As U.S. Chief Network Officer at PwC, Farhad Zaman is uniquely positioned to help the firm face our challenging and perhaps all too interesting times. And as companies rethink their business models to adapt to the next stages of evolution taking place around the globe, he brings years of international experience to help his clients to stay a step ahead of their most critical problems.
The solutions lie in connecting the right people across the planet for effective collaboration, resulting in actionable insights. The process dovetails nicely with what Zaman says about PwC as an organization: It’s purpose-led and value-driven.
Part of the company for now more than 25 years in a variety of roles, he is still excited by the longstanding responsibility of tackling crucial business, social, environmental, and economic problems.
“What continues to inspire me every day is seeing the great work our people are doing for the firm, for our clients, for our communities. Seeing the real outcomes that we are driving and knowing that we are truly making a positive impact on the world validate our purpose,” he says.
An essential piece of that positive impact comes in the form of opportunity and equity across business and within the company’s own ranks. Zaman’s colleague, Tim Ryan, U.S. Chair and Senior Partner at PwC, has taken an active role in realizing important diversity-focused initiatives over the last few years that are bringing the business community together to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
In advance of McIntire’s upcoming Centennial Speaker Series: A Conversation with Tim Ryan at noon on March 26—which Zaman will moderate—we caught up with the Commerce alum and Advisory Board member to discuss the approach of PwC, why he remains committed to bringing future Comm School students to the firm, and how his own McIntire experiences as a student and guest lecturer continue to impact his own life and career.
What changes have you seen firsthand in diversity and inclusion efforts within your industry? To what do you attribute the progress in your field?
Over the past several years, PwC has been on a journey to develop and execute on a strategy to ensure that all of our people have a strong sense of belonging and trust. We want to be a change leader, and that starts with changing from within, as well as leading by example in the business community. In 2017, PwC launched an initiative called CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, which is the world’s largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The initiative has brought together thousands of CEOs. In fact, UVA President Jim Ryan signed the CEO Action pledge in August 2020 with the help and support of Dean Nicole Thorne Jenkins!
In addition, PwC has partnered with and participated in many of the important diversity and inclusion initiatives at UVA. PwC has been a sponsor of the Days at McIntire program since 2018, and PwC’s unconscious bias education program and resources are utilized by the McIntire School’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion Office and taught as part of the pre-Commerce course for first-year students. Additionally, PwC has been involved in the Commerce Cohort program for the past three years, engaging students from underrepresented groups and first-generation college students. We are extremely proud of our partnership and grateful to UVA for allowing us to participate in such important initiatives.
Last year, I saw another change firsthand that I am extremely proud of. In 2020, PwC publicly released our first ever Diversity & Inclusion Transparency Report, which reports on our diversity strategy and data and the progress of our actions. Within our firm, the first step to progress is being accountable. That’s why we’re transparent in sharing what has worked well and identifying what hasn’t. As much as we’ve learned from our progress, we know that we’re not yet where we want to be.
You’ve been instrumental in recruiting Comm School students to PwC for internships and for their first professional positions after UVA. What qualities do you believe McIntire students bring with them to make the most of these opportunities? What continues to make them beneficial additions to the firm?
McIntire strengthens not only students’ technical business and analytical skills, but also their soft skills: genuine curiosity, public speaking, collaborating in teams, effective communication skills, negotiating, and working through tough situations. It’s these soft skills that the School fosters in a safe environment that help students excel in their professional careers at a firm like PwC. Given that most McIntire students enter the School with rich arts and sciences backgrounds, this adds another dimension and depth to their traditional business skill sets.
McIntire also continues to draw diverse students who want to continually learn, grow, and develop and to make a difference in society. This mindset is invaluable to any organization, but for PwC, this aligns with our purpose of building trust and solving important problems in society. We live in a constantly changing world and work in a dynamic business environment; being agile, being intellectually curious, and being inclusive are foundational skills.
You also serve as an Advisory Board member and guest lecturer at the Commerce School. What do you enjoy most about those roles, and what have you learned from the interactions you’ve had through them?
Through our recruiting team and our alumni network within PwC, we’ve made some amazing connections with the McIntire faculty and students. We’ve had the pleasure of presenting a number of classes to hundreds (likely thousands!) of students over the years. Every time we lecture, students ask a question that has never been asked before.
I think that it’s a privilege being able to give back and to pay it forward. I feel responsible as an alumnus to share my experiences so that others can learn and leverage them for their own career journeys and development. Both roles are incredibly rewarding and mutually beneficial, as I’m always learning about new perspectives and new challenges. The UVA students always bring fresh perspectives, whether a second-year on the Finance Trek visit or a fourth-year in the Advanced Financial Accounting course. I love the opportunity to be a student again—not just a lecturer—and to never miss a chance for a Bodo’s Bagel!
As McIntire celebrates its Centennial this year, what is your most cherished memory from your time as a Comm School student?
That’s a great question. I have so many great memories, so it’s hard to answer with the most cherished memory. Overall, I would say that the Comm School pushed me outside of my comfort zone (whether it was presenting case studies, leading student organizations, or collaborating with new people), and the aggregation of all these experiences helped me become more well-rounded—but allowed me to form a community.
I was an international student from Bangladesh—and being far away from home was itself very challenging—but having a sense of belonging at McIntire helped things tremendously. Through all of the group assignments and interactions, there are personal and professional bonds I’ve formed that have lasted, as some of my closest friends are from my former groups. I do have fond memories in Monroe Hall in the computer lab (when no one had laptops), typing up assignments and waiting for the dot matrix printers to free up. There are a handful of faculty members still around from the ’90s, but I view them to be coaches and mentors as opposed to professors. Even when I was a student, they would provide us with great advice and perspectives on life. Today, when I’m back for lectures or recruiting events, I love spending time with faculty to see what’s on their minds, what challenges they face, and how we can help equip McIntire students for continued success.