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Why we do what we do
Meet Isa Farhat
Faces of Deloitte Advisory are true stories that explore the personal history of our practitioners, sharing the experiences that defined their values and explaining why they do what they do. In this story, Isa Farhat details the courage and conviction he draws upon to attack life’s challenges and pursue a world where acceptance for others can increasingly be a given, not the exception.
“I think the lessons and experiences of my daughter Evelyn encapsulate many of my feelings around adversity, inclusion, and hope.”
As my wife labored, my daughter’s heart rate dropped rapidly. The doctor told us our firstborn, Evelyn, had a heart defect caused by Down syndrome.
We didn’t know anything about Down syndrome. Or how to raise a child with a disability.
How would we move forward?
I fell into shock. A state of suspended animation.
Then suddenly, I snapped out of it. A deep resolve washed over me. I reminded myself that I had been here before—cornered in a tight situation—many times in my life.
Overcoming adversity, then fighting for inclusion, has always been central to my journey. Amid life’s valleys, I continue to call upon personal grit and determination to climb over obstacles on behalf of myself, and others. Then I ready myself for the next challenge that I’ve learned is sure to come.
I grew up in an immigrant family with Middle Eastern roots who lived just above the poverty line, right outside Washington, DC. My daughter Evelyn was named after my beloved mother—with whom I was extremely close.
My mother never graduated from high school and always wanted something better for me. She taught me how to achieve beyond my perceived limits, to reach for things higher than myself.
She also taught me the importance of acceptance and inclusion. Our DC neighborhood was a melting pot. From an early age, I built relationships with neighbors who looked different than me, with roots from around the world. I was forced to understand everyone’s history and views on life, and I loved it.
I quickly understood that people come from all different walks of life, tackling all types of trials and tribulations, and that everyone has something to contribute. No one successfully navigates the journey of life alone.
One of my early challenges was trying to become the first family member to attend and graduate college. First, I had to get good grades. Then, I had to pay my own way. But the biggest difficulty was navigating my way through school after my mother became ill. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer during my college years, eventually succumbing to the disease months after I graduated. It tore my family apart.
I lost a big part of myself and my identity when I lost Mom. I had to work to gain it back. A kind, empathetic, and strong woman, she implored me to confront challenges and never back down from anyone or anything trying to intimidate me—to run toward my problems. I tried to view the aftermath of losing her through her eyes. She would have wanted me to compartmentalize my pain in order to move forward. So that’s what I did.
After studying hard and graduating from the University of Maryland with an accounting degree, I accepted my first audit job. I was single, in my young 20s, and doing well.
Then 9/11 happened. The terrorist attacks ripped something away from me. Like hearing the news of my daughter’s condition or my mother’s illness, the national tragedy rearranged my perceptions of my personal identity, plans, and purpose. It confronted me with a new challenge. I had a new, imminent mission.
Days after the attack, I came into work feeling numb and confused. “What am I doing here?,” I asked myself. “There’s got to be a higher calling for me.”
I walked into my audit leader’s office and told him I was going to join the military but didn’t know how. Deloitte supported me all the way.
The United States Navy responded to my service request by enrolling me in a non-prior service reservist program. After almost a year of training that was unfamiliar to me, I began supporting various intelligence operations deployed to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. I also spent two years as one of the Department of Defense account leaders in Deloitte’s Government & Public Services practice. Today, I specialize in the Aerospace and Defense industry on behalf of Deloitte.
Empathy, national pride, and personal duty drove me to enlist. My Middle Eastern roots added a layer of impetus and complexity. The months following the attack were a sensitive period across our country for Arab Americans like me. Sometimes I wondered if I was being stereotyped because of my ethnic background, even though I was born in our nation’s capital. From friends to colleagues, I had a fear of being judged. Even if unfounded, I wanted to own those feelings instead of them owning me. So, I acted.
Today, I think the lessons and experiences of my daughter Evelyn encapsulate many of my feelings around adversity, inclusion, and hope. After her diagnosis, Evelyn was placed in a neonatal intensive care unit for two weeks after she was born.
In the room next door, there was a baby boy born prematurely whose family we met. The boy’s grandfather just happened to be our area’s—if not the world’s—foremost authority on genetic abnormalities (Down syndrome being one), caring for these children from all over the world.
This doctor stood by our side, helping us gather information and strategizing a plan around all that we had to do to care for our new daughter. He became our family doctor, and friend, and has been an integral part of our extended family ever since.
Evelyn is now 14, the eldest of my four daughters. She’s a “typical teenager.” I jokingly compare her personality to a popular candy—sometimes sweet and sometimes sour. She’s a very smart girl. She’s easy to talk to and easy to understand. She and I both love the open water. It soothes us.
Being out there, sensing the salt air, the wildlife, the separation from society—it all melts my intensity, inviting me into an equilibrium. When I’m out on the water, I don’t think about anything else other than being in the moment with those I love. Like coursing my way through life’s changes, I focus on navigating the shifting waters directly in front of me.
Like my mother, my daughter and my military service remind me that I can and will overcome life’s trials. My personal experiences and challenges have taught me courage and conviction, compassion and empathy—and how to create environments of acceptance and inclusion for others. They’ve made me a better man, willing to fight for a better world, for all.
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Partner | Deloitte & Touche LLP
Isa leads a number of Deloitte’s largest client accounts in the Industrial Products & Construction industry, primarily large aerospace and defense companies. He is focused on building high-performing teams to delivering accounting and internal control; cyber and enterprise risk; mergers, acquisitions, and divestiture; and legal and regulatory services for these clients. This includes large and complex finance transformations, transaction due diligence and integration/separation, and restructuring services. Isa also leads various talent initiatives across Deloitte, including advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion and well-being for Deloitte’s professionals.