You left Booz as a Principal after more than 10 years with the firm. Why did you decide to move into the corporate world at that time in your career (why not earlier)?
My decision to leave Booz was based on two factors. On a personal level, my wife and I had a kid around that time, and I had to reduce my travel. Professionally, I also felt it was the right time to move to corporate. I had 3-4 years of complex implementation and restructuring experience at that point, dealing with multiple issues, larger teams, and tangible financial results. In hindsight, that implementation experience was a very useful complement to my strategy experience during the transition.
You were heavily involved in the automotive and organizational restructuring practices at Booz, and worked across a variety of industries throughout your tenure. How did you decide on a technology / telecom / services company? How much weight did industry have in your decision, and what other factors did you consider?
I didn’t really have a strong preference for one specific industry over another. As far as industry bias is concerned, I knew I wanted to go into an area with high growth and high margins. A high-growth company is exciting, because it provides more opportunities for professional and personal development. When I did transition, I was approached by a company with a unique market position in an unconventional industry vertical – it was high growth and fit the criteria I was looking for. It also just came down to the people. I wanted quality team members, but I also wanted people I would enjoy collaborating with. That was very much a gut feeling.
As a Principal leaving Booz, what kinds of positions were you targeting? What advice would you give consultants at a similar level?
This hinges on your level of line / industry experience prior to consulting. The depth of that prior experience opens up more options to move into key line roles. If your experience is predominantly general management consulting, you could target internal strategy roles or functions that rely heavily on your strategy and consulting skill set. For example, in client marketing, I hire a lot of my senior team members straight from consulting because I value that experience and discipline over the deep industry knowledge. The key premise is to add value immediately.
When considering the different levels that consultants can switch to corporate, you transitioned from a senior level at Booz into a strategy role at Asurion, quickly moving on to lead its North American channel / client marketing. What are the major differences and similarities you’ve noticed between consulting to corporate?
There are definitely some major differences, and because I frequently hire straight from consulting I regularly see the commonalities of the transition. The first difference from consulting to corporate is definitely one of focus. In consulting, at the Job Manager / Associate levels you’re really only working on 1-2 projects max, so you can dive very deep and focus. At the Principal / Partner level, you have 4-5 business development opportunities and 1-2 projects at a time, but again, you’re still relatively focused. Jumping to corporate, you go from what would be a 3 on a scale of 10 to a 7 or 8 in terms of how many diverse issues you are working on at a time – you are constantly multitasking, and the issues differ widely from pure strategy to tactical and “get your hands dirty” topics. It requires you to be very nimble and be able to go with the flow, promptly solving problems from the very important down to the nitty gritty things.
The second difference between typical general management consulting and corporate is the level of involvement in people management. In management consulting, consultants are often in a pool, and Managers pull from the pool for projects that generally last for a couple of months. There’s less long-term ownership of people, and Managers typically don’t have to deal with a lot of the difficult management issues that come with true reports within an official org structure. In corporate, where there are official reporting structures, you have to figure out how to get the best out of every person on your team – you have to make it work for the long-term and mold / shape individuals. Individual capability will also tend to be less uniform in corporate, which adds to the challenge.
The third difference is influence, and realizing its dynamics / importance in business. This can be a difficult one for consultants who are used to leveraging their influence at the C-Suite and Board levels during engagements. When you’re in corporate, influence is leveraged differently and in a more balanced way. It is a give and take across functions as well as an exercise in building personal / organizational brand and credibility. For example, you could pull rank maybe once or twice, but it’s more political than that – you’ll get a bad rep very promptly. You have to find different ways to influence the actions of others.
Considering you hire a lot of consultants, do you have any advice for current consultants when they’re interviewing?
For me, I’m looking for someone who can work effectively with others, and is able to sell others on what they’re doing. I’m not looking for a brain on a stick – you need to be smart, but also able to communicate well. I value likability, influencing skills, and horsepower.
I also like someone who is willing to dive deep and get their hands dirty. For example, in my world, it means getting the copy that the ad agency just sent over and reading every single word to make sure the message is right. Some have been surprised at the level of “keep the business running” activity. I view those tasks as prerequisites that need to be done well and efficiently so that we can focus on larger, strategic items that really move the needle.
With growth being a major focus in your role as Head of Client Marketing, you work at a company that primarily dominates the market. What, if anything, from your consulting experience contributes to how you approach your role?
There are two main things I’ve gotten from consulting that help me in this regard. When you dominate the market, there are a lot of levers you can pull at any time to keep going and winning, but your resources aren’t limitless, and the more you try to do, the less effective your team will be. What do you do first? Consulting teaches you how to step back, prioritize, and plan. You figure out what’s most important to the overall business, how to affect the change, and the top 2-3 levers you need to focus on.
The second thing I got from consulting is a detail-oriented and fact-based approach. Given the fast pace of some corporate environments, important decisions may be made on a less than ideal fact base. You need to be able to prioritize the critical decisions, and demand answers around how and why things are a certain way, the key facts, and options.
Asurion is headquartered in Nashville. You are located in Boston. How did you swing that? What are the pros and cons of working remotely? How did you learn to effectively manage people remotely?
My first piece of advice is you have to do it with a company that is very amenable to working remotely – the company culture has to be open to it. At Asurion, the CEO is in one place, the sales team is in another, etc., and everyone is used to working virtually on conference calls or on email. That being said, you also have to pay your dues and put in the face time in your first couple of months, traveling to the key locations to build trust and establish a presence. You can then ease off and travel to maintain relationships, but you also have to be aware of what you lose without face-to-face contact. I know I don’t have the benefit of body language for social cues, so I am extra sensitive to other elements like tones of voice, and I have to read between the lines. You just have to adapt.
You have done extremely well professionally, and you did it all without getting your MBA. Can you please talk a bit about your decision not to get an MBA – pros and cons?
After undergrad, my firm promoted me to a post-MBA role within three years. I subsequently moved back to the U.S. after an international stint, and transitioning and figuring out what to do was made more complicated with the large geographic move. By that time, I was an Engagement Manager, and the opportunity cost of business school was increasing. I guess I was probably lucky and unlucky in that regard, because while I was able to do without it, I missed out on the branding and added network you get from business school.
You spent at least a year in an international location with Booz. Can you talk about that experience?
When I was pitched on a “couple month project near a beach” in a country I’d never been to, I figured “why not” and took the chance to go and work in Indonesia. The project ended up lasting a year, and I essentially lived out of a suitcase for the next 4-5 years after that, working on projects throughout Asia including Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and Korea. It was a really interesting time to be in Asia – the financial economies were collapsing and there was very challenging work for us in helping large conglomerates optimize their corporate portfolios and restructure businesses. I felt like I was in “Lost in Translation” at times, but it taught me a lot about patience, and about being open minded to different cultures and people.
What do you like best about marketing? Why client marketing specifically?
Client marketing, or channel marketing as most other firms refer to it, is a good stepping stone for consultants. It is very analytical, and requires you to understand growth dynamics to prioritize focus areas: what channels, what geos, what stages of the customer life cycle, etc. You’re dealing with the acquisition and retention side, and it’s just as much about the strategy and prioritization as it is the creative piece of marketing. It’s a function that’s at the intersection of my skills and my interests.
As the leader of client marketing for Asurion, a multi-billion dollar company, what are your goals for professional growth in the future?
For my next step, I’d like to go on to run a business unit. The beauty of client marketing is that I’ve been involved in quite a few aspects of the business, and externally I touch a lot of the channel partners and have had to deal with negotiations, financials, as well as the operations. Client marketing has provided a great base to move on and own / lead all of the key aspects involved in running your own division.
Which of the skills that you gained in consulting has added the most value to your life outside of work?
Can I say it made me appreciate life, time, and family more because I know what it’s like to spend a lot of my time in the airport / office? Kidding…but on a serious note, time management and adaptability are two key things I’ve taken from consulting that I can apply to pretty much anything I do. You’re constantly dealing with different projects, different people, and different clients – you’re always in a state of flux. You learn to just deal with it.