Illustration by Michael Hoeweler

Breakfast With: Debra von Storch

The longtime partner at the firm formerly known as Ernst & Young is bullish on Dallas.

She’s already seated at one of the large, tall tables up front, typing on her iPad when I walk through the door of Ascension Coffee just before 8 a.m. on a Tuesday. I get the impression that Debra von Storch is a woman who hates to waste any potentially productive moment.

She rises to greet me, and we make our way to the counter to order. Ascension isn’t far from the Victory Park offices of EY (prior to July 1, you knew the professional services firm as Ernst & Young), so von Storch regularly convenes her Monday morning team meeting in the Design District shop.

“I like coming here because it’s open, it’s light, it’s pretty busy,” she says.

There are a few other people scattered about the place, most of them working on laptops, all of them sporting casual clothes and fashionable hairstyles. The alt-rock music mix playing overhead is strangely loud for so early in the morning.

I follow von Storch’s lead and order the granola that comes with a huge dollop of yogurt in the center, topped by blackberries, strawberries, and honey. We both get lattes: hers with skim milk, mine iced.

Once we return to our chairs, we quickly cover her CV. Graduated L.D. Bell High School in Hurst in 1978, attended North Texas State (now the University of North Texas), and originally wanted to be a TV anchorwoman.

“My dad said, ‘Gee, Deb, to be successful [in TV] you’ve got to be tall, blonde, and buxom. Sweetheart, we can buy you a couple of those things, but you’ll never be tall enough,’” she says with a grin. So von Storch switched to a focus on business, got her degree in 1982, and has been working for Ernst & Young (excuse me, EY) ever since.

“Our world has changed so much from when I started,” she says, pausing to note how delicious the granola dish is. “Much more highly regulated, more government involvement. Some of it’s good.”

In which respects?

“Having transparency can do nothing but help the markets,” she says. For an eight-state region, von Storch leads a segment of her company’s business that advises companies projecting rapid growth in a short period. “Serving that type of company, that type of account, is totally different than serving a stoic, staid, static, stable company,” she says.

A business that’s aiming to go from little or no revenue to billions of dollars in just a few years needs insight into raising and investing capital, along with advice on the challenges of doing business in other markets, especially overseas markets.

“If you’re going to go drill off the coast of Ghana, that’s a different tax structure than in the United States, so consulting on that,” von Storch says by way of example.

She thrives on the “roller coaster ride” that comes from consulting with firms that have their sights set on such high risk/high reward plans. “I’ve always been a coach, a mentor, a nurturer, building relationships,” she says. “I love meeting these companies, I love helping them.”

Access to capital continues to be the top concern for the firms with which she deals; von Storch says that access has been improving since the darkest days of the recent recession. “Private equity has deep wallets right now, and private equity’s on the sidelines dying to get in. So we’re seeing a lot more PE deals, especially in the services sector. If you’re asset-intensive, not so much,” she says. “Another thing: there is a big war on talent right now. So how do you attract and retain the right talent? We hadn’t seen that in a long time, but with the improvement in the economy, people are jumping around.”

For the past five years, von Storch has also been charged with running EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program for North Texas. Co-sponsored locally by D CEO, the aim is to honor the top local business innovators. Von Storch believes the program is one means by which EY distinguishes itself from the nation’s other “Big Four” accounting firms.

“We have been investing a lot of time and talent and analysis and study and services in that entrepreneurial space since inception,” she says. “Entrepreneurship and innovation—that’s our brand.”

Von Storch is also excited about what the Dallas Entrepreneur Center can contribute. EY plans to help support the newly created organization, which is aimed at connecting entrepreneurs with the assistance they need to get their ideas up and running.

“Everybody thinks the West Coast and East Coast are the hubs of U.S. entrepreneurship,” von Storch says. “Bull. We’ve got it going on in Dallas.” 


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