You stayed in consulting for four years at McKinsey with a focus on tech and telecom projects before moving into a Senior Director role within Motorola’s Strategy Group. Can you describe your thought process and experience during that transition from consulting? Any advice you would give members who are considering a similar move? And why did you leave after four years rather than two, three, or six?
There were really two things that went into the decision to transition when I did. The first was ultimately moving from strategy to operations, which really was a culmination of my experience so far going from operations to B school, then to broader strategy at McKinsey with projects every month across different industries. It was time to go back and really run something. The second, which ended up not being as true, was that I wanted to travel less because we had just had our second child. Most consultants think that moving to corporate means less travel, and that’s not the case most of the time – I didn’t have less, but I certainly had more control over it than I did in consulting.
As for my thought process in terms of where I chose to go, it was a combination of factors. I knew I liked the industry, and the role had a good path that matched my objectives. I had also happened to work with that company on some projects with McKinsey. Having that outside, elevated perspective really helped me recognize the hidden opportunities and commitment to change they had at the senior-most levels of the company.
Something I do think is very important for consultants who eventually want an operations role is to voice that goal from day one of your conversations with your future employer. Although I went into a strategy role to get my foot in the door, I made it clear that I wanted to move on to operations and set a time limit with my employer for when that move would take place. Some things got changed around, of course, and the path didn’t happen exactly as planned, but I got where I wanted to go eventually.
Did you ever consider the Partner path in consulting?
I probably considered it at some point. My decision goes back to my personal desire to be in a more operational role. At McKinsey, though, I had only planned to stay for two years and ended up staying for four – time flies when you’re doing that kind of thing. McKinsey also gives you a lot of time to step back, reflect, and really feel out what you want, which was helpful.
A lot of our visitors want to jump right into a P&L role as they leave consulting, and they pass on corporate strategy roles with the hopes of securing GM jobs. Do you have any thoughts on this approach?
I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong answer here – it’s more of a personal and situational decision. If you can get into an operational role right away with the right kind of senior level support structure, then that’s definitely a way to go. For me, joining in a strategy role worked in my favor because there were a lot of senior level management changes at the time – it was the kind of interfacing role where I could have a hand in the transition, and it allowed me to develop a great network that expanded my internal opportunities in the future.
You are currently the CEO of a global, high growth company – a dream job for many, especially current and former consultants. Do you feel that your prior “large company” experience was critical in your selection as CEO of SteelSeries? How influential has that “large co” experience been to your success in your current role, or would you go back and do anything differently in your career path?
My large company experience was very important to me personally, but I caution that statement because it’s not to say that you can’t get in at the ground level and ride with a PayPal or something to that effect – then you’ll do well regardless. So in speaking to my experience, there were numerous aspects of working at a large company that had a critical impact on where I am today. The first was the network I developed, through which I actually landed my current role. That network also allowed me to quickly make an impact as the new CEO at SteelSeries, because while it wasn’t in the exact same space, I knew the players to the extent that I could rapidly build a network around our products.
The second benefit of my large company experience was knowing what the future looks like, something I learned from leading a successful, growing unit at a large and stable company. In those roles and businesses you regularly look into the future, and you know what success looks like – it’s something that really transformed my thinking and allows me to do so at my company today. The third has to do with the network again, in that you surround yourself with talented people. I’ve hired a lot of people from my old company, and they have introduced me to others of the same caliber.
What are your thoughts on the importance of gaining global / international experience?
Again, this is a personal belief, but I feel as though when you lack international experience you are left a bit more underdeveloped than you would be otherwise. My company operates on a “Think global, act local” mantra, and the leveraged learning you get from understanding economies of scale, etc., is key to what we do. To really be leaders nowadays, I think you have to take it global.
Having grown SteelSeries in this challenging economy, what advice could you give our visitors about the lessons you have learned along the way?
In general – and I don’t think I’m a novel thinker by any means – I am a believer that there is always growth. Typically when people identify a decline in an industry it’s because the numbers are down across the major players – but that’s because those major players are all playing the game the same way. You have to take into consideration what you have and be willing to change the game. I was lucky in that I came into a small space where we had room to grow with new accounts, new channels, new geographies, new product lines, etc., but if we had just built off of what we were, there would have been no room for improvement.
What do you find most exciting about the technology / gaming industry?
I’ll point to two things that definitely get me excited, the first being the move of gaming to mobile because that’s where I have a lot of experience. The second is that for the technology industry as a whole, I really like the rapid change and pace of consumer products. There are some areas like enterprise sales that can take two or three years to play out, but I’m much more drawn to the fast changing technology connected with the consumer.
Which of the skills that you gained in consulting has added the most value in your work life?
For sure I think there are things that I’ve taken from consulting that lead to success in the work environment. The biggest is being able to take a large, nebulous problem and work with a team to break it down into definable actions. On top of that, it’s the ability to spread that problem-solving to others in your team so you can elevate the whole. A third is being able to quickly communicate with senior executives both within and outside your company – you become a great resource because you can convince senior management to act on your recommendations.
What is the coolest job you have seen a consultant / former colleague move into?
For a sports fan, one of my classmates at McKinsey had an offer to be like Billy Beane from Moneyball and analyze players based on stats, with a shot at becoming General Manager at a major team. He didn’t end up taking the job, but I think that’s also a part of the coolness: the options that are opened to us from being in consulting as well.