Profile with Karon Walker

Karon Walker (Missouri & Exeter 1980) is currently Deputy General Counsel for Ernst & Young LLP. She holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School, was in the M.Litt program at the University of Oxford, and holds a BA in History from Williams College.

Rhodes Project: What was the first job you ever held?

Karon Walker: I wrote for a newspaper in Nantucket, Massachusetts starting when I was thirteen. I was a reporter, feature writer and general all-around helper.

Rhodes Project: Who is your favorite author?

Karon Walker: I have two. One is Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who has always been my favorite. But my other favorite author is Neal Stephenson.

Rhodes Project: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you have been?

Karon Walker: I would have been a book editor. In fact, I really wanted to be someone who was in publishing and editing books. But I couldn’t find a job in that in New York, so I went to law school!

Rhodes Project: What is the best part of your job now?

Karon Walker: The best part of my job now is that when I ask people to do things they have to take my direction—unlike my children!  No, actually, the best part of my job is being able to contribute to an expanding global enterprise, being in a position to help it evaluate and assess a wide range of risks, which is central to whether or not you’re going to be able to address the global market successfully. That’s what I do, and it’s fun.

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of your job?

Karon Walker: Because of my personality, it’s sometimes a challenge for me to help people work through issues at their own pace. I view time as the most valuable commodity, so that can be difficult for me.  It’s always important to get people to understand the thought process and how one reaches a certain point of view or a decision or a conclusion, as opposed to just telling them what that conclusion should be.  That may be an odd kind of difficulty, but it’s mine.  I find the rest of it—the writing, the presenting, the persuasion—less challenging.

Rhodes Project: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Karon Walker: That it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people wonder if you know what you’re doing, as opposed to opening your mouth and making them sure that you don’t.  I’ve translated that into trying to listen before I respond, although not always successfully.

Rhodes Project: Is there anything that consistently frustrates you in life?

Karon Walker: Yes, I’m frustrated by my inability to deal consistently with work/life balance. These days, because my children are older and working or in college, that means attending to the things like exercise and leisure and other stuff that makes you happy and capable of going back and doing your job effectively. I don’t do that consistently. The demands of work are high, and I am not particularly good at distancing myself from it so that I can address all of those different needs.

Rhodes Project: When you do make time to take care of yourself, what do you do to relax or unwind?

Karon Walker: I read a lot. I like to row, and in the off-season I do indoor rowing –“erging.”  That’s because I used to be a swimmer, and as any old athlete will tell you, you can’t continue to do the same sport that you did as a youth—it becomes increasingly obvious how out of shape you are if you have prior performance to compare it with. So you have to switch to a new sport.  Both my kids are fantastic rowers, so I moved into that.

Rhodes Project: What is your proudest accomplishment?

Karon Walker: This may sound trite, but my kids. I am the proudest of my kids. They are extraordinary, incredibly talented, very smart, and they’re internationally ranked athletes.  They’re wonderful people.

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