A Broadway Star and Entrepreneur, Jenny Dare Paulin’s Next Act Is to Change the World

Jenny Dare Paulin has lived three dreams: she starred on Broadway, ran a successful business overseas, and was a star MBA student. Now, she’s back for her next challenge.

Ernst & Young

Building a better world starts with the small ripples that can lead to a wave of global impact. Profiles in Motion celebrates the steps that young professionals take at EY to help create a better working world.

Jenny Dare Paulin isn’t your usual EY new hire. Her resume is, you could say, unique: She comes from an acting family in Los Angeles, acted in a Tony-nominated play on Broadway, opened a thriving burger joint in Nicaragua, and emerged as a leader at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

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In other words, she’s used to operating on a global scale, and EY provides her the opportunity to keep doing it.

Paulin, 31, started at Ernst & Young LLP in the Performance Improvement practice in early August, where she’s a senior consultant out of the Los Angeles office. So, how did this successful woman with such an eclectic background end up at a Big Four professional services organization? And what does she hope to accomplish now?

“I come from generations of artists and actors who are fantastic and wonderful, but they’re all really thrilled that I can just balance a checkbook, let alone work somewhere like EY,” she says with a laugh. “My parents were really kind of determined to get me out of acting; they wanted a child with anything but an acting career.”

Naturally, the first thing she did when she got to college was audition for the school play.

As a compromise with her parents, who are also actors, she majored in government. But in her senior year, when she was home on winter break, she auditioned for a friend of the family and landed the lead role in Invasion, a horror-science fiction movie telling the story of a small town overtaken by an alien plague on the night of the senior prom.

“It’s a really small movie but it was the lead part, and I spent the last semester of my senior year flying back and forth from Connecticut to LA to film this movie,” she says. “That kind of launched into a series of projects, many of which were the same director, and then other people who were in that world.”

Then she got the break that would thrill almost any actor. She was cast in an off-Broadway show by Horton Foote called Dividing the Estate. Soon enough, the play moved to Broadway and in 2009 received a Tony nomination for Best Play. Paulin found herself living the actor’s dream: a successful play, accolades, and living in New York. But something wasn’t quite right.

On a trip home, she met an old friend who told her he was at work starting a business in Nicaragua. She took a trip down, saw that he could use some help and decided to stay. She had no idea what she was getting into.

“I was planning on going down for three weeks and flying back for pilot season. It was really supposed to be a trip,” she remembers. “And he and I decided to really start this business together, and so I stayed.”

The business was a gourmet burger joint in San Juan del Sur, on the southern Pacific coast, called Nacho Libre.

As an actor, she had felt lucky. “There are so many people who want to be actors, and just to be working, you feel like you have stardust on you,” she says. But she had discovered a new passion.

“I was down there working like crazy, 16-hour days, sometimes no water, sometimes no power, flipping burgers and running this restaurant, and learning so much,” she says. But then, six months after opening the restaurant, she got a phone call from her agent. She’d gotten a part in another Horton Foote play—“the part of my dreams,” she says.

Although she didn’t want to leave Nicaragua, she took the part and did the show. During its run, however, she started studying for her MBA.

“I knew that acting wasn’t what I wanted, and I also knew that running a tiny burger joint in San Juan del Sur wasn’t enough for my lifetime,” she says. “I wanted to make a bigger impact than that, and I felt like I had a bit of a talent for business, but I really needed the skills and tools to take it to another level, the level that I wanted.”

After the play, The Orphans’ Home Cycle, she moved back to Los Angeles and enrolled at USC’s Marshall School of Business. She says it was “really weird,” given her liberal arts background, and she remembers seeing her parents after school and her dad asking her every day, “Did they kick you out yet?”

“It really felt like a win that they hadn’t,” she laughs. “That was like the goal of the day, for the school not to find out that I didn’t know anything.”

She found tutors for finance and accounting and threw herself into studying, often sleeping only four hours a night to catch up with the other students. “It was really challenging for the first few months,” she says.

But she succeeded, even becoming the teaching assistant for her course in Economics and Strategy. It was that kind of drive that made her a natural fit for EY. And during the recruiting process on campus, she says EY stood out to her for a number of reasons.

She mentions the organization’s ambitious growth targets, such as Vision 2020, and its global reach with member firms in more than 150 different countries. She also says the interconnectivity between the various service lines and offices allows EY to serve important clients around the globe.

“We’re able to work with people from finance, customer strategy and supply chain—from India, Los Angeles, Russia—to really help companies make a greater impact, which is really, really exciting,” she says, sounding like an old pro, even though she’s new to the organization.

She was most attracted to the US firm’s Performance Improvement practice, because it’s focused on helping companies transform into truly customer-centric organizations. She says she can take a holistic approach, drawing on her experience as an actress and entrepreneur: “I really love thinking about the whole experience. And I think this practice not only takes into account the perspective of the customer, but requires understanding and empathy and the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

When asked about her plans for the future, she jokes that it’s annual goal-setting time at EY, so the question is good practice. “I want to make my team proud,” she explains, because—that’s a small thing, but I want to improve in my people skills, I want to have a mastery of all of our service offerings, and be able to go from not only contributing to the teams that I’m on, but really be able to take a leadership role and help guide this customer and team interaction.”

Further down the road, she says she wants to make “an impact in a big way.”

“I want to work with the biggest and most impactful—and I know that these aren’t necessarily the same—companies in the world, and decisively help them make the world a better place,” she says. “That means not just in terms of sustainability, but changing the way that we do business. I think that helping companies not just make incremental change, but really creating new things that will make the world a better place, I would really like to be part of that in a major way.”

She’s already active in two new business developments at EY, she says. One is working with a major entertainment company and auto manufacturer to improve the customer experiences through data analytics. The other is helping EY build its West Coast media and entertainment program, which will involve monthly lunches and bi-annual events.

And acting? Does the screen and stage still have any lure?

“No more acting,” she says firmly. “My favorite part of acting was always reading a script, and studying it and reading it over and over again, and finding the thing that someone else couldn’t see. That’s the best part of acting, that’s how you get a part in acting, is to find a unique take on something that everyone else looks at every day.”

“And that’s still what I do,” she continues. “I look at these big, extraordinary companies, led by people who have dedicated their lives to this industry, and to try and find something different that can maybe help them see something, a different way, and partner with them to work on it. So, I just want to get all of the great things about acting, but do it on a much bigger and more impactful scale now.”

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