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Five things that made me

How Stewart got to where he is now

‘Five things that made me’ explores compelling stories of human leadership as we speak to senior role models within the firm. Every month, we put the spotlight on a different leader to find out how they got to where they are now. This time, we speak with Stewart Cumberbatch – audit director, cricket fan and proud dad.

Meet Stewart

As he marks twenty years with Deloitte this year, we caught up to hear about his career journey. We talked about the good times and the challenging ones – including being there for his Black colleagues over the last year. Here’s our latest role model and his story – from Barbados to Birmingham.

1. Family first

“My family is originally from Barbados. My grandparents on both sides moved to the UK as part of the Windrush generation in the 1950s and 1960s for a better life. People often wonder why someone would move from Barbados to England but it’s not all sun, sea and sand – most people back then lived in small chattel houses with no running water or electricity. The opportunities here were so much better and it provided a platform for future generations.

As a family, loyalty is very important to us. Both of my parents worked for the same organisation for their whole working lives – my dad was an accountant for local government, and my mum was a nurse in the NHS. They always encouraged me and my sister to study hard and get qualifications. There was never any pressure, but they always created an environment where you were supported in trying to achieve what you wanted.

When I was younger, I was mad on sport and wanted to be either a footballer or a cricketer. But I also enjoyed numbers and business studies – probably my dad’s influence – and so decided on pursuing a career in accounting. I went for audit jobs at large or mid-tier firms, given they take on the largest number of graduates. I liked the prospect of doing different things, moving around and potentially working abroad at some point.

“I was the first person in my family that’s ever had the chance to go into higher education.“

2. Gratitude’s an attitude

“Some people join the firm saying ‘I want to be a partner’. I’m the first in my family to have a professional career, so when I walked in the door, I was just pleased to be here. Every year, I strived to do the best I could. I told myself that if the next step came along, it came along. So far, it has – I’m still here 20 years later. I think it’s incredibly important to appreciate how fortunate many of us are in life.

Around 2005, I was newly qualified and went from being an assistant manager to a manager. And like many people, found the transition one of the hardest points in my career. The hours are long. The audits are difficult. You’re taking on a lot more responsibility and have got teams working for you. And I’ll be honest, I nearly left the firm at that point.

But then a partner (you know who you are!) came from London to set up a specialist financial services team in Birmingham. I loved it – working in a smaller team, having a specialism, and being asked to be part of something new. As someone who’s quite reserved, this suited me much better. He gave me the self-belief to keep progressing and taken a number of risks in providing me with opportunities over the years.

These days, I love developing people – and not always our best performers. I get a lot out of taking someone who’s perhaps struggling and helping them turn that corner. Just taking an interest in them and trying to get to the root cause of the issue. Often it’s not even work-related and there are other things going on in life that need to be addressed first.”

3. Black is the new black

“Growing up in a predominantly white area, I was the only Black kid at school at various points. The first time I shared a classroom with another Black person was when I was 18 at university. The same has often been true at Deloitte. I’m one of the few Black senior leaders in our audit practice, and I can count the number of Black people I’ve come across in client meetings on one hand. Luckily things have changed significantly in recent years. I’ve been reflecting a lot about the effect the lack of Black role models and the need to ‘fit in’ has had on me, but also how my experiences have made me incredibly resilient.

When the firm increased its focus on supporting Black colleagues through the Black Action Plan, I immediately felt compelled to be part of it. It’s something I’d thought about in years gone by but never felt comfortable talking about. It’s quite hard when you’re the only one, especially as an introvert. But suddenly there was this opportunity to voice my opinions and help shape our strategy with senior leadership.

It was quite hard initially. It was something I’d never spoken about before and it brought back a lot of childhood memories. There were long one-to-one phone calls where I simply listened. I’ve been part of webinars. Panel events. Listening sessions. Sometimes I couldn’t help but think, ‘Me again?!’ – especially when you’re busy with work. But I wish I could do more. It’s been so rewarding to try and be a role model for others and to see our efforts turned into actions and positives.

“Leadership is about your impact on others, not you as an individual.“

4. Man in the mirror

“The last year has been one of self-reflection for me. My work and Deloitte are important to me. Scarily I’ve worked at the firm half of my life now, met my partner, Kim here and have strong friendships with many past and present colleagues. In normal circumstances, I work away a lot – from Bradford and London to Bulgaria and Australia. But since our daughter Ava was born, being away for work three nights a week suddenly didn’t feel right anymore.

It’s been great to have more flexibility during lockdown and invest more time in myself again. Fitness has become my new getaway and I’ve been training with an online health and fitness coach. I’ve regained my passion for exercise and lost a stone and a half since September and feel stronger mentally too.

I've also been discovering my family tree. I know my grandparents and have heard about their parents, but I’d never seen a picture of them. Between information other family members had and records I managed to find, it’s been a fascinating journey that’s taken me from slavery to a Scottish great-great grandfather and a cousin that has had a UK Top 5 single and recorded with the likes of Robbie Williams, Tina Turner and Jamiroquai!

“Part of me didn’t really know who I was, so I decided to research my family history.“

5. True colours

“To me, success is not about money or titles. It’s about asking myself if I’ve been the best that I could have been. And I think I have. Sometimes I wish I’d had a clearer target when I started out, or pushed myself a bit more. But I’ve surpassed all my expectations and I’m happy that I have given my all in everything I’ve done while remaining true to my values.

If I hadn’t dedicated my career to audit, it probably would have been sport for me. My dad often used to tell me about how he grew up with the great West Indian bowler Malcolm Marshall and played at the Oval in the 1970s. I know he was proud to be in the stands when I played former England bowler Ashley Giles and represented Deloitte in the John Bright Trophy Final at Edgbaston a few years ago. Dad has now moved back to Barbados and is happily retired.

I turned 40 last year and have been thinking a lot about how I want to spend the next 20 years or so. We’ll see what the future holds, but I do know I want to spend it on things I enjoy, rather than what I think I’m expected to do. That probably happens naturally as you get older. You stop trying to please people as much, and other things become more important to you.

One of the things I’m most proud of is our daughter Ava – she’s so thoughtful and caring. I want to support her in anything that she wants to do. As long as she is doing something that makes her happy, I’ll be happy. That’s my advice to others too. Because If you’re doing something that you enjoy, it won’t feel like working.”

“Life’s too short to spend time doing work you don’t enjoy.“

Things we learnt from Stewart

  1. It’s about where you come from. But it’s also about where you’re going.
  2. Accept help. Help others. Repeat.
  3. Don’t forget to look around you. There’s always someone looking up to you.
  4. Priorities change. People change. Stay close to yourself.
  5. Do more of what you love. Life’s too short to spend it on things you don’t.

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