Talking with .. Ernst & Young managing partner Lynette Horrell

First woman managing partner at Ernst & Young's local office knows much is focused on one day: April 15

Johnstown native Lynette Horrell didn't grow up with aspirations of a business career. But through some parental nudging toward college and specifically, accounting, she landed as an intern at Arthur Young, a national accounting and auditing firm that later merged to become Ernst & Young, one of the industry's Big 4.

Ms. Horrell joined the firm full time after college, rose through the managerial ranks and last July was named the first female managing partner for Ernst & Young's Pittsburgh office. She oversees about 270 employees who are in the midst of their busiest stretch of the year leading up to the April 15 federal tax filing deadline.

Lynette Horrell
  • Job:Pittsburgh office managing partner, Ernst & Young.
  • Hometown: Johnstown, resides in Richland.
  • Age: 45
  • Education: Bachelor's degree, business, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 1984.
  • Career: 1984-89: staff auditor, Arthur Young; 1990-92: manager, Ernst & Young (firm created by merger of Arthur Young and Ernst & Whinney); 1993-98: senior manager, Ernst & Young; 1998-2007: partner, Ernst & Young; July 2007-present: Pittsburgh office managing partner, Ernst & Young.

Q: Did you encounter barriers as a female climbing the ladder at Ernst & Young?

A: When I started in 1984, there were very few females. There were never barriers imposed by the firm but mostly by myself because I had not seen women become successful in public accounting.

When I started, I thought I would be here only three years until I became a CPA [certified public accountant]. I thought I would go to a smaller, maybe private company so I could raise a family and not have the overtime or the hours required of public accounting. That's what most women did. Back in 1984, we would hire 50 percent women and by the time of promotion to manager, which is about five years, there would be zero or very few women left. They would use the CPA as a credential to get a job out in the industry.

Q: Why did you stay?

A: In public accounting, you get to see what other accountants do because we visit companies and audit them. The whole time I was at Ernst & Young I was always looking at, "Is there something else I'd like to do?" I saw what other accountants did, how much they made and the hours they worked.

Probably in my 24 years here I went out on two interviews. It was clear in the interview process that what I had here was more flexible and more professionally rewarding and had more opportunities for growth. I continually challenge those opportunities because we get recruited all the time. Recruiters call our people because they are the brightest out of college and they have a whole host of different experiences.

Q: Was a career in accounting a longtime goal of yours?

A: I guess I have to be truthful: My mother told me I was going to be an accountant. She was a stay-at-home mom. I was always good in math, and my mother wanted me to go to college. I wasn't really focused on it. She said, "Try it. You might like it. Try accounting." She really just led the way. She put me in the car and drove me to college and dropped me off. And I did like it, although it really doesn't have a lot to do with math anymore. She was right, for once.

Q: You ended up married with three daughters (ages 5, 7 and 9). What did it take to achieve your current position while raising a family?

A: Our firm realized that the only way you get a good, quality audit is diversity in thought. When you take all white males to a job site, you get kind of the same, consistent thought. Our firm believes we need minorities and females on our engagements in order to provide the best service to our clients.

So [the firm] became much more flexible. Our job is not a 9-to-5 job. We do have a lot of overtime. But the fact is you can work at home, you can work different hours if that works better for your children. So there's been a lot of flexibility on the firm side. Plus at home I just have a lot of support: my husband, my in-laws, my parents. If ever there is a conflict, they always help out.

Q: So you've been somewhat of a trailblazer here -- the first woman managing partner in the Pittsburgh office?

A: Ernst & Young has been in Pittsburgh nearly 100 years, since 1915. When they were putting me up for partner, I can remember the individual who recommended me saying, "I know you can do it." And I said, "What makes you think so? E&Y has been here 100 years and there's never been a woman partner with children." (There were two other female partners ahead of me). And he said, "It's just because they haven't tried." So I think it was more women defeating themselves and saying "I can't do it" vs. just trying.

Q: How would you describe your management style?

A: I'd say it's distributed. People here want to be successful. We have a lot of great, intelligent people here. It's almost like I have an idea, I throw it out there and they execute. That's probably the kind of management style you need here. My focus is people, quality and growth.

Q: What does your office do to ease the stress of tax crunch time from January to April 15?

A: It's not only tax crunch time. About 70 percent of our practice is our audit practice. This is also earnings season, so most of our large, [publicly held] clients are filing their [annual financial reports] and issuing earnings. So it's audit crunch and tax crunch.

To alleviate some of the overtime pressures, first of all we have flexibility. Every employee has a computer with dial-in-from-home access to all of our files and work papers. So it's basically like being in the office. You don't have to drive in on weekends. Or if you want to leave at a normal hour to see your family and work [from home] later in the evening, that's very helpful.

We have a different theme lunch every Saturday. We'll do pizza, Italian, wraps. We have an arrangement with The Rivers Club, where for a minimal fee our people can go up there and utilize the facilities. A lot of our younger folks, if they work on Saturday, will go up there and play basketball. We have healthful snacks: water, nuts, fruit.

And we try to spread [the work] more throughout the year. You'll never get away from the fact that January and February are our busiest times. But because of Sarbanes-Oxley [the 2002 federal law that established new financial reporting standards], from the audit standpoint you have to take a more control approach, and from the tax standpoint, we try to be more proactive and get our clients to deliver things to us when they say they will.

Q: How do you personally manage the crunch?

A: Organization. I have calendars and notes for everybody in my household. And I telecommute from home a lot. I typically go home at 6 p.m. and I'll be with my family until they go to bed at 8:30 p.m. And then I'll get online at 9 p.m. Sometimes I'll be on there very late, but I prefer to do that vs. sit here and work from my desk.

I love to ski. Talk about telecommuting. We just bought a house at Seven Springs, and we go up there on Friday night. I'll work Saturday while my family is skiing, or Sunday, and they can enjoy skiing, and I enjoy being with them.

Joyce Gannon can be reached at or 412-263-1580. First Published March 2, 2008 5:00 AM


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