Office Managing Partner, Ernst & Young LLP (EY), and Joint Venture Board Member
By Duffy Jennings
Just about now, as the calendar turns to December, Kailesh Karavadra will be shaving off his “Movember” beard, ending his first venture into the annual event that encourages men to sprout facial hair during the month of November to raise awareness for men’s health issues.
For Karavadra, the managing partner of Ernst & Young’s San Jose office and a Joint Venture board member, the global Movember cause has been a “growth” experience in more ways than one.
“The young men in the company educated me about the cause,” says Karavadra. “Growing a beard allowed me to understand and appreciate what it feels like to be different and to walk in someone else’s shoes, since it’s not the norm for me and I’ve been getting a lot of questions.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience in terms of what it must feel like for so many people who feel excluded every day and a great vehicle to start a dialogue and draw attention to these issues.”
Karavadra, who joined the Joint Venture board in June, oversees 1000 professionals in the San Jose offices of EY, the $30 billion “Big Four” global professional services firm.
The company’s global workforce of 230,000 provides accounting and tax services, help with mergers and acquisitions, financial services, and assurance and advisory support to some 200,000 clients in 150 countries. EY’s clients include 75 percent of the Silicon Valley 150 and 78 percent of the Fortune 500 in the Bay Area.
“It’s important to me that integrity, teamwork and trust are part of our DNA at EY,” says Karavadra. “Our purpose is to help build a better working world and I’m excited to get up every morning and bring this purpose to life.”
Karavadra, who just turned 50, has spent his entire career with EY, created when Ernst & Whinney merged with Arthur Young & Co. in 1989. Karavadra relocated to San Jose in 1995 after starting his EY career in the United Kingdom.
“There’s no better place to be than Silicon Valley,” he says. “Seventy percent of our employees here are under 30. They have boundless enthusiasm and we’re fortunate that they love our purpose and culture of inclusion. It’s a very exciting time and a wonderful place to work.”
His personal mantra, he says, is “no stress, no fear, no worry,” and his current focus is on three areas: Continuing to improve EY’s culture and brand in the marketplace, staying active in the San Jose community and helping families in need.
The latter includes a United Way program that the EY San Jose office participates in, which helps low-income families with their tax returns, guided by the mantra, “Earn it. Keep it. Save it.”
Karavadra says the firm helped Bay Area families complete 81,000 tax forms this year at some 800 public and community sites like libraries, United Way offices and others, resulting in combined tax refunds of $84 million.
“Silicon Valley is blessed to have Kailesh’s visionary leadership and commitment to the community,” said Sam Liccardo, San Jose mayor and co-chair of Joint Venture. “His warm, outgoing personality aligns with his passion to serve the greater good.”
A personal passion for Karavadra is eliminating food insecurity, hunger and food waste in the region, one of the key factors that drew him to Joint Venture’s Surplus Harvest initiative in partnership with Urban Harvester to distribute surplus fresh food to those in need.
“Joint Venture provides us with a platform for public discourse and action that I’m grateful for,” he says, “It’s a great convener of organizations and people committed to solving our community’s biggest problems. It’s the single best use of our community resources I’ve seen.
“The cost of food waste and the immensity of the issue of hunger in the Valley is staggering. One in five California students goes without three meals a day. What attracted me to this program is that we can roll up our sleeves and help those most in need. I get a real sense of joy from doing that.”
“Kailesh is a community leader, a giver, somebody who inspires others to help him build strong communities,” said Lea King, executive director of Silicon Valley Talent Partnership. “He’s the guy you want on your team. He leads from behind, pushing and inspiring others.
“Every time I’ve gone to him, for mentoring programs or other help, he’s never said no to me. And he brings his entire team, an army of EY folks, who come prepared to roll up their sleeves and work.”
Community programs and volunteering are core to the EY culture, Karavadra emphasizes.
“On the last Friday in September we close all of our offices across the U.S. and offer ways for our professionals to volunteer in the community through EY Connect Day. This year 650 EY volunteers donated more than 2000 hours of their time to 20 nonprofit projects in the South Bay. I’m incredibly proud of that.”
More recently in the wake of the controversial and divisive presidential election, he says, the firm is focused on easing employees’ concerns and restoring a sense of belonging to the community.
“We’re going to work through this,” he says, “we just need understanding and empathy for each other.
“One of my favorite expressions,” he adds, is “’People don’t care what you know until they know you care.’”
Karavadra cultivated his compassion for those in need as a child of Indian parents growing up in Africa. Born in Kampala, Uganda in 1966 to Samat and Tamu Karavadra, his father drove sugar cane trucks while his mother cared for him, his brother and sister. The family of five lived in one room.
When general Idi Amin rode a military coup to power in 1971, Kailesh’s family left Uganda and returned to India, then migrated to northern England, where Kailesh started school.
“I wasn’t a very good student at first,” he recalls. “I was rebellious until an American teacher named Mr. King spoke to me in Hindi, which I understood. He changed my thinking about education, how to be inquisitive and to ask better questions. I was ten and thought, here was someone who does not look like me, and yet, he has an interest in my well-being. After that I never stopped learning, being a student of life and paying it forward,” says Karavadra. “Never forget how powerful the positive ripple effects can be from someone you help and support in life. I have witnessed the power of this first-hand from Mr. King.”
Karavadra, who speaks Hindi, French and Gujarati in addition to English and Swahili, eventually earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of Wales in Bangor, and later added a master’s degree in artificial engineering from Bangor University.
On a return trip to India in 1990 he was introduced to a 22-year-old woman named Heena. “We were married the very next day and we’ve have been together since,” Kailesh says with a widening smile. The couple has a son, Nayam, 25, and a daughter, Abhina, 18.
Kailesh also serves on the boards of United Way Silicon Valley, the Silicon Valley Directors Exchange and the National Board of Directors for The Kidney Foundation. He was chair of the Silicon Valley Kidney Walk 2014. He supports the Food Rescue Mission in San Jose and the Mayor’s Small Business Ignite Mentoring Program to support small business growth, and he represents EY on the California Chamber of Commerce Board, focusing on job growth and economic prosperity.
A lifelong soccer fan, player and coach, Kailesh coaches a local men’s team and plays twice a week himself.
Ten years ago he created a bucket list of goals, most recently skydiving from 14,000 feet with his daughter and competing in a triathlon. In 2014 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise money for global girls’ education.
“I’m a glass half full kind of person,” he says. “We don’t always appreciate all that we have and we need to pause more to reflect, cultivate gratitude, and help lift others up with us.
Kailesh’s enthusiasm is palpable and his own gratitude is grounded in his unique roots, global experiences and opportunities. “I’m a firm believer in not letting your circumstances dictate your potential or your future,” he says. “I was a refugee who worked hard and I had great mentors who demonstrated a generosity of spirit that has left an indelible impression on me. Now I get to do the same for our professionals at EY and for our San Jose community.”