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CLO of the Year Thomas Evans: Always More to Learn

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Chief Learning Officer Thomas Evans said he always has learning on his mind. Whether working or playing, he never stops thinking about corporate education or the 39,000 U.S. employees he is responsible for developing.

“I want them to be successful, and the work my team does contributes to that success,” he said. “Our employees are people. They have career ambitions, families; they’re wonderfully interesting individuals, and I enjoy hearing their stories and making them better at their work. It’s very engaging, it’s very enlightening, and it gives me a sense of value. At the end of the day, as long as I feel we’re being of value, I smile.”

A few months ago, Evans was browsing comedian Red Skelton’s videos on YouTube; “The Red Skelton Show” ran on TV from 1951 to 1971.Evans came across a clip he remembered from years ago, one in which a grammar school teacher listens to his class recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher realizes the students aren’t engaged, and the words they’re saying have become commonplace. He says, “If you allow me a moment, I’d like to explain to you why this is so important,” and proceeds to pick out every word of the Pledge, defining it, giving meaning to it.

“I realized I work for a large organization, and I wondered how often the words and processes we use are becoming commonplace, too coded and not really understood,” Evans said. “I realized I need to step back and think differently about how we support our faculty, how we think about the designs of our programs, our content, and make sure everything is of value and understood. I stumbled across the video randomly, but it made me start thinking differently about what we’re doing.”

It’s this devotion to his work and constant sense of curiosity that Evans said has kept him at PricewaterhouseCoopers for the past 37 years, since he graduated in 1977 with his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Fairleigh Dickinson University.While he started as an accountant at the firm, serving both public and private clients in the telecommunications, financial services and manufacturing industries, he slowly moved to more learning-focused roles in 1989, when he became the director and chief operating officer for thePricewaterhouse national professional education group, leading and designing the introduction of national industry sector education across 16 sectors.

Evans will be retiring from his role in June 2015, but he said he doesn’t plan on slowing down. He said he doesn’t know what his next move will be, but he won’t stop learning.

“I have the curiosity of a 3-year-old, and I’m full of excitement,” he said. “How do we help someone see something they couldn’t see? Learn something they were struggling to learn and apply it well? That excites me. I sleep well at night knowing we’re doing that, and because of that I’m always curious about what else I can be doing to help that process, not just for myself or PwC, but the entire learning community.

“Anybody who is in this field has a great sense of satisfaction when they can see that light bulb go on in another individual’s eyes. It says, ‘I’ve been able to contribute something, help them get it, help them in their career and help their business grow.’ ”

Bringing Value to Work and Life

Sayed Sadjady, partner of human capital solutions and management consulting for Pricewaterhouse, said one of Evans’ biggest accomplishments has been helping the firm view employee development as a strategic investment, not just a cost.

“He’s advanced a point of view on development that looks beyondacquiring skills and stresses the whole professional: technical capabilities, leadership, business acumen and relationships,” he said.

For example, Sadjady said achieving senior associate level is a significant career milestone for the company’s client services staff. To recognize this achievement, Evans’ team created Discover, a three-day personal leadership experience. The program helps new senior associates develop leadership skills that expand their capacity and capability to make effective career and personal choices for themselves, their families and their communities.

More than 5,400 senior associates have participated in Discover since its introductionin 2011, and the firm is seeing a reduction in voluntary turnover for senior associates who attend. Last year less than 10 percent of senior associates who attended the program left the firm within one year of promotion compared with 73 percent of those high-ranking associates who were invited but did not attend. Further, Discover continues toreceive high marks in participant evaluations. More than 90 percent of participants said they feel the program is effective, and that they enjoyed the learning experience.

“We’re willing to make this investment because it’s important to our people, and our people are important to us,” Evans said. “In a dynamic world, leadership is extending beyond work, and we need to help our people find this value in their personal and professional lives.”

Sadjady said Evans’ contributions as CLO have changed the way people view and experience development at thecompany today and well into the future. In Pricewaterhouse’s 2014 Global People Survey, results showed 84 percent of employees indicated they have opportunities to work on challenging assignments that contribute to their development.

“Tom is a man of high integrity who is deeply passionate about developing people,” Sadjady said. “Tom’s most satisfying rewards come from observing the people of our firm being better as a result of the learning investments he has driven. It is the spark that keeps him going.”