You graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Economics in 2001 and joined Marakon Associates during an unfortunate moment for the economy. What led you to Marakon? How did you succeed despite the condition of the consulting industry and business world during this time?
That was definitely a bit of a crazy time, but I didn’t know it was going to be crazy while I was in the recruiting process in the fall of 2000. The industry got very volatile in the summer of 2001 – lots of firms (including the big ones) deferred and rescinded offers. Ironically, I had offers from large firms and one in particular put the hard sell that based on their scale, they had more stability… and then later that summer, they rescinded the offers of my classmates.
I was attracted to Marakon because of the people and the culture. It was a small firm that did pure strategy work; that meant they were a little bit more isolated from the downturn – with a small number of strong client relationships. The work was focused on major strategic decisions with CEO-led projects for big companies, which was exciting. I also had strong connections with the people that I met through recruiting. Even through the interview process I identified potential mentors, and I was excited about working with that team. And in terms of culture, the company consisted of very driven people, but it was still a very collaborative culture. I also liked the smaller size of the company (about 250 people when I joined), which meant each office was relatively small and I was afforded lots of opportunities, even at a junior level.
And clearly you did really well with the firm, having remained at Marakon for five years. When you joined did you anticipate staying for so long?
I honestly had no clue. I had a fairly typical perspective coming out of my undergraduate program. I thought that consulting would be a great place to learn what “business” really is and to learn foundational skills, get exposure to different industries and then figure out what it was that I wanted to do. I really loved my experience at the firm though. I was fortunate to have multiple opportunities to work internationally, including about six months in Europe, seven months in Asia and several trips to South America in addition to projects across the United States. It was a great learning opportunity; I was exposed to new cultures, new problems and new industries. I enjoyed it and kept going for five years.
After almost hitting the five-year mark, what went into your decision to leave the firm? Why did you choose to enter business school at the time that you did?
I was at the point where momentum was starting to set in, and I asked myself, “Do I really want to do this forever?” I was still enjoying the consulting experience at the time, but it felt like the right time to take a break and go to business school and maybe try some other things out, explore some other opportunities, just to test myself and figure out if consulting was where I wanted to be for the long-term. Plus after five years and all that work and travel, I was ready for a bit of a break.
Is that part of the reason why you chose to complete your MBA internship at Danaher versus at another management consulting firm?
I entered business school with a few explicit ideas that I wanted to test. Private Equity was very popular for ex-bankers and ex-consultants, and I wanted to explore that industry and learn what it was all about. General Management was something that I was attracted to as well… the idea of running something and being responsible for a P&L. I had no intention of doing a summer internship in consulting – I knew what the consulting job looked like and what it had to offer. To me, the benefit of doing that two-year MBA program is having that summer to explore something and test something out. I spent most of my first year fall quarter focused on building a perspective on the Private Equity industry and the job market there – and whether my skill set was a good match and whether it interested me. I talked to all of my classmates who had either come out of Private Equity or were also interested in going into Private Equity. I think I talked or emailed with virtually all of the Kellogg Alumni in Private Equity at the time. That (Kellogg alumni network) is a really precious resource, and the alumni were incredibly responsive. Those conversations helped me understand what PE jobs actually looked like, whether the skill set I was bringing from consulting translated well and if I would be interested.
And what was your conclusion?
I decided I wasn’t excited about it! I had a strong finance background from my time at Marakon, but I didn’t get excited about the finance mechanics and the deal economics. I was a lot more excited about solving problems within companies and trying to make them more valuable. PE firms were definitely talking about that, but they weren’t always doing a lot of it. It was also clear that most PE jobs were going to individuals with PE experience before business school.
So what was your next move?
During the winter quarter and internship recruiting I switched my focus to the General Management side. Danaher was a company I had known about for a long time. I helped research and write various white papers at Marakon which looked at the most successful companies from a total shareholder return perspective and Danaher was always at the top of the list (even though most people have never heard of them). At the time they were a $10 billion or $12 billion company and they operated about 150 P&Ls of different sizes. Their recruiting pitch was, “Come here, learn our way, and in three years we will give you a $15 million P&L to run. If you screw it up then it won’t really matter to us because it is a tiny part of our overall business, but if you do it well, then we will give you a $30 million P&L to run, then a $100 million P&L.” That really resonated with me as a great approach to talent development and a great opportunity for me to learn what it takes to run a business. Danaher was my top target from an internship perspective and then it is what I ended up getting through the interview process. It was a pretty unique opportunity to get into a company like that.
Yet despite your good run with Danaher and the anti-consulting mentality you had when entering business school, you went back into management consulting. Was there ever a point where you thought you were going to stay in the corporate world? At what point did you decide that you wanted to give consulting another go?
It was a somewhat last minute decision, to be honest. I had the option to go back to Marakon since the beginning of business school, but I had been focused on other opportunities. I was very interested in Danaher even after the internship and this is where some of the logistical challenges of business school and big company internships come into play. I interned in a very small business unit, about a $30 million dollar business in the suburbs of Chicago. I had a great experience and did great work, but that business did not have any full-time positions to hire for. I did have the offer to go to Danaher, but I had to then find a different business which had a need for full-time hires, and at the time, most of their opportunities were in North Carolina, Colorado, and Washington. I worked to create an opportunity in one of their Chicago business units because my wife and I were set on staying in Chicago at the time, but the timing just wasn’t right. I ended up thanking them for the offer but told them I couldn’t move at the time.
And that’s when consulting came back into the picture?
At that point I decided that I would still learn some things if I went back into consulting – specifically, I wanted to diversify the types of problems that I had exposure to, and I wanted to get an increase in leadership responsibility, leading bigger teams, and engaging with more senior clients. I considered returning to Marakon, but ultimately I decided to join Bain & Company. While I was in business school, Marakon went through some questionable moves and there were several leadership transitions. It was not the same firm as when I left. One of the Senior Partners from Marakon that I had worked with a lot had joined Bain. At that point, I was debating just going back to Marakon or not when he called me and said, “Matt, you need to come to Bain. You’ll be great and you’ll love it.” I decided to check it out.
You joined Bain during the height of the 2008 global financial crisis and recession. While it appears that you have a penchant for joining companies during a recession, how was your transition back into consulting?
I definitely didn’t win on timing the market, but I learned early in my career at Marakon that you have to take a long-term view of things because in the short-term it can look pretty volatile. Culturally, there was a lot of similarity between Marakon and Bain; the transition was smooth. But the project work was really different. Some of the difference was definitely due to the economy in 2008 and 2009. Some of the projects I worked on probably weren’t core Bain projects, but I did end up working on a lot of post-merger integration projects and that’s definitely a Bain core competency. It’s really critical work, but it’s not the most satisfying for me. In a lot of cases, it becomes much more project management than strategy and problem solving – other than at the outset and at the most senior levels.
Even if the work wasn’t exactly what I was most excited by, it was a good experience. The post-merger integration and cost-cutting projects were good exposure to that type of business challenges and solving different problems from what I had done in my prior consulting life. The other thing that I was looking to get out of by going back into consulting was more senior-level management experience from the sort of influence I would have, from the client-side and from leading bigger teams, and I was able to get that at Bain.
While they weren’t the types of projects you had anticipated working on once at Bain, how did those earlier opportunities help you down the line and in shaping your consulting career the second time around?
My time at Bain did provide me the leadership opportunity I was looking for – in terms of managing bigger teams, managing multiple workstreams, and engaging with more senior clients directly. While the PMI work isn’t as intellectually stimulating from a problem-solving point of view, it is fantastic from a client engagement perspective. Even at the more junior levels of the consulting team, these projects are typically high-client facing roles and require a ton of leadership. You become the right-hand person to the functional leaders of the organization, helping those leaders to make the most important decisions about how to organize their teams for success.
Speaking of not wanting to do it anymore, from a timeline perspective you were only five months shy of Manager when you left Bain in March 2011. Were you up for Manager? What drove your decision to leave the firm despite the potential promotion?
I was coming right up to the promotion window at Bain for Manager. It wasn’t clear that I would have made the promotion at that point, though, and I was also starting to doubt whether I wanted the promotion. The Manager promotion window at Bain is a really significant threshold, which isn’t necessarily true at the other firms which break up the post-MBA roles a little differently, and push that major decision point out a couple of years. Bain also has a one-year commitment with promotions, which not all consulting firms do, so I started asking myself, “Do I really want to be a Manager? Do I want to do this for another year or more?” I had done enough self-reflection to know that I did not want to keep pursuing the path to partner; therefore the question I wrestled with was, “if I don’t want to be a Partner, then what’s the added value I’ll get from being a Manager?” Depending on the path that you’re looking to follow, sometimes having that promotion point and doing the manager job for a year or two can open up more opportunities, but not always. I knew that I did not want to go into a corporate strategy role in a big (Fortune 500) company, and I had the confidence that if I was pursuing opportunities at smaller firms, the resume boost of the promotion might not be as critical.
Once you made that decision, how did the opportunity at Redbox come about? What went into your decision to pursue that particular opportunity, company, and industry?
I knew of Redbox, but it wasn’t explicitly on my target list. When I left Bain, I spent time relaxing reflecting about what roles excited me. I settled on a relatively simple focus: roles where I could apply the problem-solving, data-driven, analytical mindset I had gained from consulting to work on important/impactful problems, and where I could see results from the work relatively quickly.
I still had that General Management mindset and desire to ultimately be a GM and run a P&L, and I focused on looking at roles that had at least some operational/execution responsibility and ideally with some options down the road to transition. Lots of companies hire consultants in strategy roles, and many of those companies will talk about moving people from strategy roles to line/functional roles, but I focused on trying to find real examples of that, not just talk.
These ideas about the role didn’t come to me overnight, but rather crystalized over a period of a couple of months through conversations with friends and mentors in my network. I found that it was really helpful to talk through these ideas with people, and also to solicit ideas from my network on other people that I should be talking to.
Ultimately, it was my Kellogg network that brought me to Redbox. A good friend who knew what I was looking for had seen a job description at Redbox and passed it in my direction. I took a look, and it was very close to what I was looking for. The company was hiring for someone to lead a team to solve really complicated problems, and the team was a group of talented, driven, individual contributors. Most of the team had a professional services background, and the culture matched – very career-driven, self-motivated individuals, who wanted challenging work and actively sought out a lot of feedback to keep developing. The team was relatively small, but it was clear that it was very well-regarded within the organization. To me, this sounded great. So I threw my resume in and the interview process kicked off.
Once you joined the company, were there any surprises or challenges in your transition from consulting to corporate? How did you address them?
I had a really good view of what I was getting into so there weren’t too many curveballs thrown my way. During the recruiting process, I interviewed with my boss, my boss’s boss, and several other leaders across the organization, but I also interviewed with all of the analysts on the team whom would later manage. At first, I thought this was bizarre, but it was actually amazing because I came out of the interview process already knowing all the people that were going to be on the team; I already had some perspective on their backgrounds, what they were excited about, and the problems they were tackling. It got me really energized to join the team.
The consulting skill set also made that transition a lot easier because consultants are used to ramping up on a new industry and a new client and working with new teammates because you do it all the time. Coming out of consulting made the transition easier because it was just like starting a new project, where you have to figure out really quickly the people, the industry context, the business context and prioritize how you are going to add value, how you are going to get some wins on the board right away.
Do you have any advice on how people can onboard based on your own experiences? How did you go about hitting the ground running and adding value immediately?
I think there are a few key components. You have to leverage the role of being new by being curious. During my time at Marakon, we had this saying, “Challenge with empathy.” That is how we viewed our role with clients. You want to be challenging people; you want to ask tough questions, but you have to do it with empathy, not as a know-it-all. I think that is definitely a useful perspective for onboarding. When you are new to a team or a company, you have to take full advantage of the first month or two when you get to ask basic questions because you are new, where you get to challenge the status quo because it’s not thought of as being attacking… you are just trying to understand things. When you do that I think you can really quickly identify opportunities to make changes that are going to help the business and help the team. Then very quickly you can be seen as someone who gets things done and makes things better. Some of that is cliché, but I think being curious and not being afraid to ask questions and figuring out where you can make a difference quickly all help from an onboarding perspective. After that, you just need to make sure you have really clear expectations with your boss on whether or not you are working on the right things and to establish explicit goals you need to reach in a 30-60-90-day kind of timeframe so that you don’t miss something.
At what point did you start shaping your career toward operations and merchandising? Was this a path you started cultivating for yourself before joining Redbox?
I knew that I wanted to move out of strategy and into more functional leadership and ultimately General Management responsibility. I didn’t necessarily know which path that would take until I got to Redbox. In the group I joined at Redbox, I was responsible for strategic initiatives and major problems. Several of those problems were directly related to our merchandising – how we optimize our inventory and what we stock in every kiosk. I really threw myself into that work, and that created an opportunity relatively quickly for me to take over the team that led the execution of all of our merchandising processes, as well as the analysts who were working on projects to try and optimize those processes. That meant not just solving problems, but also being responsible for execution every day and having really tangible metrics to tell us how we were doing.
Redbox is a retailer at its core, and the operations are our key to success and key to maintaining our value proposition, which has meant there’s never been a shortage of questions to tackle in the operations space. I sought out those problems whenever it made sense, and that created some natural opportunities to expand my responsibilities and to start touching other pieces of our operations that are less about the strategy and science and a lot more about moving things around.
After leading our Strategy & Analytics team for about two years, I transitioned into leading our Inventory and Logistics function. That was a shift to 100% execution and continuous improvement.
In only four years, you have gone from working as a Case Team Leader at Bain to managing multiple departments and over 1400 employees in a two billion dollar division of a multi-billion dollar public company. What is your recipe for success?
It’s all about focusing on results and trying to push yourself and your team outside of the comfort zone. I get excited about building teams and leading those teams to solve really big problems. Most of my success can be traced to building great teams and setting them up for success to solve those problems. That means a commitment to attracting, retaining, and developing talent, and it means ensuring that the team is structured and positioned effectively to tackle those problems. And lastly, it means identifying and prioritizing the problems that really create value for the organization.
There is some mutual reinforcement there, though, because great talent is attracted to other great talent and to a place where they can have a real impact. I see my role as creating the environment for that to happen.
I also recommend trying to maintain that pace where your teams are just a little uncomfortable – asking them to do just a little bit more. For me, that means seeking out work and issues across the organization and signing my team up to be responsible where I know they will make an impact.
Over your last three years with the company, you have done a lot to develop and improve the customer experience. On the flip-side, what has the company done to develop you? What about working at a company like Redbox has added to the skills toolbox you acquired during your time with Marakon and Bain?
The first obvious one is the jump to being on the client-side and now being responsible for results. It’s not just about coming up with the idea anymore; you’re actually in charge of implementing it. Execution becomes critical. The processes you need to drive consistent execution across an organization, especially one the size of Redbox, become critical. When you are in a consulting environment you can just throw more hours or people at a problem. If we had a really challenging case at Bain we would go to staffing and say, “Hey we need another AC to come help us out and to crunch some numbers.” That was okay there, but in the corporate world I have a team of 1,400 people right now and more human resources won’t necessarily be the answer. Being able to be smart and create processes that scale is really important. Then there is the people leadership. In consulting, good people leadership is critical, but there are fewer variables than in the corporate world. The talent in consulting firms is much less diverse in terms of educational background and career stage. And the industry is built on the up-or-out system, which means there is a clear career path for everyone who joins a consulting firm. It’s transparent, and you know where you are. In the corporate world, those career paths are not always defined or transparent. And the talent is much more diverse in terms of career stage and background. That diversity is great for team performance, but it introduces more complexity in talent management and people leadership.
Now heading out on a new path as SVP, what do you see for yourself in this new role and how do you think you are managing towards that path? Where do you see the industry going in the coming years and how are you preparing for that within your new role?
We have been really successful at Redbox, and a lot of that success is driven by the execution of our Operations team, and I am very excited to lead this team. It is a very passionate and very entrepreneurial team. One of my priorities is making sure that we maintain that passion and entrepreneurial spirit. Because of our scale and breadth of the network we have some unique challenges that not a lot of other retailers have, which is exciting. It will require some really creative solutions to generate the results we need for future success.
I am focused on driving engagement with that really large team because we need them as we continue to evolve. Redbox is the value leader for new release movies at just $1.50 a night, and my job is to make sure that we continue driving efficiency within our supply chain network and operations so that we can stay the valued option for consumers. Something I learned really early on at Marakon is that consistency is the most important aspect of any strategy. You can’t be the low-cost provider if you don’t have the lowest cost operating structure.
In some ways, the challenge now is harder than it has ever been. We have already taken a lot of low-hanging fruit already, which means now we need to get a little more creative with how we continue to evolve over the next several years, especially knowing that our overall market is evolving very rapidly.