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  • CFO.com | US

“My First Thought Was That I Couldn’t Imagine Doing That”

But Carol Sawdye’s first thought about a return to PwC didn’t last long. Her career is newly energized by diverse responsibilities and a wide-open future.

This is the final article in a three-part series profiling Carol Sawdye, recently named CFO at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Part 1 focused on her move 12 years ago from PwC to become finance chief at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, the world’s biggest law firm. Part 2 followed her to her next job heading finance at the National Basketball Assn.

In the summer of 2012, Carol Sawdye was once again contemplating a career move. The main projects she had been working on for two years as CFO of the National Basketball Assn., related to the league’s collective-bargaining negotiations with its players, were finished. Exciting as those projects were, she didn’t see that she had growth potential in the organization.

Sawdye was mulling what other kinds of opportunities she could find in the media and entertainment field, which had been a career-long passion, when she got a call from Bob Moritz, the U.S. chairman of PwC. 

A call from Moritz wasn’t unusual. The two were close, having started working together at PwC on the same day in 1985 as new college graduates. But the reason for the call caught her off guard: would she like to come back to the firm where she worked as an auditor and partner until 2001, this time as the firm’s CFO? 

“My first thought was that I couldn’t imagine doing that,” says Sawdye. “I was biased in that I didn’t want to go back to that culture.”

In the classic professional-services-firm model, retaining a large percentage of new hires long enough for them to become partners was not a goal. The firms’ economics wouldn’t work if the ratio of partners to staff were too high. Turnover was always rampant, as the firms’ modus operandi was to “burn and churn,” heaping long hours and much stress on their young workers.

But at the major professional-services firms like PwC, that attitude underwent change in the 11 years Sawdye was away working at other jobs. It’s no secret that the firms have been greatly challenged in recent years to hire enough graduates to best serve all their clients. As long ago as 2008, CFO published a lengthy article in which the seven largest public accounting firms all positioned themselves as having become flexible on working hours and far more employee-friendly.

Moritz’s pitch to Sawdye rested heavily on an assurance that not only had the firm’s culture changed, but that he wanted it to change a lot more.

As was the case when Sawdye left PwC to become CFO at law firm Skadden Arps, the job offer prompted a lot of soul-searching. “If I took this job, it would mean I wasn’t going to pursue entertainment and media anymore,” she says. But her introspection and her talks with Moritz led her to a realization that what she was best at doing was managing professional-services firms.

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