gartner, Inc. Patton rejoined EY in 2008.

As to how it all began, Patton says he followed his mentor into the consulting profession and credits him with showing him tough love. “He first cared enough to be brutally honest with me and shockingly critical of me,” he says. “He then built me up by inspiring me to think big and to be bold, while he ensured I got the necessary training, experiences and exposure.”

As far as being recognized as the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Patton says it is incredibly humbling. “It confirms my lifelong commitment to a formula I call P² x C²—which reminds me each day that Purpose/Passion multiplied by Courage/Conviction will produce the most incredible life experiences,” he says. “The process will be hard, but the outcomes are always healthy.”

Colleagues Sound Off on Patton’s Purpose, Passion

• “Thank you Bob for helping me rediscover my purpose … the purpose of consulting takes a higher calling. It’s of course about clients and organization results but as a woman partner, it’s also about showcasing to working women that you can be a successful consultant and a great parent too. If I hadn’t met you Bob, I wouldn’t have joined EY and wouldn’t have figured out what I was missing. Thank you for your care for me as I strive to live my purpose every day, for your unwavering support to build our Strategy/Customer team into the growth engine it is, and mostly, to build a place here within EY Advisory where purpose is the norm.”

—Kris Pederson, EY Americas Advisory Strategy Leader

• “I am very fortunate to have had the chance to work beside a handful of great leaders in my career and lifetime. Those who had foresight, courage, and always aligned and inspired teams to reach beyond what they thought possible. Behind the title of leader and the responsibilities that go with it, was always a great person who cared deeply… Your authenticity, your passion to win, your advocacy, your care, have not gone unnoticed. You selflessly strived to do the right thing, each and every day for our Advisory Practice, and the great people that are a part of it. A steady hand in the storm, a calming voice in the fray, a humble guy from Georgia that knew the value of treating his team like a family.” 

—Jay Layman, EY Partner (retired)

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