If there’s an industry that demands executives to be in continual learning mode, it’s technology. And Eric Openshaw finds being in that constant state of renewal invigorating. “If you decide to rest on your laurels, in about six months you have a half life and 12 months later you’re out of business. That’s not me. I’m a learner. I never stop.”
That commitment has taken Eric from his childhood in Glendora, California to university, and eventually to Deloitte where he is now vice chairman and U.S. Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) leader for the firm’s TMT industry group in the Americas. Eric’s 30-plus years of experience has focused on assisting clients with enterprise transformation; business process reengineering; manufacturing/distribution strategy; technology strategy; merger and acquisition analysis and post-acquisition consolidation; order fulfillment; supply chain; information systems strategic planning; technology (hardware and software) evaluation; and design-development and implementation of software primarily for discrete and process manufacturing distribution, retail, and retail distribution.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not so much whether any idea of mine is ultimately accepted, but that I had an idea and was willing to share it that clients appreciate.”
Eric brings to his work a practicality that comes from his father’s Depression-era mindset and coming of age in a town described as “the Midwest moved west.” His dad was a carpenter and homebuilder who taught Eric woodworking skills. Every summer, from the seventh grade on, he’d be in the front seat of his dad’s pickup at 6 a.m. to work construction with him.
That practical streak had him decide to study marketing and accounting as an undergrad at California State University, Fullerton. “My father said that through all the recessions and the Depression two people seem to be able to stay employed—accountants and sales people. I wanted to hedge my bets.” Usually working two or three jobs to get through college in the early ‘70s, Eric got experience in sales at a sporting goods company and in computers as a computer operator.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Eric recalls. “I was learning computer systems at nights and on weekends and I was getting an education in marketing and accounting. So, I had a unique skill set. Following graduation, he took those skills to Burroughs (now Unisys) to sell and install minicomputers. He returned to school at the California Polytechnic Institute in Pomona to complete additional course work in accounting. He entered the world of professional services with Peat Marwick (KPMG) and quickly rose to Partner and later he was with Oracle for a couple of years.
In 1996, a close friend suggested he join Deloitte. A year later he came on board as a principal to build Deloitte’s Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) practice in the western U.S. Within two months he closed one of Deloitte’s largest ERP projects—followed by several other strategic projects to the newly formed practice. Eric moved up as manufacturing regional industry leader and in 2002 was asked to build a national high tech practice.
If Eric has a strong practical side, he also brings to his clients the creativity of an artist. You’d think that someone who designs and builds cabinetry would be focused on precision and accuracy. And he is, but he also says that some of his most enjoyable projects are free form. “I just get a conceptualized idea in my head of what I think something ought to look like and then start in with a willingness to experiment along the way to see how it comes together.” And, that’s not just woodworking he’s talking about. “This goes for clients, too, particularly in the strategy area we develop hypotheses and go about proof points, proving or disproving the hypothesis and then refining and moving on. It’s called ‘exploring the unknown’ and I think that’s really fun, too.”
When Eric’s not working or building furniture he enjoys participating in Deloitte’s active HOG chapter. Yes, he rides Harley Davidsons. He’s also been known to wrench on a few cars and he has a considerable wine collection. Eric and his wife Susannah are involved in Human Options, an organization that serves battered and abused women in Orange County, Calif. And, with two—now grown—kids, he spent a lot of years coaching Little League and soccer. “I can’t wait for grandchildren to show up so I can live the dream all over again,” Eric says.
In the meantime, he’s happily pursuing a career at Deloitte that he says gives him the opportunity to think about issues going on around the world; new technologies being developed; and different markets being created, changed, or morphed. “I can start to connect those dots, those patterns, and bring them to clients,” he says.
“If there’s one thing I can impart to partners whom I have a chance to leave an impression on during my career here or who follow my footsteps, it’s that having something to say is not synonymous with having the only right thing to say. If you’re thoughtful and you care, people figure it out pretty fast.”
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