Alumnus Leaves Mark in Africa on International Tax Law

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“Get your passport out and travel,” suggests James Deiotte, J.D. ‘88, a former Senior Partner at Ernst & Young. Since leaving Miami in 1988, he has traveled the world and lived in many different U.S. cities. He has led international tax and law practices in Eastern Europe and Africa, while living in Warsaw, Poland and Johannesburg, South Africa, respectively.

James Deiotte, J.D. '88

Leadership at Ernst & Young in Africa

Deiotte recently served as the Regional Tax and Law Leader for EY’s sub-Saharan African practice, managing over 30 countries and nearly 900 professional staff.  During his time in Africa, Deiotte helped to create a culture of success, which led to a near doubling of the tax and law practices in under four years. 

Upon arrival in Africa, Deiotte and his practice leaders set out on a mission. They saw the importance and urgency of bringing young people into the firm and profession, especially when youth unemployment exceeded 40%.  Deiotte and his team provided the necessary training and experiences to accelerate and develop the careers of their new recruits.  They wanted to help them become “the next generation of African educators, administrators, taxing authorities, business leaders, and entrepreneurs.”

When asked what it takes to be a successful leader, Deiotte emphasizes the importance of building a team founded on trust. “You must earn this trust! Serving your people by helping them grow professionally, teaching them the elements and keys of success, and celebrating their accomplishments are constants in deserving their trust and commitments.” 

Memories from Miami Law

So, how did Deiotte’s legal path start at Miami Law? After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an M.B.A. from Cleveland State University, he was looking for a law school in a vibrant city. “I still remember the day I received my acceptance letter from Miami,” he said. “It was a dream to attend law school as I was going to be the first attorney in my family. My goals at that time were modest, I just knew that I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and learn.” 

One of the most influential people at the law school was the late Professor Hausler, whom Deiotte notes had the greatest impact on him. “I took his conflicts class and never prepared for any class harder than that one,” he says. “I was always confident that I could go head-to-head with him. Instead, I seemed to have always walked out with my head spinning.  I learned with Professor Hausler that I could never be over prepared.”

Using the Art of Advocacy in Career

Deiotte’s most significant takeaway from his law school experience was being introduced to the art of advocacy. He is still amazed how “an argument between two respected professionals is used to persuade [a judge or jury] to rule in favor of one position over the other. This purposeful stirring of emotions allows people to make a difficult decision that everyone has to live with afterward.” 

Over time, Deiotte realized how the skills he learned in law school translated to success in his career. “Advocating for what you believe in is critical to your success in business. Gaining support from people, teams, and practices on major decisions or initiatives always contains uncertainties that have an impact on support. By advocating the choices, you draw out the best path forward, gaining the critical and emotional support to achieve success together.” Deiotte’s legal education also taught him “what it takes to understand how business relationships and transactions are managed and how best to protect the enterprise by protecting its assets and managing its risks.” 

Advice for Young Lawyers

One of Deiotte’s favorite African proverbs says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” For young lawyers who want to take a journey and get involved in international business transactions and tax law, Deiotte suggests that they develop a global network and mindset. “Engage with your clients, colleagues and friends not just by email,” Deiotte explains, “but use other technologies that allow you to see and truly hear your client.” This approach, combined with travel, is how lawyers “develop the rare talent and ability to see common patterns in business and legal application across cultures, countries and markets and to help people better understand those patterns.”

Deiotte challenges young professionals to become “connectors” by helping people to better see the opportunities and obstacles that lie ahead.  For example, in identifying and managing risks, “business leaders [have] a tendency to presume that legal protections we enjoy [in the United States] are equally applicable in emerging markets as well.”  He recommends that lawyers manage these risks “through positive engagement between the businesses and the various administrative, political, and judicial representative to help set goals that establish a framework for common ground and stability for all.”

Deiotte’s Current Business

Today, Deiotte is an independent advisor to business leaders of international and U.S. firms that provide a variety of technology solutions, including cybersecurity, robotics process automation, and industrial automation systems.  

For a man who sees all obstacles as opportunities, it is fair to say that Deiotte’s outlook has been key to his success. It is only with a firm grasp of the problem and ability to articulate what you are trying to accomplish, Deiotte advises, that you will be able to offer optimal and effective advice to your clients.

He lives by the motto, “What is the problem we are trying to solve?"