High Tech, High Touch
Transforming audit and assurance services through technology is Deloitte & Touche LLP CEO Lara Abrash’s (MBA ‘94) forte. Doing it with purpose and with excellence, skills she polished at the School of Business, has made her a recognized leader.
When Lara Abrash (MBA, ’94) chose the School of Business to pursue her Master of Business Administration, there were no other contenders in her mind. “There was no question it was going to be Baruch,” Abrash says. “The business school had a reputation for being all about focus, on being excellent at a discipline, about getting your CPA. I didn’t apply to any other schools.”
Abrash, who while at Baruch worked full-time at a small accounting firm and often did her studying during long commutes to her Long Island home, got just what she was looking for. She was pushed toward success, she says, through standout professors like Harry Z. Davis, who used inventive visuals to illustrate complex business concepts. And in Professor Douglas Carmichael’s thesis class, she says, she learned that the profession of accountancy was as much about the “why we do it” as the “how it’s done.”
“Professor Carmichael is an expert at what he does, and he made me understand the impact of the accounting and auditing discipline on business and to people. He taught us the purpose behind the practice—protecting the capital markets. It’s your 401K, it’s your family money and investments… It’s our role as auditors to enhance trust in the capital markets.”
Abrash brought that sense of responsibility and pursuit of excellence to Deloitte & Touche, where throughout the trajectory of her 25-year career she has continually sought new ways to perfect the art of audit through connections to clients and through cutting-edge technology. She was admitted into the partnership in just 10 years, and in 2019 was elected chair and CEO of the company’s U.S. Audit and Assurance practice.
Integral to her success in relating to and working with large international clients, Abrash notes, was having the Zicklin experience of working with student teams, usually international and with diverse perspectives. “We talk about a global environment,” she says. “At Baruch, I lived in a global environment. It teaches you that the world is bigger than what’s around you.”
The world is also faster, smarter, and more demanding than ever. In the world of audit and accounting, says Abrash, who has been on the leading edge of exploring and implementing new technology at Deloitte, data analytics has advanced the profession to a whole new level.
“Data is the new gold. Now we can take data sets and compare them to other companies, with other clients. We can draw relationships,” says Abrash. But along with advanced technology, including the latest in cognitive tech, she adds, the human factor is key. “There’s an exciting place for people who want to understand and evolve with technology. You also need to have a passion for fairness, to be equipped with critical thinking, analytic skills, and a deep understanding of business. Technology leverages the strength of the human brain.”
At Deloitte, Abrash says, this combination is both pursued and encouraged—and has kept her at the firm and encouraged her to grow. “There’s a depth of smarts here,” Abrash says of her colleagues. “They just make me better.” It’s a continuation of what she experienced at Zicklin, she says. “For the things you focus on, be excellent. Because excellence can’t be replaced.”
In Abrash’s world, that also means deriving energy from life outside the C-suite—spending time with her husband and kids, and taking time for the softball team she manages, playing first base and gathering with friends for a game after work. “I talk about this with people at Deloitte, about doing whatever it is that has a positive impact on your life. We have a word we use, ‘well-being’ … People think that means you go to the gym. But it doesn’t mean that. It means being whole.”
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