Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Vanderbilt?
I graduated from Vanderbilt with a Math and Economics degree and I started my career with IBM corporation which was a great experience. I had a few jobs there where I spent time in finance, sales and then consulting with IBM in the global consulting group. After 12 years, I left IBM and decided to start my own company. I started a technology consulting firm called InfoWorks. I grew that for 9 years and then sold out of the company to start c3/consulting. c3/consulting was a management consulting firm and I led and grew for 13 years. Then I sold that business to Ankura Consulting Group which is a global consultancy and expert advising firm about two and a half years ago. Since then I have been working inside Ankura leading a group called Strategy and Performance. I just retired. I wrapped up my work at Ankura at the end of October 2020.
What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?
I’m going to talk about c3/consulting because the first company I started. When I started the firm I knew I was passionate about helping businesses, leaders and teams get through change and make things happen. I had seen it done well at IBM but knew it could be done differently. I knew the client would appreciate having more of a collaborative partner to walk alongside and to help them lead through changes as opposed to doing it for them. I had the idea to help companies drive successful change and then we ended up really differentiating that by being a collaborator and working side by side by the client to get that done. That was the idea, all while creating a special place for the team that was collaborative inside the company — as well a caring, unity-oriented team. Those were a little bit of the seeds of the idea of starting c3.
What served as the biggest motivator in starting my company was that I had learned so much about the importance of culture at IBM and in my first business. I wanted to be very intentional about creating a special culture — a place that brought me beyond just the day-to-day client work and where there was more meaning and more connectedness in the people in the company. That was my biggest motivator – creating something special from a culture perspective.
What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?
One of the challenges is that as an entrepreneur and CEO of your company, it can be very lonely. People say, “it’s lonely at the top”. There were a lot of things that I did to try to overcome that. A lot of people won’t tell the CEO what they need to hear — they’ll tell the CEO what they think he or she wants to hear, so you have to surround yourself with people that will debate you, will disagree with you, will speak the truth to you and will be transparent all for the good of the business. I’m very proud that I’ve surrounded myself with people that are smarter than me, people that challenge me and people who help me become a better version of myself. The other way is to peer share a lot. Meeting with other entrepreneurs or other CEO’s and constantly learning from other people is another way to not feel so lonely. I definitely did that through my time at c3.
What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?
I think of a couple of things. Vision — having the vision and passion around whatever product or service it is that you’re driving. I also think grit. Grit is critically important. Having that perseverance and that stick with it attitude is really critically important. Also inspiration, or inspiring others to jump on board to your vision. It’s the vision and passion to do that and then the inspiration to bring others, and then the grit to stay with it. Those are three really important things.
What are you most proud of about your business?
I think there are two things. One, is that we built an incredible culture. We’ve really truly lived out the core values. We hired to them, fired to them and rallied around them. One of them was to start with the heart. You don’t end with the heart but you start with the heart and people are part of the equation, thought process and everything you do. Leverage the collective was one. That’s really about how we harness all the greatness that everybody has to offer and learn everyday as one. There are a few others but those certainly impacted our business. The second thing I’m super proud of is that we developed leaders at every level in the organization. Truly inspiring leaders that know how to think about the big picture, but also get it done. I’m very proud of that.
What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?
The biggest advice I would have is don’t get too enamored with your shiny object. You have to be able to pivot your idea to meet the need that’s in the marketplace and the only way you know whether that’s going to be a good idea or not is by finding customers — finding customers that are willing, paying customers and staying close to them.
In terms of tools, I’ll mention a problem solving tool that I like which is four steps. There are four steps to problem solving. It’s not earth shattering but a lot of people skip some of these steps.
- Clarify: Clarify what problem you are trying to solve because a lot of times it’s not clear.
- Ideate: Think of all the possible solutions to that problem and don’t limit yourself. A lot of people don’t stay in this stage long enough to really expand the world of possibilities.
- Develop: That is hone that down to the best idea and develop that idea.
- Implement: Implement has planning in it, don’t forget that part.
You have to put energy into all four of these steps. It’s a really nice model to be able to problem solve whether it be modifying your service or thinking about some operational aspect of the business. These four steps help you process through and get you to creative answers.
What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?
I love to hike at Percy Priest or Radnor Lake. I get out and I’m active. I do OrangeTheory Fitness. Between that and hiking I stay active. That’s one piece and then I love all kinds of things. I used to love golf and I’m picking it back up again. Golf, travel, connecting with friends over lunch, a great meal and a great glass of wine — those are hobbies but I really just enjoy people.