Leadership Profile: Tony Johnson (Managing Partner and CEO, Ernst & Young)

Tony Johnson

What motivated you to join the Leadership Council?

As a child a sense of fairness was important for me, even it was only in my subconscious.  It was important to me that everyone got a fair go and an equal opportunity to participate – whether it be in the classroom or outside, particularly in the playground.

I firmly believe that fairness is an important attribute of a leader, and one I take seriously.  By joining the Leadership Council I have the opportunity to learn from others and also to positively impact EY (and the broader community) by creating a more inclusive environment and opportunity for all our people regardless of their cultural identity.  It means that more of our people will achieve their full potential – it’s just the right thing to do.

What are the major obstacles to progress on cultural diversity?

In many ways Australia is fertile ground to progress cultural diversity in the workplace but there are obstacles, from the practical to the unseen. Cultural misunderstandings can lead to stereotypes and bias, while wider societal progress needs to take place at the same rate of change as the workforce to achieve true equality at work.

We need more leaders who are educated and trained to understand the value of cultural diversity and who identify, mentor and sponsor culturally diverse talent.

Have any of your personal experiences shaped how you think about diversity?

The experience of leading our financial services practice in Asia Pacific – managing more than 5,000 people across eight countries and many more cultural backgrounds – gave me a great insight not only into the cultural differences but the synergies and value that came from bringing together diverse ideas and thoughts in an inclusive manner.

I have witnessed the importance of all people being able to see their potential future via visible and relevant role models. I have learned that leaders speaking, demonstrating and committing to inclusivity initiatives makes a huge difference to the outlook and confidence of all people, but particularly for those from diverse backgrounds.

What does leadership mean for you?

For me, leadership means being accessible, authentic and fair.

It means creating a workplace where everyone can individually achieve their full potential – enabling us to collectively thrive.  From a cultural perspective, it also means recognising when I need to flex my leadership style to one that is relatable for everyone, including culturally diverse people.

Who are some of the leaders that have inspired you?

I have been fortunate to observe and learn from many leaders – I’ve seen the good things and sometimes the not so good!  While it’s too hard to single out a few great leaders I’ve learnt from in my career, they all have some things in common.

The good leaders inspire and motivate and are generous with their time and support, understand people’s individual aspirations, and engage in authentic conversations.

What are the biggest challenges facing Australian society today?

Australia is a fantastic country; there is nowhere better to live, but we have our challenges.  The biggest include creating opportunity for all – more jobs and real wage growth will increase our prosperity and help with a more even distribution of wealth. Diversity of thought is a key enabler of innovation which is imperative to improving our productivity and surviving and thriving in a disrupted world.