Most children who were fans of Jurassic Park were in awe of the lifelike dinosaurs depicted on the screen, but for Eric Esper, the movie had a different appeal.
“Malcolm was one of the key roles and he was a mathematician in the movie, and for whatever reason, the idea of being a mathematician excited me,” he says. “I very quickly realized that mathematicians were geniuses, and that was not me, but it piqued my interest in numbers.”
And unlike most people, he became interested in accounting at an early age. “I had a neighbor who taught accounting in high school, which wasn’t an overly popular topic in curriculums, and she suggested that I try it given my affinity for all things math,” he explains. “Effectively, that’s where it all started.”
Esper, the first in his immediate family to attend college, obtained his bachelor’s and master’s in accounting at the University of Michigan. An internship with PricewaterhouseCoopers between degrees confirmed his career choice. He went on to work in the company’s Detroit and Miami offices for nearly six years after graduating. Then, in 2010, he was hired as a manager of special projects for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, then a client of his.
“This was the beginning of my transition out of public and into private accounting,” he says. “It was at that point, I realized I just didn’t want to go towards partner. It wasn’t a career goal of mine anymore, so I pivoted.”
“I like to engage in ways that all levels of the hierarchy can contribute. I want to know what people think and it’s a way for me to identify our future leaders.”
Esper calls his experience with the cruise line the single most defining moment of his career, because he was now in an organization that needed help and had a ton of transactional work on the horizon.
“I had a lot of high-level executive exposure and was in essence the right-hand to the chief accounting officer,” he says. “In 2013, we ended up going public and went through the whole IPO process, created the parent company and initial public offering, and from there, started to really grow in the chain of command.”
After almost eight years of taking on executive roles at Norwegian, Esper joined the Hertz Corporation, the second-largest US car rental company by sales, locations, and fleet size. As chief accounting officer of Hertz, he’s tasked with transforming the department, implementing global processes, and investing in people. He’s been on the job just two years, but has already been involved in major changes.
For example, Hertz’s Project One is a global technology transformation that involves most everyone in the organization. “We have a lot of back-office systems that are being replaced with this technology transformation, so when I came in, I had to learn about what those initiatives were, what we would be ultimately undertaking, and why we are deciding to go this route,” he explains. “We partner with many vendors for building out the infrastructure. I would never take credit for any of the decision-making because the tracks were laid before I started, but it’s certainly a massive undertaking that we have to glue together and make sure we have the right people focused on it at the right times.”
When Esper took on the role of chief accounting officer in November 2018, Hertz was adopting a new lease standard. Absorbing that in the first quarter of 2019 was a huge personal success for him, he says. In March 2019 the company also transitioned to a new audit firm, adding to Esper’s challenge.
“Adopting the lease standard, especially in light of an auditor transition basically correlating to the same time of adoption, was a huge win for the company and for me,” he says. “We’ve had a very successful transition and I think that’s a credit to our team and to them for being a great partner to us.”
“I’m no better than anyone on this team, but I am the leader they look up to, so I have to hold myself to a high standard and do the right thing, act ethically, and act professionally.”
In 2020 Esper is spearheading projects that meet the collective global goals of the department and company, and layering in the Project One initiatives in conjunction with that. “We see 2020 as a very critical year for a couple of our key financial systems related to fleet accounting and some other complex back-office infrastructure that supports our billing and collections efforts, but are very complicated because of the nature of our business,” Esper says. “So there are some pretty big high-stakes milestones for delivery this year.”
Esper thrives on the team mentality, and focuses on empowering his people so they feel like they contribute to the greater good. “We know we need their continuous buy-in to maintain and push our group forward,” he says. “I like to engage in ways that all levels of the hierarchy can contribute. I want to know what people think and it’s a way for me to identify our future leaders.”
Furthermore, it’s important for him personally to stay humble and become the leader that everyone looks to for help and guidance.
“I try to approach it as I’m no better than anyone on this team, but I am the leader they look up to, so I have to hold myself to a high standard and do the right thing, act ethically, and act professionally,” Esper says. “Part of the humility of that is saying, ‘I am one of you, we are in this together,’ and make sure we all do the right thing for each other and Hertz at the end of the day.”
Deloitte is pleased to team with Eric Esper on governance and technology transformation matters at Hertz. Eric’s role as a thought leader in the profession and strong collaborative leadership lends a positive impact to Deloitte’s relationship with Hertz on their transformation journey.