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Why we do what we do
Meet Michael Bondar
Faces of Deloitte Advisory is a series of true stories that explore the personal history of our practitioners, highlighting key experiences that defined their values and explaining why they do what they do. In this story, Michael explains how his parents’ immigration to America shaped his definitions of trust, resiliency, and courage.
“A lot of my consultancy skills lean on lessons I learned as a child. Trust in others didn’t exactly come naturally to me as a 12-year-old boy starting a new life, in a new country. That promise had to be strategized, experienced, and nurtured.”
The day was Tuesday, May 24, 1994. I was 12 years old, and my family and I started our new life in America.
The trip spanned a couple of days, but it felt like a lifetime. A long train ride from Donetsk, Ukraine to Moscow, Russia was followed by a transatlantic flight to New York City, then a flight to Kansas City, and finally a 45-minute drive to our new home in Overland Park, Kansas.
I recall being equal parts exhausted and nervous during the journey. I worried and wondered about what our family’s future held. Would my sister and I be able to make friends? Would I be able to understand and speak English? How would my parents find jobs? What would our new life look like? Those types of thoughts and questions were racing through my mind.
But through the worrying, I was constantly reassured and found calm by following my parents’ lead. They were facing enormous pressure to reestablish themselves and figure out a way to provide for our family. They had to do this even though they didn’t speak English, had no promise of employment, and suddenly no longer had a network to rely on.
Yet, somehow, they believed in themselves and trusted their abilities to rebuild our life in a new country. They took an enormous risk, uprooted their lives, gave up everything to build a better life for their children. The selflessness, confidence, and courage they displayed in making that decision, and the move, reassured me then and continues to inspire and fuel me today.
My parents were both engineers, but my mom’s aspiration was to be a doctor. So, she aced all her interviews and entrance exams for medical school in Ukraine. One of the final steps was a passport review.
Her passport contained a line item for religion, where she listed herself as Jewish. The admission officer opened her passport, focused on that line, handed the passport back to her, and said, “You will not be accepted here.” The admission process had concluded.
This was not an outlier or an exception. This story was very similar to other examples of open discrimination my parents and grandparents faced throughout their lives. Those painful incidents birthed in me a drive to fight for fairness and equality. My parents bravely fled religious oppression on my and my sister’s behalf. So, I vowed not to let them down.
When we finally touched down in Kansas, my exhaustion was washed away by a wave of energy and excitement and a deep desire to achieve, to do good, and do well. I did not know what that meant at that point, but I knew that I had to make sure the sacrifices my parents were making would be worth it.
From the minute I started school in Overland Park as a teenager, I craved acceptance—from my teachers, from my peers. I wanted to actively assimilate into this new way of life. I didn’t want to be known just for my accent, or to only be thought of as the “foreign kid.”
It was not easy. Kids can be mean, and the new kid who barely spoke English was an easy target. In spite of the teasing and bullying, I had to figure out a way to fit in. I needed to develop trusted relationships.
I was always a good student, but excelling at math and knowing the nuances of pop culture were different stories. I’ll always remember a bonus question on a quiz during my first year in middle school. The question asked, “Who was Babe Ruth?” I did not know the answer. After leaving the response space blank, I immediately came home to research who I now know as a historic baseball figure.
From that moment on, I told myself that I’d never again be stumped on anything related to American sports, media, or culture. I wanted to integrate myself into this country as much as possible. I never again wanted to feel like a helpless outsider looking in.
Those teenage years also created an intense desire within me to build teams where everybody was included. A place where everybody felt safe and cared for. A place where everyone was important regardless of where they came from.
It was my experiences of being excluded or thought of as an outsider in my formative years that made me want to right those wrongs—not only in my childhood, but then at college, and eventually at Deloitte.
While studying at the University of Kansas, I thought my interest in technology and degree in computer science would lead me to a career in the high-tech industry. But when I visited with Deloitte during the on-campus career fair, I was drawn in.
My thinking was that tech companies created products and that was their competitive advantage. On the other hand, Deloitte, I thought, didn’t make products but instead served its clients, and it was Deloitte’s people that made the company special. That was why I joined the organization.
I accepted a Deloitte internship in 2001 and started full-time in 2003. Today, I’m a proud principal (partner) leading Deloitte’s Future of Trust offering both in the US and globally.
We all understand what trust means in our personal lives. We either trust someone to watch our kids or not, we trust the mechanic to repair our car properly or not. Those seem intuitive.
In the business world, however, trust is not always part of the vernacular. And it’s certainly not part of the discussion at the most strategic and senior levels of many organizations. My question has always been “why not?”
Deloitte’s position is that earning trust is critical to businesses achieving business success. Companies have started to recognize the importance of trust across the wide range of stakeholders they interact with.
So our approach is first grounded in helping companies understand what it means to be trusted in their world and in their context (which may not be a simple answer). Then, we help organizations measure and quantify just how trusted they are. Ultimately our goal, is to help clients become more trusted, repair trust issues if any exist, and build up their trust equity—all to improve the performance of the organization.
It’s still remarkable to me that a lot of my consultancy skills lean on lessons I learned as a child. Trust in others didn’t exactly come naturally to me as a 12-year-old boy starting a new life, in a new country. That promise had to be strategized, experienced, and nurtured.
But it was having a child of my own that made me understand trust in a whole new way.
In 2013, my wife and I had our first son, Jack. I was on deck to make principal at Deloitte. When Jack was five months old, I remember coming home late one Friday evening from work to hear him laugh for the very first time.
That moment changed me. I fully expected my business travel to further increase and as a result, I would miss more of these precious moments. So, I decided to leave Deloitte.
Of course, I remained close to my Deloitte friends and colleagues. Nearly two years later, as part of our many catch-up conversations, we started to explore the possibility of me returning. They told me that they really wanted me back. As they expressed their interest, my former colleagues talked about my personal life first, then company goals—how the new role could fit my family agenda and my life.
During our talks, as we shared memories and laughs, I came to the realization that professionally, Deloitte had always been my “home away from home.” So, it was hard—almost impossible—to say no.
I felt a confidence, an inner trust, that I needed to follow. It was this sort of sense of belonging I looked for in every situation since I was a kid.
My family and I had come way too far for me to settle for anything less.
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Principal | Risk and Financial Advisory
Michael is a principal in the Risk & Financial Advisory business leading Deloitte’s Future of Trust offering. He focuses on helping clients improve organizational performance by building, protecting and enhancing levels of trust for companies across a wide range of stakeholder groups.
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