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Beth Brooke-Marciniak: Failure is not an option

Excelling in class and on the court key to current success

By Melanie Hayes

Failure has never been an option for Beth Brooke-Marciniak. Neither is giving up.

A pioneer of sorts, Brooke-Marciniak, in 1977, was in the first class of women recruits at Purdue University to receive a basketball scholarship. Today, she is the global vice chairwoman of public policy at EY (formerly Ernst & Young), the third largest multinational professional services firm in the world. The former Purdue Boilermaker has public policy responsibility for operations in 150 countries and all of its diversity and inclusiveness efforts.

Ask and she will tell you much of her success comes from what she learned as a student-athlete. 

Brooke-Marciniak believes student-athletes learn teamwork, discipline, hard work, the ability to juggle academics and sports, and gain unbelievable focus and multi-tasking skills from competing. But, in her opinion, the greatest single thing an athlete learns is how to lose.

“You learn to fail,” she said. “Losing is just feedback. You get up the next morning, analyze what you did wrong and go on a perpetual quest for perfection.”

But the reverse can also be true.  She said with practice and preparation you also learn how to win. And you learn what really matters.

"Athletics really teaches you that we each have a role,” she said. “You understand the mosaic of the team. You understand the importance of the mosaic versus the importance of the individual. You know what you have to do for the team to win. That carries over so well in the business world."

She said women sometimes struggle in the business world.  It’s a confidence issue because many work with or for men who don't think and act like they do. That’s where having competed as an athlete helps.

"As an athlete you develop that confidence," she said. "You know the recipe for success – practice, teamwork, hard work and the ability to be coached and mentored."  

She believes when student-athletes graduate and enter the business world, those skills translate giving them an edge in the workplace. She also sees it as a leveler of sorts for women in working with their male counterparts.

“There's a correlation between the student-athlete and success in business,” Brooke-Marciniak said. “Parents need to understand that.”

Brooke-Marciniak learned the impact that sports, perseverance, goals and determination can have on one's life at an early age.

As a teenager, Brooke-Marciniak underwent emergency surgery for a degenerative hip and was told she would never walk again. But that wasn't an option for the ambitious young athlete. Fourteen months later she was walking and playing sports again.

Her parents didn’t know it at the time but Brooke-Marciniak would lie in bed at night after her surgery and lasso her foot to lift it up and down for hours until she fell asleep.

“She was incredibly competitive,” said Nancy Cross, senior associate athletics director at Purdue. “She worked unbelievably hard and was very cerebral.”

Proving just how smart she was, Brooke-Marciniak graduated first in her class at Purdue and earned the top score in a national certified public accountant exam – an exam that only about one in 10 candidates nationwide will pass in their first attempt. Recruited by Harvard University for graduate school, she opted to enter the working world instead.

Some students focus 100 percent on athletics and go to class to stay eligible, Cross said. But Brooke-Marciniak used basketball as a means to an end. Despite being a standout player in a the high-level competition of what would become women’s basketball in the Big Ten athletic conference, Brooke-Marciniak knew there was little opportunity to play professionally. Brooke-Marciniak used her athletic scholarship to pursue her education and future professional goals.

After graduating from Purdue in 1981, Brooke-Marciniak was hired by accounting firm Ernst & Whinney, the predecessor to her current company, Ernst & Young, now EY. She worked in the company’s Indianapolis office for 10 years and in 1990 became the firm’s first female partner. She then transferred to Washington, D.C., to become the company's national director of tax advisory services. Brooke-Marciniak later worked for the federal government, overseeing all tax policy matters related to insurance and managed care in the U.S. Department of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.

Returning to the private sector, she rejoined EY. In addition to her other duties, she oversees EY's Women Athletes Business Network, which was launched in 2013. This network connects  elite female athletes – college, Olympic and professional athletes – with top female leaders around the world.

“EY launched this network because women athletes have incredible uncapped potential for business and leadership,” Brooke-Marciniak said. “There is a need for more women in business. This network is the first of its kind where we connect them (former or transitioning elite female athletes) to business and government leaders who can mentor, inspire and open doors to them so they can pivot to a different career.”

According to EY research, 96 percent of senior level female executives played sports, and more than half of them played sports in college.

Among Brooke-Marciniak’s accolades, in 2014 she was recognized for the seventh time by Forbes Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most powerful women, joining the likes of media mogul Oprah Winfrey and IBM president Virginia Rometty.

Her accomplishments prove Brooke-Marciniak was a success during her basketball career and is now that way in her business career.  She expected nothing less.

“I’m an athlete,” she said. “I’m not worried about failing.”  

Photos by Purdue University Athletics, E&Y

Biography

Beth A. Brooke-Marciniak
Global vice chairwoman of public policy at EY (formerly Ernst & Young)

Hometown: Kokomo, Indiana

Current city: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Education: Bachelor's degree in industrial management and computer science, Purdue University, 1981

Sport: Women’s basketball

Fun Fact: Beth and her wife, former University of Tennessee and WNBA basketball standout Michelle Marciniak, share an 11-acre homestead with three cats, two dogs, four wild turkeys, one red-tailed hawk, one groundhog and 25 deer.