Smashing the glass ceiling: Jean Stephens

Going beyond even her own wildest dreams, Jean Stephens has been at the helm of a global network of audit, tax and advisory firms that has more than doubled while in her hands. So what does the first female CEO of RSM International think of women reaching the top?

It started as a two-year post. Having risen to the position of managing director of an audit firm in her native US, Jean Stephens was looking to do that thing that so many seek out: a stint living abroad.

She applied and was successful in securing a position with RSM International in London. That was 18 years ago.

Today, as CEO of RSM, a position she has held for the past eight years, she heads up a global network of independent audit, tax and advisory firms that in 2013 generated a total fee income of $3.7bn from 700 offices in 106 countries, with 32,000 staff.

Under her watch, the company has grown by 120 percent through acquisition and organic growth to become the seventh-biggest global network of independent professional services firms. She still lives in London, but now spends about 70 percent of her year travelling the world.

“I actually think you get lucky in life and there’s nothing wrong with that — being at the right place at the right time,” Stephens tells Arabian Business in a sit-down interview while recently in Dubai for the company’s MENA regional conference. “That’s natural and then when the opportunities present themselves you have a choice: either you go for it or you don’t.”

But how is it that Stephens, who became the first female CEO of RSM and of a top ten international accounting network when she took on the role after previously serving as chief operating officer, has reached the top when so many women do not?

According to a recent study by management consulting firm Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company), while 332 of the 2,500 biggest publicly traded companies globally brought in a new executive officer in 2013, just ten of those positions were filled by women.

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