Regarding the Partner path, I had always considered consulting as a way to establish a foundation for a career in more direct operating roles. For my transition, I considered many options, from line management positions to program-based roles like the one I eventually pursued. When assessing the opportunities, I had three main criteria: 1) the reputation of the company for producing leaders, 2) the track record of the specific program or role in leading to true operating leadership roles, and 3) (most importantly) whom I would be working for and with.
Speaking to that transition from consulting to corporate, what were the largest similarities and differences in your experience?
It’s a rare consultant who is going to be an immediate success in the operating world. It takes an adjustment. You have to roll up your sleeves more in corporate, and it’s not always as intellectually stimulating as the CEO-level issues that consultants are used to working with (though it is equally as rewarding in other ways). Sometimes it’s about the day-to-day and more tactical work, which, by virtue of the type of work they do, is something consultants often skip past. You have to get comfortable dealing with challenges that will have more immediate – though not as high-level – impact, and with people who may be directly / immediately affected and with whom you’ll need to continue working. The combination of understanding the smaller challenges along with the grand, overarching strategy will enable you to take apart the abstract and make it personal to each person involved. That is the key to successful execution. Once you prove you can execute, you’ve earned your stripes and then you can get a real seat at the table.
While both McKinsey and GE, my current company, have solution-driven businesses and cultures, there was also an adjustment in adapting to the different process and pace around finding the right answer. At McKinsey, you assess the options, get to the answer, pressure test it, and find the optimal recommended solution with the luxury of objectivity and focus. In my current company, you decide on a direction and act on it – if it’s wrong, you iterate, and adjust quickly until you get on the right course, but you’d better keep moving forward while you’re at it. McKinsey was about recommending the optimal solution, and my current company is about making a decision, executing, and course-correcting fast.
What was most comfortable for me in my transition was that, generally speaking, both of the companies are meritocracies, values-driven, and have strong, core performance cultures. If consultants target those kinds of companies, they should be able to find a comfortable home.
The paths to managing a P&L are numerous, and the base experience for those opportunities (through marketing, operations, internal strategy, etc.) can vary widely. Having secured a General Manager position in GE Healthcare by climbing the ranks through operational improvement roles and a stint as a divisional CIO, how do you think those experiences helped you prepare for your position today?
This depends upon the company. In my company, operations is a well-tested path to get to a P&L, with IT being less so as most CIOs tend to be more techie, with less of a “business first” approach (though that is changing quickly). Marketing, while it could work at other companies, tends not to be a path to a P&L at mine, so you have to see what’s appropriate in the business that you are in.
For my path, I went into my Lean Six Sigma role because it had a track record of producing leaders, and I knew the person I would report to was a true operator looking for his next staff member. The same went for my acquisition integration role. For my stint as CIO, I had actually never wanted that type of role, but was approached about the opportunity as more of a business and leadership challenge. The technology knowledge on the team was strong but not necessarily focused on the same priorities as the business. So, the role entailed building and leading a larger global team than I had led previously, redefining and aligning the tech strategy with business needs, and cutting a whole lot of cost while doing it. Quite a business and leadership challenge indeed!
Throughout my tenure, a lot of other opportunities have come up that I chose not to pursue. I have been very deliberate in choosing the roles that I felt were consistent with my desired path and fit the story I want to tell.
What would you say is the most important skill that got you where you are today? What did you take specifically from consulting that makes you successful in your job now?
Being able to lead and influence people. At McKinsey, you learn how different people are influenced in different ways, and you gain an understanding of the diverse possibilities of motivation. You can’t tell people what to do. Instead, you learn how to influence the actions of others through the power of persuasion – they must buy into what you’re suggesting and then own it themselves. In corporate, you can tell people what to do to a certain extent, but you won’t gain the same level of commitment or buy-in. It’s really those softer skills that contribute to being able to maneuver in the corporate world.
Having been the General Manager of two different business units at GE, how do you separate a good General Manager opportunity from a great one? How have your experiences differed from one division to the other?
I think it comes down to the amount of leadership support you have and the quality of the team you have or can build. In my last role there was huge energy around what we were doing, and it was a line position in an entrepreneurial area of a much larger company, which I really enjoyed. My specific team was tremendous and doing very well, but the larger parent company started to significantly underperform, so we didn’t have much control over the success of the broader business. The role that I’m in today is great because it is in a growth industry that’s very interesting, and the whole business is growing rather than just my piece of it. The size and structure also gives this team the clear ability to contribute to the overall business success. That, coupled with a lot of support from a great CEO and some excellent professionals on my team – some already in place, some I am hiring – make this a great place to be right now.
You pursued a Master’s in International Relations as a joint degree with your MBA, and also worked abroad both before and during your consulting experience. How has that had an impact, if any, on your professional outlook? How much importance do you give international experience in an executive’s ability to be successful?
I think the role itself determines whether or not international experience has more or less of a direct influence, though roles with no international influence are becoming more and more rare. Independent of this, I think a global outlook and how an individual thinks about his or her global experience helps demonstrate openness, flexibility, empathy, curiosity, adventurousness, etc. That helps define the type of person you are and can be a great differentiator. In my last role, international experience had zero direct impact beyond having shaped me in a general sense, and in my current role there is a great deal of direct impact. The teams I currently manage are mostly outside of the U.S., and with that comes many cultural differences / sensitivities. My previous experience in Europe allowed me to gain credibility with the European teams. I also set up roundtables with our teams in Japan and, because I could participate in Japanese, they were floored by the level at which we could connect and their overall inclusion in the process from that. It went a long way toward building trust.
When you are hiring someone for your team, it depends on the group reporting into them. I recently hired a global COO with responsibility for establishing our global team and managing our supply chain on an international basis. When it came down to the two final candidates, diverse international experience was the key factor in choosing who we trusted to establish a cohesive / powerful global team. Having said that, recall my earlier point – how a person thinks about their international experience, or lack thereof, can give you interesting insight into that person’s mindset.