ALL STAR PLAYER
Talk about a team player—that’s what’s defined Beth Brooke her whole life, helping her become Global Vice Chair of 120,000-employee [a Bisnow sponsor], Ernst & Young, and reaching rank #41 on the most recent Forbes list of the world’s 100 Most Powerful Women (two ahead of Laura Bush and five ahead of Queen Elizabeth). The Kokomo, Indiana, native loved sports but as a high school freshman had a degenerative hip and was told by one doctor she’d never walk again. Her response? “Are you kidding? I’m going to be the best darn athlete you’ve ever seen,” and by college she had a basketball scholarship to Purdue, benefiting from the new Title IX. She had long before learned to push herself, and took the advice of a professor to sign up for some hard business courses.
Wanting to explore beyond home, she took a job in Atlanta but quickly challenged the wisdom of that decision and late one night in desperation called someone from E&Y back in Indianapolis who had offered her a job. He asked, “How soon can you get here?” She packed her Chevette and was back at 10 the next morning. At that point she realized a truth that would become one of her guiding philosophies: It’s okay to make a bad decision; the key is knowing your value system, and how to correct a mistake…quickly.
She worked happily for ten years in audit and tax, specializing in the insurance industry and eventually heading the office’s practice in that area. Determined again to see the wider world, she transferred to DC in ‘91, and her practice assumed a national scope with big name clients like Blue Cross, Manulife, and Transamerica. In 1993, her insurance tax reputation and views about managed care tax policy came to the attention of the new Clinton Administration, which recruited her for a policy stint at Treasury. With a new outlet for what she admits is her “insatiable curiosity,” she worked first on health care reform, and later co-led the Administration’s Superfund effort to clean up toxic waste. She helped fashioned a compromise, which was on the verge of agreement in October ’94—then sunk by partisan wrangling. Leading to another lesson: Change doesn’t happen overnight but is still worth pursuing. She hasn’t lost interest in politics, and is passionately supporting Hillary.
Above, Beth holds a picture of E&Y’s Americas Executive Board, on which she sits. Her diverse portfolio puts her in charge of worldwide strategy—and global regulatory affairs; and internal and external communications in the Americas. Several hundred staff report to her in a company that spans 140 countries and produces revenues of $20 billion. She realizes it’s an extraordinary global platform with more influence than many countries possess. Besides being a leading voice in public policy issues for the accounting profession, she has committed herself to women’s issues and initiatives to promote prosperity in the developing world. Sometimes the two intersect. On the board of TechnoServe, she was in Kenya this spring looking at ways to help small farmers succeed as entrepreneurs. She also recently joined Queen Rania of Jordan for a Vital Voices conference at the Dead Sea focused on building public/private partnerships, and when in India convened the women of E&Y’s offices to talk about roads to success.
Since she’s either abroad or at her other office in Manhattan about half her time, she’s created a weekend refuge a couple hours north from DC overlooking Maryland’s Elk River—which she says reminds her of a fondly remembered Webster Lake of her youth in Indiana. At the same time, she’s a family person, and one of the reasons she got a five bedroom fixer upper there is so she can gather family members together as much as possible, for whom she often cooks her beloved risotto. Oh, and it’s a great place for her three cats and two dogs to roam. Of course, she has also created a makeshift basketball court in the driveway.