Malik Ceesay’s story
Plain and simple, what drew me to Grant Thornton was the people. My parents always emphasized to me — the child of immigrants and a first-generation college graduate — the need to surround myself with like-minded people in order to achieve my goals. It might be cliché, but you’re only as strong as the people you surround yourself with.
I love to meet new people, learn their stories and find common ground. Mutual respect and understanding are key to fostering an environment in which everyone can thrive. Sometimes we don’t find the right fit on the first try. In college I interned for two summers at a large international accounting firm. After the second summer, I decided to explore other options and considered starting my career in industry instead of professional services.
As I was pursuing other career paths, I spoke with a good friend who’d joined Grant Thornton. He told me how much he loved the firm, the culture and the people. I decided to look into it. After interviews with recruiters, the partner and the senior manager, as well as conversations with others, it felt right, and I accepted the offer. The people of Grant Thornton drew me back to professional services and into this firm.
At the Foster Awards Banquet, I was presented with an award for cultivating a diverse community at UW and the Foster School of Business.
At my graduation from the University of Washington, my parents, niece and I wore traditional attire from Gambia, where my parents grew up.
Peers and leaders at Grant Thornton have been great, encouraging me since day one. Those first couple of months while learning the ropes, my managers encouraged me to be curious and ask questions, patiently guiding me to be the best I could be. I’ve learned a lot, and I enjoy my role as an associate in the Risk Advisory practice, getting to know clients and how their companies operate in order to assist in designing, implementing and testing internal controls to mitigate risks.
As for culture, I quickly came to appreciate what I think of as Grant Thornton’s personality. We’re regularly reminded of how important it is to understand and respect cultural and lifestyle differences. Early in my career here, I decided to take steps above and beyond my day-to-day work, and became involved in my first business resource group (BRG).
Our Pan-Asian BRG at a national conference; I was the office lead as an ally.
Our BRGs consist of members and allies and are open to everyone. The national Pan-Asian BRG needed someone to lead the Seattle office BRG. I volunteered and was readily welcomed into the group as an ally. I now encourage my colleagues to participate in any BRG, regardless of their background.
A BRG provides a sense of community, where you connect with others who have similar, though different, experiences. For example, I’ve experienced what it feels like to be the only African-American in the room. Through my friends at home and my colleagues in BRGs, I’ve learned about this feeling through their different perspectives. In this respect, being an ally in a BRG that you don’t superficially have a connection with can be a very rewarding experience.
I am a member of the African-American BRG and was recently elected to national program chair. I work to align our local BRGs with the national strategy, ensuring that a program hosted by the L.A. office is similarly offered by the NYC office. I’m the point of contact in providing resources and answers. I contribute to our BRG’s mission — promoting the recruitment, development, advancement and retention of African-American professionals. I’m comfortable bringing my whole self to work, and I’d like other African-Americans to join the firm and have the same sense of freedom. Grant Thornton encourages diversity through numerous opportunities, such as working within a BRG, helping at recruiting events and identifying potential clients with whom we share a common culture. In continuing this path of increasing diversity of all kinds, our firm will have greater representation in meetings with clients, mentoring from similar backgrounds and sharing perspectives and skills.
In describing my role as a BRG program chair, I used the L.A. office as an example. That’s where I am now and how I learned that our leadership’s promise of an open-door policy holds true in big ways. I was living in Seattle, but was interested in a move to L.A. for the vibrant industries, activities, weather and friends. I talked to my Grant Thornton career coach, who suggested I discuss the possibility with one of the partners. Five minutes after I sent an email, the partner responded. He offered to speak with his counterpart in the L.A. office. Two hours later, he called to say I was 100% supported to make the move, no obstacles.
I got to make the move to L.A. It was a good one, especially for meeting people — which I love doing — in the office and in the city.
Making my impact at Grant Thornton
Our team enjoys time together at work, firm parties and outside gatherings.
One of my favorite accomplishments at Grant Thornton was a pro bono project for a nonprofit program. I worked with a strategy team to provide consulting services to a mission-driven organization. Our team of four devoted roughly 100 hours each over a three-month period. We approached it as we do regular client engagements. Beginning with a clear goal, which was to help them expand, we worked closely with their team and delivered a solid solution — in this case, a new operating model.
To better serve our clients in every engagement, I am continuously looking to improve my project management skills. To that end, I found out about Certified Associate in Project Management certification, a credential the firm encourages associates to pursue. Grant Thornton covered the cost, and I completed the course. Everything I learned in the program has improved the quality of my work.
Since early in my career, I’ve engaged with management and team members about automating services we provide our clients. One of those managers mentioned a pilot program aimed at developing data science skills to provide automated solutions. I jumped at the chance to sign up for a Microsoft program, earning multiple certificates. My next step is to migrate to the automation team. I’m excited about taking on automation projects to help our clients improve efficiency by reducing manual tasks. It will be a whole new way to interact with our clients, current and future.
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