*At the time of this interview Jeremy was the Senior Vice President of Operations at McKesson Corporation.
Going back to your pre-consulting career, you spent seven years in operations roles, ending at GE Capital before going to business school. How did that pre-MBA experience affect your post-MBA career?
My post-undergraduate, pre-MBA experience involved roles across four countries at two different firms – Barry Blau & Partners, a “small” but global marketing agency, and large blue-chip firm GE Capital. These experiences affected my post-MBA career in the following ways:
1) GE’s employer brand contributed to my ability to secure each of my post-MBA interview opportunities.
2) The skills I developed through my pre-MBA training at General Electric in Six Sigma, change management, and general management enabled me to improve my success probability in my post-MBA career.
3) My pre-MBA experience in acquisition integration opened up an opportunity to lead one of the largest integrations in company history at McKesson just a year after I joined. Successful execution of that project opened further career doors at the company.
4) Moving across multiple roles and countries before business school, I learned the need to be flexible and open to new opportunities and geographies. Generally, you have to go where the job is. Many people aren’t open to relocation, but you have to be willing to move if you want to capture the new, great opportunity. Importantly, this expectation also needs to be accepted by your spouse / family. For me personally, I don’t and can’t make career decisions in a vacuum.
After two years at Bain, you then returned to General Electric in its healthcare division. What made you decide to leave Bain when you did, and why for that role in particular? Did you ever consider the Partner path?
One of my motivations to apply to business school was to change my industry career path, as I didn’t have a personal connection to my current industry (financial services). At Harvard, I researched many industries and chose healthcare as my course. After conferring with several alumni and professors, I concluded that consulting was the best route after business school to learn about the various healthcare segments (pharma, medical devices, providers, etc.). Within the healthcare industry, there isn’t a lot of crossover, (i.e. you don’t see device firms recruiting pharma folks and vice versa), so I wanted to understand each of the industry segments before committing to one in particular.
When I joined Bain, the economy crashed and limited the pipeline of healthcare projects, and after a period I decided to look at opportunities in industry to gain more exposure. The opportunities could be grouped in two categories – device firms and pharmaceutical firms – and I chose the device route as I lacked the scientific background / pedigree required by most pharma firms at the time. From there, I chose GE from my previous knowledge / experience with the company and conversations with my network contacts, as well as the potential opportunity to redefine a Six Sigma swat team under a boss I respected and with whom I wanted to work.
In terms of the Partner path, I never considered it when I interviewed with Bain. My motivation to enter consulting was for exposure to the healthcare industry and acquisition of a top-tier consulting toolkit. I enjoy solving a problem as well as implementing the solution, whereas the latter step is lacking in the work of most strategy consultants.
Has healthcare always been an interest of yours, or was it more a product of circumstance? What do you suggest for consultants looking to get into the space?
I developed an interest in and commitment to the healthcare industry while at HBS. As a first step for consultants looking to get into the space, I advise reading reports from investment banking analysts and research firms (e.g. S&P, Frost & Sullivan), and speaking with b-school and consulting firm alumni to understand the industry dynamics domestically and globally. Thereafter, pick the space (e.g. pharma, biotech, insurance, devices, etc.) in which you want to play and then initiate the job search. As you uncover opportunities, research the heck out of the firm with which you’ll interview.
Despite my lack of healthcare industry experience, I got my job after Bain by doing my homework. I read every report I could about the industry niche of the job for which I applied. My last interview with the General Manager of GE Healthcare was scheduled for 45 minutes, and we spoke for 2 1/2 hours discussing competitor dynamics, industry trends, the profit pool, etc. I got a job offer that evening, and the same phenomenon happened during my interview with McKesson. Knowledge is power.
Having returned to operational improvement in your first post-consulting role at General Electric, what (if anything) did you gain from your consulting experience?
Bain taught me two lessons that I applied in my first post-consulting role and in which I currently train my staff. First, the Pyramid Principle: as soon as possible, define the problem statement, clarify the key questions to answer, develop hypotheses, craft tight, data-based arguments, and build your work plan based on the hypotheses. This method employs the “pyramid principle” approach developed by Barbara Minto in the early 1970s. Second is executive presentation. Create slide decks with clear messages and supporting evidence – whether textual or graphical – in simple, clear, compelling ways. If a slide can’t be digested and understood in seconds, it’s too complex.
You then moved from GE to a role in McKesson’s internal strategy group. How did internal strategy compare to your experience in consulting at Bain?
Internal company strategy groups are not training grounds – you’re expected to have the required skill sets and to work independently. You may also not have the same research resources readily available to you, and will have to find them and argue to fund them (e.g. report access). Unlike large, top-tier consulting firms, internal strategy groups don’t have research departments at their disposal.
Importantly, you’ll be expected to do more with less, as corporate strategy groups are often small. When you’re assigned a problem to solve, you may not have a team behind you to execute the work – you will be the Analyst, Consultant, and Engagement Manager all at once. Plan and set execution expectations accordingly, and be prepared to roll up your sleeves again.
Lastly, in an internal strategy group, you may manage the work of external consulting teams because you will need extra people for the larger projects. The consulting firm will rely on you to be its window into the company to clarify the problem statement, navigate within the company, provide access to required data, perform gut check analysis, and understand internal culture / politics. The relationship between you and the consulting firm Engagement Manager and Principal will be symbiotic.
Having gone between strategy and operations throughout your career, what was your thought process in stacking the two? How has that combination affected your track, and where do you see yourself down the line in terms of professional growth and development?
My pre-MBA roles were heavily operational. During that time, my appreciation for strategy grew, and I sought to develop a sound toolkit in the discipline. This led to my decisions to apply to MBA schools that were strong in the strategy discipline; to join Bain after graduation; and to take a role in an internal strategy group.
The majority of roles in industry are operationally oriented, however, a handful of people work in corporate strategy groups – hundreds / thousands of people work in the business to develop products and services, sell and market them, and deliver them. In my observation, general management opportunities are more open to those possessing deep, diverse operating experience, which is the function I ultimately aspire to move into down the line.
As Senior Vice President of Operations for a leading Fortune 100 healthcare company, what are some of the largest challenges of your current role? What do you find most exciting?
The U.S. healthcare cost structure is in a troubled state. Over 18% of GDP is spent on healthcare (more than any other industrialized nation). With an aging population, this rate is increasingly unsustainable. We have to find ways to reverse this trend – it reduces our global competitiveness, strains our societal fabric, and adversely impacts our nation’s cost structure.
A large part of my role involves identifying and pursuing ways to reduce our company cost structure and deliver our goods and services to our customers more efficiently and effectively. My division’s customers (U.S. hospitals) are under constant cost pressure with declining reimbursement and thin operating margins. Our market (healthcare IT) is also very competitive.
The excitement in my role comes from complex business problems involving strategy, organization, process, IT, and finance aspects. My team and I have to define the problem statement, reach consensus on it, determine and sell the “answer”, and then implement our solution. The challenges are not only intellectual, but also interpersonal (e.g. change management). No solutions can be force-fed to our internal customers – buy-in is required, as a “perfect” solution without acceptance will ultimately fail. Naturally, there are frustrations with every project, but when we’ve completed implementation and see results, the satisfaction is sweet.
Having worked internationally in your pre-consulting career, how has that affected your career and professional outlook today (if at all)? What importance do you give international experience when evaluating an executive?
My international experience forced maturity and professional acceleration, opened my interest to opportunities inside and outside the U.S., and framed my business “world view” to think on a global level. I suspect it has made my resume more attractive to recruiters as well.
That said, the importance that firms place on international experience will vary. Firms with significant international operations or which aspire to grow internationally will value the experience, while those that are domestically-oriented will not. If you do want to work in an international role with a U.S.-based company, you should consider that such a role may involve significant travel, requiring a lifestyle trade-off.
In my current role, I would appreciate international experience in a candidate for my team, but it wouldn’t be a deciding factor because the scope of my role / team is domestically-oriented. Factors related to the specific job carry greater weight. If my scope included international operations, however, my priorities would change.