*At the time of this interview Kristy was the Senior Vice President of a government non-profit organization for economic development.
You left Oliver Wyman as an Associate Partner after almost ten years with the firm. How did you choose the right time to move out of consulting (why not earlier)?
My move out of Oliver Wyman was more one of opportunity, and I was not actively looking at the time I decided to leave consulting. At that point, I had 10 years of consulting experience and a developed industry focus in media and technology, and I went on sabbatical working with my current not-for-profit to build their tech / media team. When I was offered the role to stay and help launch additional industry teams, I was really excited about the opportunity to expand my management experience and broaden my industry exposure and network. I was also attracted to the leadership at the nonprofit – the culture was one of innovation and entrepreneurism, and I had the chance to implement my strategy recommendations rather than just making them to clients.
Leaving consulting at the Associate Partner level, what kinds of positions were you targeting? What advice would you give consultants who are looking to transition at a similar level?
For consultants leaving at the Associate Partner or Partner level, I would make sure that you are entering your company at the right level / a similar level. Pay attention to the seniority of the position and the amount of resources you are given to do the work, and have a real understanding of the role, the path, and the opportunities it provides. Some consultants want to continue to be strategists in their subsequent roles – for me, I knew I wanted to continue with strategy but have a more hands-on element to my work.
Working in government, could you elaborate on the pace and culture of your organization compared to what you’ve seen or heard about at other organizations? In broader terms, could you point to some pros and cons of being in the public sector today?
For government, there is always the impression that it is bureaucratic, highly regulated, and slow-moving. In general, the private sector attracts the talent that not every single public sector organization can offer, and the way that people make decisions in corporate heightens the pace of their implementation. The pay also tends to be much higher in private. That being said, with the right leadership you can make a huge impact in government, on the scale of a city to the entire country in some cases. Dynamic leaders can convince talent to give up the paycheck and work toward their vision. Not dissimilar to corporate, look for the champions that will help accomplish goals and push them through.
You also have to appreciate and understand the larger picture, as government is more focused on long-term goals rather than “making your numbers.” A large benefit of what I do today is that making a positive contribution to society is built into my job – it is a good feeling to know I am changing the way society / a city functions for the better.
As Head of Industry Transformation for your organization, you consult different areas of the business sector about their overall operations and possibilities for growth. How is this similar to serving as an external management consultant or working in an internal strategy role for an organization?
My organization acts like the industry strategist to the city. Similar to a strategy consultant, we understand the industry trends, do industry research, benchmarking, etc. Our interests in the companies’ and industry’s operations and growth opportunities are driven by their potential impacts on economic development for the city. What is different is that once we have the go-ahead, we implement the recommendations we propose – when the Mayor announces it, we immediately put together a team to implement the initiative.
How was the switch from managing teams of consultants at Oliver Wyman to your current team with the government?
From my personal experience, managing a P&L of 30 people has been very different than owning three teams of five people in consulting. In consulting, you are often surrounded by very smart, focused, bottom-line / commercially driven, and typically Type A individuals with similar attitudes / goals. In government, you have a diverse set of talent with different drivers and motivations, and the teams are not constantly changing like they are with the consulting model. It is a great opportunity to develop a longer term management style and perspective, as you learn how to get the most out of the people you are working with. You have to balance their interests so that they are developing and want to stay at your firm. For example, with my team, I look at the amount of strategy-versus-implementation projects a person has, or what specific industries each member prefers to work with.
There is also a certain lack of control in consulting, because the client does not necessarily have to work with you or take your recommendations. In my role today, I do a lot of private / public joint-sector work where I interact with people from both areas in order to actually execute projects. It has taught me how to build and manage relationships in order to ensure the most productive environment.
Any subtle differences between making recommendations and gaining buy-in with corporate teams versus public sector teams?
In corporate, it is often clear that you are hired to either improve the top or bottom line for a firm, whereas in the public sector, you are also required to focus on how to align with goals / policies. So, in my organization, it is not just about making the most for the city, but about doing what is right for the city in its entirety. It’s a job where you cannot just put on the profitable hat, and you have to consider the larger implications of your actions.
As a leader in a NPO focused on a specific city’s economy and growth, what’s it like living in the city you consult and analyze every day?
It’s been a great and eye opening experience. As a resident, it is hard to see how much is going on to make the city a better and safer place to live. We are constantly working on getting the best talent to come to the city, and the talent here is truly diverse. More than 40 percent of the people here have an international background. Having moved to the city more than a decade ago, I can relate to the issues of the public and how my organization’s projects will affect the population overall.
What are your plans for personal progression and growth? Are you tied to the public sector, or could you move elsewhere?
Personally, I continue to look for opportunities where I can combine strategy, business development, and general management. The combination is very powerful, and consultants who want to move up need to demonstrate these abilities in order to build the credibility that they can execute. As for nonprofit versus for-profit, I would most likely return to the for-profit sector to expand my breadth of experience and strengthen my overall offerings for future roles. However, if there is a strong leadership and exciting opportunity, I would definitely consider another nonprofit opportunity down the road.
What is the most valuable experience you have gained in your current position that you think you could apply in a private sector setting?
The nonprofit / government sector trains you to do more with less and push to the limit of change. The fact that I am able to create innovative strategies and implement them with limited resources in a structurally complex environment makes me feel confident to drive transformation in a variety of different industries.
What do you like best, and least, about your role today? What is the most important skill that makes you successful in your job now?
What I like most about my role today is that I believe I am making an impact – I can see it through the companies we create, the jobs we create, etc. It is truly something tangible. What I like least would have to be the financial downside, as you do give up some of the perks of private sector monetary gains.
As for a skill that has helped me be successful today, I really think it is the exceptional ability to solve problems and get stuff done. It sounds cliché, but being able to think through problems and recognize practical solutions is something extremely valuable today.