Where are they now?
Deloitte’s Punit Renjen knows from experience the value of a helping hand
Punit Renjen was 14 years old when his life turned upside down. Since the age of 7, he had attended an elite boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas, where his parents felt he could get a better education than in his hometown of Rohtak (about 50 miles northeast of India’s capital, New Delhi). But when his father’s electrical switchgear factory faced a financial crisis, Renjen was forced to return home, where he continued his studies while working for the business.
Several years passed. After earning a degree in economics at a local college — not one of the top universities in Delhi as might have been the case in rosier times — Renjen landed a job with a home appliance manufacturer. Then, in 1983, his life took another unexpected turn. A Rohtak Rotarian told Renjen’s father about something called an Ambassadorial Scholarship from The Rotary Foundation. Renjen applied, and to his surprise, was awarded the scholarship. His life would never be the same.
- Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, 1984-85
- Master’s degree, management, Willamette University, 1986
- Global Indian of the Year, The Economic Times, 2021
“Without that scholarship, I would not be where I am,” says Renjen, who today, after a stunningly successful 36-year career with the business services company Deloitte, serves as its CEO emeritus. “I am profoundly grateful, and I think it is a testament to Rotary that it can impact and change people’s lives in profound ways.”
As things turned out, it wasn’t just Renjen’s life that was profoundly changed. But 40 years ago, all that lay in the future.
After receiving his Rotary scholarship, Renjen, despite never having left India nor flown in an airplane, chose to attend Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. He flew from India to New York to Portland, Oregon, where he took a van to Salem late at night. “My first impression of the United States was how the freeway was lit,” he recalls. “It’s completely changed now, but on the roads in my hometown, we didn’t have streetlights back then.”
At Willamette, Renjen mastered, as he puts it, “the language of business.” But, he acknowledges, “the lessons that I learned outside the classroom were maybe as important if not more important than what I learned in the classroom.” He points to his term as the head resident of an undergraduate dorm, where he learned how a leader can help others “buy into a sense of community,” a skill that served him well in the years ahead.
In 1986, Renjen received a master’s degree from Willamette’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management. His success in the years that followed speaks for itself; as CEO at Deloitte, for instance, he led an organization with 415,000 employees in about 150 countries that generated revenue of nearly $60 billion in fiscal year 2022.
But success and achievement can be measured in different ways, and some of Renjen’s accomplishments bear a remarkable resemblance to the causes championed by Rotary. Here’s where Rotary’s investment in that young man from Rohtak had a profound and unexpected impact on countless other lives.
For example, during Renjen’s seven-year tenure as CEO, Deloitte contributed $1.7 billion to the communities where its employees work and live. (“It is not only the right thing to do, it is the right business thing to do,” he says.) Though he’s now a U.S. citizen, he considers India his second home, and invariably, some of that money was directed toward his native country. For instance, during a deadly wave of the pandemic, Deloitte helped lead an effort that provided 25,000 oxygen concentrators and launched a program that used digital telemedicine technologies to treat people afflicted by COVID-19. Those contributions helped lessen the burden on India’s overwhelmed health infrastructure.
“Twenty-five percent of our workforce is India-based,” he says, “so this was personal. My mother lives in India, my family lives in India, my extended business family — 100,000 of them — live in India. If we were to live our purpose and our values, we needed to have a credible response.”
Deloitte also chose India as a special focus of its WorldClass program. The effort aims to provide economic and social empowerment to 50 million girls and women in India by 2030 — an idea that could have been drawn directly from the Rotary playbook, and one that Deloitte is rolling out in other countries. “As China had developed, they have left behind children in rural communities,” Renjen explains, so the goal there is to assist 15 million rural children and farmers. “In the United States, where the disparity between nonminority and minority communities in terms of college and access to a better life is so great, the focus is around minority communities and getting them to college. So that’s the WorldClass program. It is focused on education and on underprivileged people, community by community, and trying to get them to a better place.”
Elsewhere, Renjen’s life mirrors Rotary’s emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. At Deloitte, he prioritized a culture of diversity and inclusion, especially among leadership, and at Willamette University, the Office of Multicultural Affairs is housed in the Renjen Center, which he established with his wife, Heather. These impulses were inspired, in part, by Renjen’s experience in his adopted country, where he was welcomed, educated, and offered opportunities to succeed. “The United States is one of the greatest countries in the world, and that’s because we are a diverse, welcoming community,” he says. “We aren’t perfect, and we certainly have things that we need to work on, but that’s what makes this place unique. We’re an immigrant country.”
Renjen also emphasized that the life he has enjoyed would never have happened without Rotary. No surprise, then, that Rotary’s core values have been a centerpiece of Renjen’s life. “Rotary is a wonderful organization, based on the notion that all Rotary members should represent and give back to their communities,” he says. “What a wonderful concept.”
This story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of Rotary magazine.