WWU Entrepreneurs of the Year aim to change the culture at EY

John Bergen, PJ Ohashi, and Josiah Johnson
Mary Doherty

What if you got to build a professional life with your childhood neighbor and the guy who worked next to you in the mall during college? Even better, imagine your two friends meet on their own, become friends, and the three of you go on to build a business that aims to disrupt the culture of one of the world’s financial giants.

That’s the story of Western alums and friends Josiah Johnson, ’99, history and economics, John Bergen, ’92, biology, and PJ Ohashi, ’97 B.A., economics. All were young entrepreneurs with long-standing relationships whose professional lives gravitated together until 2008 when they founded Society Consulting, a data analytics company that provided digital analytics and big data professional services to enterprise clients across the country. 

That first year, their five-person staff grew to 40 in a boutique staffing firm known as The Job Mob, which ran on Society’s own combination of personality, hip culture, and expertise in harnessing data to provide a more personalized experience. They continued to thrive—even as the economy tanked—in part because of their reputation for integrity, for offering a less transactional employee experience, and for their strong relationships in the industry.  

“The climate in 2008 was pretty brutal. It was really challenging to create a new services company in that timeframe,” Johnson says. “What really differentiated us was the relentless focus we brought to building the company that was really inclusive around our team and our people, and building a really special unique culture is really what fueled the business. It was the backbone of our success all the way through to the point where EY acquired us.”

After securing relationships with Microsoft, Expedia and other major tech companies, Society Consulting had over 200 employees in 2016 and was the nation’s largest independent digital analytics consulting company.  They became well-known for helping clients aggregate, organize and visualize their data to find new markets, personalize customer experiences and generally adopt a big-data approach to their strategy and operations. 

That’s when accounting and business management giant Ernst & Young came knocking. The culture the WWU alums had built was exactly what EY was looking for as it was spearheading its own new digital initiatives. Society Consulting is one of the largest of the 20 digital companies EY has acquired in the past three years. 

"Every entrepreneur wants their baby to be acquired,” Bergen says, “but we wanted it to be acquired by a brand like EY.”

Now, Society is helping EY modernize its growing set of digital solutions and capabilities, and applying them to solve the challenges of tomorrow. And they’re still growing: EY Society is in the hunt for data engineers and other digital specialists who might not otherwise consider a career at a giant global accounting firm. 

“How do you create a culture that's going to attract a big data engineer, a real technical analyst or data analyst to choose EY over going to Amazon or Microsoft or somewhere else?” Bergen says.  “It's really been a work in progress to bring that culture and coolness factor to EY to attract those types of applicants.”

Mary Doherty is director of Marketing and Communications for University Advancement.

Photo by David Eshenbaugh/EY