The gig: Patrick Niemann, 46, is the managing partner of Ernst & Young's Greater Los Angeles practice. EY is one of the so-called Big Four accounting firms. In Los Angeles, Niemann runs an operation with 1,500 workers.
Big responsibilities: Niemann's office provides audit, assurance, advisory, tax, transaction and other services for more than 1,000 clients, including most of the city's 50 biggest companies. "It's quite a challenge," Niemann said, "but it is a wonderful challenge, knowing we have their trust."
Family influences: Growing up in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Niemann was the 10th of 11 children. Navigating such a large family "was something that has helped me throughout my business career. It was like being part of a really good team. You didn't always get your way. You compromised. You figured it out as a team."
Numbers in his blood: His father, John, was a partner and head of Ernst & Young's tax practice in St. Louis. "Some of the people he hired are our senior people at the firm today," Niemann said. "They still talk to me about how helpful he was in their careers. That has always stood out for me and guided me in a lot of ways." Older brothers John and Michael worked for the former accounting giant Arthur Anderson.
Inspirational mother: After raising 11 children, Niemann's mother, Tina, went on to be a successful real estate agent. Her people skills became a model for Niemann. "It was the way she could relate to people, build and nurture relationships," Niemann said. "That is still very much a part of how I approach business colleagues, clients, friends and family."
Finding his path: At USC, Niemann considered a law career, took political science courses and studied business and finance. He also dabbled in English. "I thought writing could have been an enjoyable career path," Niemann said. "Then I took my first accounting class," Niemann said. "The professor there, Ruben Davila, really made it come alive for me."
Listen to mentors: Niemann earned a bachelor's in business administration at the USC Marshall School of Business. He was set to follow in his father's tax accounting footsteps. Davila thought otherwise. "I'll never forget this," Niemann said. "He said, 'You have to try audits. You are interacting with clients and colleagues all day long. Pat, you would be good at that. That is something you really ought to pursue.'" Niemann did, and now says that conversation "set me on the path."
Landing well: After graduating from USC, Niemann joined Ernst & Young in 1991. He rose through the ranks to manage the company's L.A.-area audit practice. "Ultimately, when you are auditing, you are verifying that your client has done the right thing, that their financial statements are materially accurate and fairly stated. It feels good to be able to do that." He also served as "industry leader" for the firm's work in consumer products, media and entertainment and Japanese business services.
Learning from others' mistakes: The difficult jobs can be the ones that teach the most. "One client had people that had done some bad things," Niemann said. The audit "went on for many months. There was something wrong under every stone we turned. We learned a lot from that."
Make time for your people: "The best use of my time is one on one. Listening to them is really what it is. That and giving honest and candid feedback is really important. When they do approach me, I make the time."
Community spirit: Niemann serves on several boards, including those of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, Special Olympics of Southern California, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Town Hall Los Angeles. "I'm a very fortunate person because of how I was brought up," Niemann said. "Giving back because of that is a responsibility we should all feel."
Career advice: "I worked every day like I wanted to be a partner at EY," Niemann said. "If you want to be a CFO or a CEO, a tenured professor, work like you really want it. That is an important mind-set to have." It's also important to think beyond the numbers, he said. "The way that people really distinguish themselves at our firm is by building good relationships with our clients, the business community and with our people inside of EY."
Personal: Niemann lives in Southern California with his wife, Rebecca, and their sons, Patrick, 9, and Timothy, 8.