KSU Alum 'HELPS' Students Discover Their Leadership Potential

KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov 8, 2019) — A true leader helps people.

Brian Pendley, a Kennesaw State University alum and a partner at Ernst & Young, feels so strongly about this that it has become the basis for his entire leadership style. Called HELPS – standing for Hospitality, Engagement, Learning, Purpose, and Service – Pendley’s philosophy is that a leader’s job is to build up their people.

Pendley outlined his HELPS strategy at a recent presentation in the Michael J. Coles College of Business’s long-running Tetley Distinguished Leader Lecture Series. Started in 1990 with an endowment from Tetley Tea CEO Hank McInerney, the Tetley series brings exceptional Atlanta-area business leaders to campus each semester to inspire students.

Brian Pendley Coles College Tetley
Brian Pendley with KSU Accounting Student

A former Kennesaw State student who graduated in 1994 with a degree in accounting, Pendley has been an active friend to the Coles College for years. He is a member of the School of Accountancy’s advisory board – recently ending a term as chairman – and is the campus coordinating partner between Kennesaw State and EY, where he works as a partner in the company’s assurance practice. The University also honored Pendley in 2018 with the Distinguished Alumni award.

Returning to campus to share what he has learned about leadership during his 25-year career at EY was special for Pendley.

“I’m proud to be an alum of Kennesaw State University,” he said. “Since my time here, it has only gotten better. I love coming back to recruit. I love coming back to help with the School of Accountancy advisory board. I love the energy of the campus.”

During his presentation, titled “Setting the Tone: How to be a Leader Others Want to Follow,” Pendley discussed the principles making up his HELPS leadership philosophy:

  • Hospitality: Pendley believes team members are more likely to follow a leader who makes them comfortable, rather than one who uses stress or fear as a motivator.

  • Engagement: Getting to know their team members’ strengths and goals significantly enhances a leader’s working relationship with their team. “If you learn what makes them successful, it will make you successful,” Pendley said.

  • Learning: Like most aspects of one’s professional life, leadership is a skill that must be honed. Pendley said that a desire to continue learning about changing perspectives on leadership prevents him from becoming irrelevant.

  • Purpose: Every leader has a purpose for wanting to lead. For Pendley, it is a desire to help others. While Pendley said it can take years for someone to identify their purpose, doing so makes them a better leader.

  • Service: Pendley believes that the primary job of a leader is to serve others, whether it is their teams, clients, or others in their lives. In this way, leadership is less about rank and more about attitude.

It was the idea that leadership is mostly about attitude rather than a title that Pendley most wanted students to take away from his presentation.

“It doesn’t mean there aren’t bosses or there aren’t hierarchies,” he said, “it’s just about pushing others up front. If I can make others successful, then it will make them better leaders and make me a better leader.”

Brian Pendley Tetley

In addition to offering insights on leadership, Pendley shared his career journey with the students, many of them accounting majors eager to work for a firm like EY. Pendley described how he spent his college career preparing, including serving as vice president and president of the KSU Accounting Club (now Beta Alpha Psi) and treasurer of the Golden Key International Honor Society. He also participated in a development program offered at the time called Leadership Kennesaw.

Pendley credited accounting professors Dana and Heather Hermanson with helping him get his foot in the door at EY. Dana Hermanson, who is currently the Dinos Eminent Scholar Chair of Private Enterprise and Director of Research with the Corporate Governance Center, was a new teacher at the time who worked at EY before becoming an educator. He was impressed with Pendley as a student and provided him a recommendation.

“He was student leader and you could tell he was very bright,” Hermanson said. “He fit the profile of someone who would go into public accounting and be successful. It’s been wonderful to see him 25 years later being so successful.”

Between everything he learned as a Kennesaw State student and his experiences at EY, Pendley says some of the best advice he has received about leadership came recently from his teenaged son.

“Always reflect a positive attitude because it makes people feel better.”

-Patrick Harbin

Photos by Rosa Zavala