You spent the first eight years of your career at ConocoPhillips, and then left for Harvard Business School. Why did you pursue your MBA at that point in your career rather than earlier, or never?
It was always a goal of mine to go to either law school or business school. I decided to pursue my MBA because I had worked for eight years and the timing felt right. I figured I had to go to one of the top schools to get the career uplift I was looking for. I ultimately chose HBS because it was very case study driven rather than textbook driven. I wanted to do case studies, not take multiple choice tests.
After business school you joined Booz & Company’s Energy Practice for three years. Did you know going into business school that you wanted to pursue consulting?
Yes. I wasn’t necessarily looking to do the energy practice, but my experience in the energy sector made my value proposition greater.
In 1998 you left Booz to join Korn/Ferry in Los Angeles. How did you go from helping companies plan strategy and optimize their supply chain, to helping companies hire the people who would take on those projects?
As much as I wanted to do consulting, I realized I wasn’t getting a lot of pure satisfaction out of it. I was getting much more satisfaction out of the variety of recruiting activities I was participating in. I did recruiting at Conoco pre-MBA and also as an extracurricular activity at Booz Allen. I really enjoyed it, but recruiting isn’t the core business of consulting. If I was ever going to move up at Booz, I needed to stay on the business side and not on the HR side. But recruiting was my true passion and I decided to follow it.
My MD at Booz Allen asked if I was sure it was the right move, because it was a different path than that of the typical HBS grad. I locked myself in a hotel room in NYC for three days to think through it, and spoke with a trusted friend who was very grounded. With his help, I realized that I got a lot more enjoyment out of finishing a search assignment than I did from finishing a project in consulting. I decided to stick with recruiting.
What prompted the transition to internal talent acquisition after three years at Korn/Ferry?
The transition into talent acquisition wasn’t completely planned. It was 2001, right after 9/11 and when the tech boom went bust. Trying to develop business during that time was very challenging. Additionally, I wanted to try talent acquisition because it was difficult to balance business development and execution in recruiting. I also tend to be somewhat of an adventurer, so I wanted to try something different. Talent acquisition allowed me to focus on execution and strategy, and I was able to develop managerial skills by leading a team.
You’ve had the opportunity to do talent acquisition for a few different industries including media, hospitality, technology, and most recently, financial services. What factors motivated you to explore a variety of industries rather than sticking with the energy industry? Which has been your favorite industry?
I’m driven more by the functional expertise than the industry. The entertainment industry and the hospitality industry were fun because of the nature of the business, and I really enjoyed that. But overall I’ve been pretty impartial to industry and just focused on doing recruiting, wherever it is.
In your years of experience in talent acquisition, you’ve witnessed tons of consultants navigate the interview process and the transition to a corporate role. What are the most common mistakes you see?
Especially if consultants are coming from the top firms, they tend to believe that they are prepared to (and entitled to) run a business. I think that’s a misunderstanding. Consultants are strategic problem-solvers, but they lack the experience of ownership. In consulting, you only have a short-lived exposure to your corporate clients. You miss out on that accountability.
It can also be a challenge for consultants to transition into a corporation. When you’re in one of these top consultancies, you’re very used to dealing with a Type A, self-motivated, highly-educated workforce. In a corporation, the workforce is not as consistent.
What specific experiences or skills make a consultant’s resume stand out from those of his peers?
There are three major factors that make a consultant’s resume stand out: (1) experience with a major corporation prior to consulting; (2) experience consulting not only in Fortune 500 companies but also in smaller, high-growth companies; and (3) entrepreneurial experience.
You have worked in a variety of companies. Does every consultant work well in every company culture?
Different consultants match up to different companies. My last company, Asurion, was private equity-owned. We grew 350% in a very short period of time. There were not a lot of processes, procedures, or protocols in place – you had to figure it out. I call Asurion an “essay” or “case study” type of company, rather than a “fill in the blank” or “multiple choice” type of company. For a consultant to be successful at Asurion, he or she needed to be able to go in and figure things out in a creative way. On the other hand, you wouldn’t put a creative problem solver who wants to enact change into a more structured corporation. The lack of flexibility and learning agility would be frustrating to them.
You can say “Consultants at the big firms are very smart and have a great pedigree” – that’s great, but they also have a lot of methodologies that they apply, and can be highly structured compared to someone at a smaller firm who has to figure out a lot more on his own. I think that those consultants that come from smaller consultancies sometimes have an advantage. A combination of experience in smaller and larger consultancies is probably the best of both worlds.
If a consultant has a great resume, they obviously move on to the interview phase. What are the most common mistakes consultants make in an interview? On the flip side, what makes one interview better than the rest?
Arrogance is something to be avoided. It is also important not to be too theoretical – consultants don’t always give concrete examples, and they often talk in theory instead of offering examples of results. A consultant is impressive if he can show that he is very capable of thinking on his feet, has good communication skills, and is confident without being arrogant.
You’ve lived in a variety of cities including Los Angeles, Houston, Las Vegas, Nashville, and now Atlanta. Were you always geographically open-minded when considering new opportunities?
Most of the time, I was geographically open-minded. There were places I didn’t want to go but I thought “why not, I’ll try it!” I did not want to move to Las Vegas, and I definitely didn’t want to move to Nashville. I wasn’t initially keen on moving to Atlanta. But I ultimately said “yes” to each of these cities, welcoming the opportunity to learn by living in different areas. I’ve lived on the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, the Rockies, the Southeast, and in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and I’m very happy that I’ve done so.
What should consultants keep in mind when considering relocation?
I would encourage consultants to give the U.S. a chance beyond the East and West Coast. A lot of people seem to believe nothing exists in between – but there’s Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Denver… it’s a lot cheaper to live in some of these locations, and sometimes you can be a bigger fish in a smaller sea.
What have you taken from your experience in consulting that has helped guide you to where you are today?
From consulting and from business school, I carry with me a whole problem-solving skill set. Whatever the problem is, I can build a case to determine how to attack it. I’m now a “case study” person rather than a “multiple choice” type of person.
Where will you be in five years?
It’s hard to say where I will be in five years. I would love to be running talent acquisition on the international front. It depends what opportunities arise – as you can see, I take them.