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Feb 19, 2021 2021-02 Alumni Business Administration

Deloitte’s Fleurimond to speak, explore future of higher education

Gies College of Business MBA alumna Betty Fleurimond remembers designing semiconductors at Intel when Andy Grove was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

“I remember being fascinated by the whole relationship between business and technology – all of the things that need to happen between the design work I did in the lab, the end consumer, and the company’s CEO being recognized for influencing the Digital Age,” said Fleurimond, who calls her time there being a “kid in a candy store.”

“I have always been interested in how and why people are using technology and what are the business decisions that need to happen in order to get consumers to buy and use something they yet can’t imagine,” she said.

Fleurimond is now using her acumen in technology and business strategy in the fastest growing sector at Deloitte – higher education – as chair of the Deloitte Center for Higher Education Excellence and National Higher Education Cloud ERP portfolio leader. She will share her journey and views on the industry as guest speaker at the College’s virtual MBA alumni reception on Friday, Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. CT. Register here. Fleurimond earned mathematics and MBA degrees from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Fleurimond was asked by Deloitte in 2010 to explore the hunch that some of the solutions the firm offered across other industries could benefit higher education.

“It was a high risk, high reward opportunity, so I took the challenge. All those classes in accounting, finance, and marketing I took started to come together,” she said. “Early on I knew we could be successful. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but I did know for sure we would succeed in creating something extraordinary.”

That confidence has been hard won. The first glimmer came at a very early age when Fleurimond stared at the TV set wondering how it could possibly be. She decided to take matters into her own hands, marched down into her father’s tool shed and grabbed whatever seemed appropriate to disassemble the TV. I had to see what was going on in there.”

“My friends had dreams of getting married and having kids. I always knew I was going to be a business executive of some sort. If we had done vision boards back then, mine would have had a power suit on it,” she said.

Fleurimond credits a mentor with helping her begin to turn her dream into reality. As a first-generation college student and first-generation American, she welcomed the help navigating the application process and chose Illinois in part because her brother had studied electrical engineering before her.   

Fleurimond’s confidence was hard won in college. The Thornton Township High School (Harvey, IL) graduate said initially everything seemed foreign to her, from class size to campus culture.

“I looked around and no one looked like me or sounded like me,” said the Caribbean executive. “I didn’t have the confidence to ask ‘Why?’ Only the resolve to get the work done and get good grades.”

She points to a campus visit from trailblazer Gloria Steinem, an internship opportunity, and working on a research project (“The Design of a Non-Recursive Digital Filter”) for a female engineering professor as turning points during her time on campus. The woman who wouldn’t raise her hand in class ended up invited to present research findings at a conference at UC Berkeley (her very first plane ride).

Ultimately, however, she grew restless with the engineering career path and returned to Illinois to earn her MBA.

A chance meeting with a stranger in Detroit when reconnecting with a friend from an internship at Ford changed the trajectory of her career. He was well-connected, so Fleurimond asked if she knew anyone who might be interested in hiring a recent MBA grad with a technology background. When he asked if she'd send him her resume, she instead ran to her car to get one out of her portfolio. He was instantly impressed and walked it over to his friend, who happened to also be across the room. He was a partner at Deloitte.

“He gave me his card and asked me to follow up with his assistant the next day,” she said. “Thirteen interviews later, I was hired.” 

Fleurimond first worked on financial modeling and ERP implementations in Deloitte’s Public Sector practice before she was tapped to make the business case for the firm investing in the higher education sector.

“Then, my partner Kathy Karich and I were asked to take these Band-Aids and paper clips and go start a higher ed practice,” she said.  Ten years later, with quantifiable success, Fleurimond now provides client and market development leadership for a national higher education practice of more than 300 practitioners. “I am so proud of what we accomplished. I pinch myself that I get to make a real impact for our clients and for our people.”

As she looks toward the future of higher education, Fleurimond believes some of the changes brought on by the pandemic will benefit students and the institutions they attend.

“Transformation doesn’t happen easily in higher education, but these times have caused many to be more open to doing things differently,” she said, pointing to the student experience, academic advising, and student mental health as areas that could benefit from new approaches. “If the mindset can shift and stay, we have the raw materials for lasting change.”

Ultimately, Fleurimond said the two biggest shifts she hopes to see in higher education are in digital transformation and access.

“Access is everything. There are still too many non-negotiable inequities. My story is possible because one altruistic individual cared to help me start on my way,” she said. “My parents certainly had the will and I credit them for my grit and my fortitude, but they didn’t have the means. My dream is to exponentially increase exposure and access to opportunity.”