EY’s Malcomb Coley supports being true to yourself while thriving in diverse workforce

Malcolm Coley at the Belk College of Business’s CONNECT Leadership Development Summit powered by MSC Industrial Supply
Friday, March 1, 2024
Coley spoke at the CONNECT Leadership Development Summit powered by MSC Industrial Supply

Growing up in rural, eastern North Carolina, Malcolm Coley sometimes had limited resources. With the help of the community, he found ways to navigate the challenges, developing a drive that has taken him to a leadership role at EY and fueled a lifelong commitment to championing diversity and helping others.

"I grew up with a humble background," Coley told over 100 attendees at the Belk College of Business’s CONNECT Leadership Development Summit powered by MSC Industrial Supply. "There were a lot of United Way agencies that helped us growing up. It gave me the opportunity to give back because so much has been given to me."

During his Feb. 23 keynote talk in the Barnhardt Student Activity Center, Coley walked students and other guests through his lessons in business and in life, describing how he first focused on gaining influence so he could inspire change. Now, as EY’s central region private leader and Charlotte managing partner, he is coming full circle, helping others as he has been helped.

CONNECT is a mini-conference for Belk College Black and Latinx students, alumni, and Charlotte professionals. The event includes lunch, breakout professional development sessions, networking, and scholarship presentations. In addition to his support for CONNECT, Coley is a member of the Belk College Board of Advisors and the recipient of the 2020 Belk College Honorary Alumnus Award.

Before being in a position to give back to the community, Coley wanted to rise up the corporate ladder to a role where he could influence fundamental change in people’s lives and careers.

"My plan was to get a seat at the table," Coley added. "You can complain all you want, but if you don't have a seat where decisions are made, it’s hard to create change."

Building a diverse workforce

Creating a more diverse workplace has risen near the top of Coley's list of priorities. whether at EY or on various corporate and community boards on which he serves.

"We invest in Black and Brown businesses in a number of ways," he said of EY’s commitment to inclusivity. "We have a profit motive in the sense that we want to invest the profit in our people and attack those barriers that have been an issue around Black and Brown people."

Removing hurdles was not always easy. Coley focused his entire career on achieving an inclusive environment. He told the students that learning from his past mistakes played a big part in his success.

"We have gotten smarter," Coley said. "There is too much unbelievable talent that was walking out the door. We have to start creating careers around individual lifestyles. We really truly understood the importance of having a diverse workforce to come to a solution to whatever problem we have."

While keeping talent remains a priority for Coley, finding talent has become the latest challenge, requiring strong partnerships like the one EY has with UNC Charlotte. "One of the things that I think will continue to be a challenge is to have a readily available talent pool, and I think UNC Charlotte is doing a fantastic job of creating that talent," he said.

Stay true to who you are

Staying true to themselves is something that Coley emphasizes to students looking to make their mark in the corporate world, while acknowledging the ambitions that new employees have when entering the workforce.

"You have to perform for the job you were hired to do," he said. "Too often, I see young people overlooking the job that they were hired to do. Once you build that credibility and credential yourself, they can't take that away from you."

Despite young leaders’ intentions to be successful in everything they do, Coley also warned against letting failure derail career ambitions.

"When opportunities were presented to me as a candidate for different roles, and I did not get them, I thought I failed," yet he pointed out, "It took a mentor to tell me to focus on the things you can control, not the things you cannot control, and looking back on it, it made a lot of sense."

Being open to people who are different from himself has taught him important lessons. "Trust people that don't look like you," he said. "People want you to succeed, I don’t think people are going to bed at night hoping that you don’t succeed. Learning to trust people that don’t look like you, that was probably the toughest thing (to learn)."

View photos from CONNECT