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Five things that made me

How Emma got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ shares stories of senior leaders at Deloitte. Emma Cox, our global private equity leader and CFO Advisory platform leader in the UK, understands the value of putting people first - both her family and her teams - to build a future that is more than just about climbing the ladder.

Meet Emma

You know those people who have it all mapped out? Emma wasn’t one of them. But she looks back now and can’t believe how far she’s come. By receiving encouragement from her parents, leaders and sponsors throughout her career, she has thrived. She now shares her eternally positive attitude with the next generation, pushing the brilliant people she works with to become even more brilliant. Here’s her story.

1. Surprise yourself

“I grew up in Devon, in the south-west of England. Mum was a secretary, and dad was an IT manager. I went to a great grammar school in Plymouth. My parents weren’t very into careers – they worked to live, rather than lived to work. But they were big on PMA – a positive mental attitude – and that has hugely influenced how I live and work.

I never had a burning ambition for a particular career when I was little. I didn’t have very many female role models with professional careers, and none of my family had been to university. But I loved school, worked hard and did surprisingly well, often at the top of my class. One very inspiring teacher encouraged me to apply to do maths at Oxford university. To my surprise, I was accepted.

I didn’t think I’d fit in at all, but I absolutely loved it. I was surrounded by very articulate, hugely impressive people. Had a big social life. I took up rowing and became captain of boats. Those years were defining for me – they gave me the confidence that even if I came from a different background, I didn’t have to change who I was to belong.

When I graduated, becoming an accountant was a natural step. I’ve always loved numbers and logic, so that’s how I ended up working in audit at Arthur Andersen – which then became part of Deloitte. And I’ve been here ever since.”

“My parents are hugely positive, always glass half full. They made me the person I am.”

2. One step at a time

“Some people have it all mapped out. They know the ladder they want to climb. But I’ve approached it one step at a time. Along the way, somebody has always been there to say, ‘Of course you can take another step, and actually, you can take another five.’ That trust from leaders at Deloitte has made me increasingly confident to grab opportunities for the firm, to try something different and help build our business.

About ten years ago, I wanted to set up a new audit group to focus on private equity and privately owned businesses. One of the key leaders in Audit at the time pushed me forward to do it, as long as I could persuade people to join me. She gave me a mentor to help me draft the business case, and when I spoke to the head of Audit, I already had 60 people behind me, ready to do something bold. The whole experience felt like a start‑up; it felt very entrepreneurial. It was so much fun.

Those 60 people became 130, and when Audit restructured a year later, 800 people were in the private audit group. Suddenly, I was running a big part of the Audit practice and wondering how on Earth it had happened. It was a real turning point in the leadership stage of my career.

Rather than just following the example set by more senior partners, it was liberating to lead the team as authentically and inclusively as I wanted to. My main goal was to inspire this group of people and make it the best place in the firm to work. And it gave me license to go on and do bigger things after that. I look back now and I can’t believe how much of the ladder I’ve been lucky enough to climb.”

“I realised I could do something new; I could do something bold; and I could be myself in doing it.”

3. People helping people

“People give me energy. They intrigue me. I love trying to understand what makes someone tick – whether it’s my team, fellow partners or my clients. I have a very open leadership style and love getting ideas from everyone, whether it’s senior partners or people who are just starting out their careers. A good idea is a good idea.

We all need positive encouragement. To be told we’re doing a brilliant job. To be encouraged to take another step and be bold – particularly women. Mentoring is great, but advice alone is often not enough. Looking back at my career, I can think of at least ten partners who have sponsored (not just mentored) me, telling others what I’m capable of and pushing me forward. Their backing has been so valuable for me and my career.

One of the best parts of my job now is looking out across the whole firm and seeing all the people I’ve influenced over my career. The positions they’re now in and the roles they will move on to going forward – including mine. I feel really proud of the breadth of impact that I’ve been able to have on helping lots of brilliant people become even more brilliant.”

“What makes me the proudest is seeing all the people I’ve influenced over my career in the positions they’re now in.”

4. Back yourself

“As someone who really loves work, I’ve had to learn how to set my boundaries. I remember when I was a manager, I was working virtually all weekends and just not enjoying it anymore. After speaking to my partner, I took off on a three‑month sabbatical travelling around the world. I thought really hard about what I wanted to do and concluded I actually did love my job; I just needed to be better at saying no.

But the hardest wake-up call happened during the pandemic. It made me pause and think I probably hadn’t been around enough for my three kids as they were growing up. In the pre-Covid world, it was really hard for me to be home on time midweek to see them before bedtime. But being at home during the pandemic made me realised just how important my family is to me, and I decided I wanted to be there for them (and my husband) more during the difficult teenage years.

I needed to work out how to get the right balance in the holistic view of me, not just in the work view of me. Interestingly, it’s been surprisingly easy to achieve once I changed my own mindset and backed myself. I find that most people (both internally and at clients) actually share the same view. And now that I have such close relationships with the kids, I’m not going to go back to the way it used to be.

So whatever is important to you, make sure you can focus on the things that matter to you. I get that it’s perhaps easier to do when you’re more senior and harder when you’re younger. But it is often only you who can ultimately drive the change needed to do things differently.”

“Focus on what matters to you – and work out a way of finding that balance. It is possible.”

5. Success is…

“Devon is my happy place. It’s where I grew up, and where my mum and dad live. We built a house together – they live downstairs, and we have our holiday home upstairs. As we drive into the village, down the steep hill, past the post office and get to our house by the river, I get a sense of weight being lifted from my shoulders. I feel physically lighter.

Day to day, it’s my normal family life and my kids who ground me. In my home office, I have photos behind me of some of my favourite moments, like walks on the beach or early mornings out on the paddleboards. It’s not just for other people to see during conference calls, but for me – to remind me of what’s important and bring me some joy every day.

To me, success isn’t about having a certain title or number of people in your team. It’s about being able to set a positive example for others. It might sound naff, but I want to be a role model for my kids, the wider family, our circle of friends and people within Deloitte. To show that it can be done differently, and for them to feel like they can do things their way.”

“I want to be a role model for others. To show that it can be done differently.”

Five things we learnt from Emma

1. You don’t need to change who you are to belong.

2. Yes, you can take another step. You could actually take another five.

3. When you think someone is great at what they do, tell them. And tell others too.

4. There’s no work you and home you. There’s just you.

5. Success is about setting a positive example for others.

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