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Making DU Work

Members of a small team of professionals put their guests first and are making things happen at Deloitte University.

Deloitte LifeSpread out on 107 rolling acres in Westlake, Texas, Deloitte University (DU) makes an impressive statement. From the Sharon Allen Boardroom to the tidy herb garden, each feature of the facility radiates the organization’s special culture. But DU is about far more than a leading-class facility. It provides a uniquely Deloitte guest experience where the organization’s professionals can develop into great leaders in an atmosphere conducive to networking across all functions and levels.

Working to help define, shape, and deliver that experience is a small DU team of innovative thinkers. The members of this team challenge the norm, use their high levels of “constructive dissatisfaction,” and constantly upgrade their own performance. Pete Sackleh, Hayley Drey, and Andy Grieser are three of these professionals who helped launch DU and who have made a strong personal commitment to its success.

At your service

A Deloitte professional for nine years, Pete Sackleh was operations leader for Deloitte’s Southeast Region when he learned of the opportunity to help launch and then lead DU. Between his Deloitte role and his former career in law firm management, Sackleh had a good working knowledge of all operating areas of a business. Still, the decision to make the move to DU wasn’t easy. “Things were quite undefined, although that was an attraction,” he says. “The opportunity to be a part of one of Deloitte’s most significant efforts and to help build out its strategy from the ground up was, in the end, too good to pass up.”

He joined the DU team in March 2010, well before the building was operational. Initially, as director of strategic implementation, he was charged with overseeing operations and, well, strategy implementation for the facility. In October 2013, Sackleh, director, Deloitte LLP, became DU’s managing director with oversight responsibility for all aspects of the facility and its programming.

While his title may have changed, his mission has not. “My focus is working on business strategies and making sure our team’s service delivery is of the highest quality,” he says. “I take these responsibilities seriously and am committed to providing the highest levels of value for our owners, for our people, and ultimately our clients.”

Sackleh and his team are driven by two objectives – to understand and serve the needs of each guest, while maximizing the use of DU’s robust facilities. And their approach appears to be working. “DU has turned out to be a great manifestation of Deloitte’s brand and is an excellent investment in our people,” Sackleh says. “In the beginning, I didn’t quite understand what we were building here. Of course I knew it was a large learning facility, but within two months I understood the kind of impact DU would have on our culture, brand, and people’s sense of pride in Deloitte.”

While Sackleh says he’s proud of what’s been accomplished, he knows there’s still much to be done. “DU is still really in its infancy,” he says, “so we constantly review our strategy to ensure we stay fresh and relevant. We’re currently planning for DU Phase II – looking for ways to enhance the technology, the learning and networking opportunities, and our overall guest experience.”

He’s confident everyone at DU is up to the task. “Most of the professionals working here are behind the scenes and I can’t say enough about the investment in effort they have put into making DU a success,” Sackleh says. “I’m proud to be a part of that team. We have a tough job, but it’s a great job.”

In the event

Hayley Drey’s job was to conceptualize and deliver the culture building, networking, and social events that take place at DU. She served as the facility’s first event experience manager, working at DU from May 2011 through January 2014 before relocating to Austin for a new role in Event Management with Deloitte’s National Meeting Services team.

Drey, a manager in Deloitte Services LP, was working in public relations for a major broadcast network in Los Angeles when she learned of the DU opening. She’d been looking for the right opportunity to move to Texas and was thrilled when she was offered the position. “When I interviewed prior to DU’s opening, we couldn’t predict how people would interact in the space,” she says. “Since my role was to enhance the DU experience through networking and team building events that supplement the classroom learning, we needed to figure out what we would do with the 800 or so people who are onsite on any given evening. I know this role is now a vital part of the DU structure and I enjoyed helping shape it into what it is today.”

People come to DU for professional training, but, according to Drey, they also are looking for the opportunity to make meaningful connections. Operating with a blank playbook and no resource manual to follow, she made it a point of learning what she could about Deloitte’s culture and how to integrate that into creative and engaging events. “We did some trials and testing; we piloted activities to see what worked and to determine what kinds of events are best for particular demographics,” says Drey. “It’s really necessary to be creative and flexible, because one size doesn’t fit all.”

Her role also gave her a bird’s eye view of the property on any given date. “I’d manage the calendar to see what kinds of events had been planned for a particular evening,” Drey says, “and then go to work and fill in any holes by planning social events and environmental enhancements to encourage networking.”

Some weeks she put together as many as 10 events – everything from ice sculpting to game nights and bike building. There were western nights, live music in the Bistro and the Barn (a facility adjacent to the main building and home to much of DU’s evening social activities), and, of course, community service events. One such evening – which benefited the global hunger relief program Stop Hunger Now – tested Drey’s logistical planning skills and pushed the physical capacity of the ballroom. “It was an amazing effort by everyone involved,” she recalls. “The assembly line filled the floor of the ballroom and the remaining open spaces were packed with thousands of pounds of non-perishable food stacked on pallets. Together, the participating Deloitte professionals assembled more than 100,000 meals in one evening for families around the world.” Since the pilot of the Stop Hunger Now Food Packing event, professionals at Deloitte University have now packaged over a half million meals.

Pulling off a successful event like that takes sound planning skills, but Drey says you also need good listening and communication abilities. It also helps if you’re a good salesperson. “I took part in many planning calls with Deloitte professionals who were hosting events at DU in which I needed to sell my event ideas,” she says. “I had to describe the event experience to them so they would better understand what it would look like, feel like, and what their guests would take away from it.”

It’s a job with its fair share of stress, struggles, and operational challenges, given the limited amount of time available. “I’m proud of what we’ve done and the key resource this role has become for DU,” Drey says. “It’s definitely been challenging as we’ve charted our own path, but the amazing team at DU has become such a family, and we can all look back and know we came together and produced high-quality events, meetings, and experiences for our guests.”

The wizard of Westlake

Joining Drey on her first day at Deloitte was Andy Grieser, DU’s first Internet and media producer. Grieser, senior manager, Deloitte Services LP, had been a journalist for much of his career, covering the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

A native of the Fort Worth area, Grieser relocated back near his childhood home to pursue new career opportunities. That’s when he learned about DU.

His role has grown and changed over time, and he’s often involved in many different communications projects, but essentially he runs the digital communications at DU. Anything that appears on digital signage or on the campus’ media wall – the second largest such installation in the U.S., according to its developer – is controlled from his desk.

“I knew people who worked for Deloitte, so I knew it was a place for very bright and capable people, and after you’re here awhile you can see that that’s true,” he says. “The pace is incredibly fast and you have to be able to turn on a dime and adapt at a moment’s notice to something completely new and different.”

It’s an atmosphere he relishes. “I recall an instance in October 2011, just after DU opened,” he says. “I ran into Catherine Bannister, PMO director for the DU launch, in a hallway and she said, ‘OK, Andy, what’s next?’ I looked at her and thought. ‘We just opened, what do you mean?’ But of course, even though we were new we couldn’t stand still; we needed to start thinking about the future.”

He describes an environment where there’s no resting on laurels and the expectation is that everyone’s pushing boundaries – in technology, transformative learning techniques, or leadership development – to see what can be done. Challenges? Sure. Sometimes, but they only serve as stepping stones to future success.

Grieser is a self-proclaimed gadget-head, so it’s technology that gets him up in the morning. From his office he commands sophisticated digital signage tools that allow him to work with content managers across the United States and in India to push or pull video content for display at DU. He sees it as a powerful tool for sharing stories from around the world that helps shape and enhance Deloitte’s culture.

But it’s the interactive media wall, the most prominent signage fixture at DU, that causes so much buzz. Spanning a width of 20 feet, the wall serves as a hub for DU connectivity. Guests can select “apps” like Connections to see who is onsite, or the Timeline and Leadership Tree for current information about DU and Deloitte, including background and history; thoughtware; people; events and announcements. There’s also some friendly competition as part of the Memory Game. Grieser is the person behind the wall’s magic.

“The media wall is a blast,” he says. “It’s fun to watch, and I often just sit for a few minutes to see how people engage with it.”

Clearly, Grieser is having a good time, but he understands his biggest challenge is to make the technology do what DU guests want – sometimes before they even know they want it. “It’s good stuff,” he concludes. “It’s all about ways to convince people to connect and have fun.”

Since the day it opened, DU has provided a unique experience in professional services – perhaps throughout the corporate world.

“I believe that our team members provide a great perspective into life here at DU,” says Sackleh. “From the networking events that help define the DU experience, and every element of communications that goes on here goes through our digital media. They do so much to make each visitor to DU happy, and those visitors usually have no idea who’s done it.”

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