Not at all. During the years between college and business school, I explored my other passions, such as history. I explored the option of getting a Ph.D. in History, and I explored some different types of professional schools, such as law school, where I could focus on international trade. I went through the matrix of what was of interest to me and figuring out what I would actually do in the job and how I felt about what I would be doing in the job. For example, that 2-by-2 for being a history professor was that I was very passionate about the topic, but the day-to-day job of writing and doing research and being beholden to ivory tower politics was not interesting to me. I wasn’t exactly sure what the topical piece would be for life after business school, but the day-to-day problem-solving and making real, fast impact based on a career in business was a life that interested me.
You must have been aware of management consulting to some extent during your undergrad at Princeton, yet you didn’t go to business school with the goal of going into consulting… that just happened?
During that time I was in exploratory mode and was highly cognizant of the fact that I had a non-traditional background coming into business school. Given my background in automotive, I thought that I would enter that industry afterward. I went on the job for a day at one of the leading auto-manufacturers and found it distressing how little interest most of the employees seemed to find in their day-to-day work. Most people were only excited to work at that company because it was local. I wanted to enter an environment where people were passionate about the work they were doing and about the impact they were having, as well as build up my skill base in the business world. After that revelation, I figured there was no better place to get that skillset, exposure, and experience than in management consulting.
So you did a summer with Boston Consulting Group and you were smitten?
Yes, I worked at BCG for a summer in Los Angeles and I had a wonderful time. Going into it, do you really understand the value of what you are going to learn in consulting? Not at all. You come to understand that after the fact. After summer you can better realize and understand the tangible nature of the things you are going to learn and start to see that road before you.
Once you joined BCG, did you put a plan in place where you were ultimately working toward Partner? Or did you think that you would leave after two years?
At that time, I thought I would get the skills and then boogie on out of there. I definitely was not looking to stay and make Partner. At the end of the day, though, I didn’t know how long it would take for me to get the skills I was looking for and figure out what the next ‘next’ would be. That was a journey.
As far as picking a practice, did you do the generalist thing for a couple of years and then find your way or were you particularly excited about one industry over another?
I actually benefited from the fact that I transferred offices after my summer in L.A. and started full-time in New York. Part of that process at BCG is a little bit of a ‘dating’ period. They want to meet you and want to make sure they want to accept the transfer. Part of that process is having you pick a practice where you would like to talk to someone in the functional area and the industry area.
My industry pick was Consumer Goods and I was introduced to the lead of the CPG practice in New York. My bigger love was – and is – in operations, specifically manufacturing and supply chain, which was a passion I discovered during business school. I met one of my favorite people at BCG, who now leads the East Coast system for BCG. He was the Operations Leader for New York City and led the relationship with a major pharma client. I didn’t have a specific interest in that industry, but when he gave me a call about six months into my time in New York and told me he was about to kick-off a big project there and wanted me to join the manufacturing team, I jumped on it. This was my first project within operations at BCG. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t CPG. I knew that working with him and his team would be a phenomenal experience and that working with the company would be not only interesting, but I would learn a tremendous amount. It was such an engaging experience, I ended up staying with that client for 3 years.
How did your pre-MBA experience help you during your first few projects and during your transition? What was your transition like in terms of completing the work and hitting the ground running?
I think the bigger impact of my pre-MBA experience was actually the confidence I had to hit the ground running and to add value to these projects. Initially, I thought that I would be behind my colleagues given my non-traditional background before business school. It took a while for me to realize that my curiosity, work ethic, and what I bring to the table were just as sufficient as what everyone else had to offer and that my experiences would help make me a very strong consultant. I thought I was behind, but in practice, I wasn’t. Did people look at my resume when they were trying to staff me and wonder how in the world they were going to staff someone whose background was in public policy? Absolutely. So there was a hill to climb from a perception standpoint. Once you execute well, however, you start to climb pretty far up that mountain. Once I worked on a key client and had very extensive client-building projects and excel-modeling projects all in one, it dispelled many of those concerns for me and for others who were trying to figure out how to deploy me onto projects.
What kept you at BCG for five years and did you ever come close to leaving before you ultimately went to Gap?
I spent three years in the New York City office and I spent almost all of that time with the same client. During that time, I stayed at BCG predominately because of the work I was doing and the team with whom I was working at BCG and the client company. I had a very unusual experience in that I was part of an ongoing strategy function supporting the company. I was not doing purely project-based work. Even at my level, I would get pulled into the day-to-day operations of the manufacturing business, budget, capital, and other ad-hoc projects. I felt that I was growing considerably even within and in part because of the stability of that world. I moved to San Francisco for personal reasons and decided to stay at BCG for the next couple of years because I really liked what I was doing at BCG and I was enjoying the experience of being a Project Leader. Part of the reason I chose to stay was because it became very clear to me that there was a lot of value and a lot of learning to be done as a Project Leader. While I was consistently evaluating whether I should stay or go, I determined that I wanted that training and experience under my belt. It was the right decision to get that experience. There is so much you are learning and you grow so much during that period. As five years at BCG went by, I decided to move on within San Francisco because I found that I was missing the environment that I had enjoyed while serving the long-term pharma client. I missed solving not only project-based problems, but the day-to-day problems of a manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics organization. I was very fortunate that Gap, which is local, had a Supply Chain Strategy team, which was exactly what I wanted to do.
What were some of the experiences and development opportunities that made you happy that you stayed as long as you did at BCG versus leaving after two or three years?
The number one skill I gained was the aptitude and ability to frame a big problem, both from a storyline perspective and from an analytical perspective. It is a very different ballgame to structure your own module and analysis versus structuring an entire ten, sixteen, or twenty-week effort. That is not a skill you develop overnight. Part of developing that skill is trying to not find it extremely daunting. You need to be comfortable wrapping your arms around a big problem rather than staring at a twenty-four-week tunnel and not being sure how to cope with that. The other piece I gained was the skill of managing others and learning how to create an environment within which people want to work for you, like working for you, grow working for you, while still ensuring that the work gets done in a timely, high-quality manner. That balance is difficult to obtain.
After five years at BCG, you were about two years away from making Partner. Was any part of your departure difficult because of what you felt you were giving up or was it easy to step away from that potential opportunity?
At that point, it was not difficult for me to step away from the opportunity of making Partner. I think that if I were still in New York it would have been a more difficult decision.
You mentioned that you were fortunate that Gap had a local Supply Chain Strategy team. What did you think about Gap as a company considering your interests in manufacturing, and how did you come across the opportunity there?
The way that I structured my job search was that I wanted to work in supply chain, manufacturing, and operations. In the end, I was not going to compromise on that because I knew how much of my personal satisfaction within my job was tied to content. It was also very important for me to work in an environment that was challenging, high-caliber, and where the people were nice to work with. Not much to ask! Lastly, I wanted to work in an industry that I was personally passionate about: I didn’t have that connection with Pharma. This made my recruiting process more difficult, as I was knowingly veering away from a whole set of experiences and contacts that I had built over the last five years. I did so willingly, however, because I wanted to set myself up for a career that I was excited about. I found my current role and team by virtue of my current boss being ex-BCG and posting about the job on the BCG Alumni Network. Leverage the network!
Did you use transition time with BCG or did you look for opportunities outside the company while working full-time?
I used transition time, absolutely. I highly recommend it.
Have you ever found yourself at Gap tackling problems the same way you would have at the pharma company you supported for so long? How transferrable has your experience in a Pharma company been in a completely different industry?
I find that my experiences at the pharma client have helped me tremendously in understanding a corporate environment and adjusting well to it. Some people have difficulty leaving consulting and moving into corporate. It can be jarring. After feeling like an internal at another company after working with them for so many years, the transition, fortunately, wasn’t jarring. When it comes to trying to apply the way of life at a Pharma company to the way of life at Gap, I see that folks at Gap display a high degree of curiosity about benchmarking and how you define ‘best in class,’ which a company like the one I worked for does plenty of and they are always thinking about how to become world-class in X, Y, Z. Folks have been very curious about those experiences and perspectives I gained at a pharma company. In terms of trying to apply specific lessons, I don’t think I have that tendency of going about my projects at Gap in that way. I think that when I first got here I was trying to figure out how I could apply certain strategic lenses from a pharma-type or CPG-type world to the Retail world, which didn’t always work; a certain SKU in retail has a four week life-cycle, where a product at a pharma company has a seven year life-cycle. For a little bit, I had to grapple with the fact that this is a different industry and the value that I would add here was how I thought about things, not the specific ‘what.’
Now that you know the lay of the land, what are some of the possible paths you see for yourself, and how are you managing toward that path?
I believe at this point that my path in the future is to be in a role similar to the current Head of Global Supply Chain & Product Operations function. If not at Gap, then a role like that at another company. The role is one that oversees not only our sourcing and manufacturing operations but also logistics. And then there is also a product operations component. In a way, it is similar to a COO-type role with specific supply chain expertise. And what is perhaps unique about landing in that type of role versus saying that you want to be the head of manufacturing or the head of logistics is that, at least in a company like Gap, I would need to orchestrate a career path that 1) is not purely strategy, 2) is not simply deep in one functional area and 3) needs to have experience and respect for brands and business units. If that is my ultimate path I cannot simply stay within the confines of supply chain forever in order to make it to that top job. So landing in a logistics strategy role would be the first of multiple moves I would anticipate, whether that is within Gap, Inc. or outside Gap, Inc., in order to gain that functional experience and expertise across multiple areas, not just an in-depth knowledge of supply chain and/or logistics.
If you think about the group of people at the same Principal level that you were when leaving consulting, often they tell us that they only want to be an SVP of Strategy, a President, or a General Manager, and they set these super lofty goals for themselves and they measure every opportunity against those usually unattainable goals. Could you give us insight into why it was so smart for you to join a Fortune 500 company at the Director-level even though the role wasn’t one level away from the CEO?
Especially because I was switching industry focuses, I was aware of the fact that I had a lot to learn about not only the apparel retail industry but how Gap, Inc. operates. I had not done consulting for Gap, Inc. and every company is its own ecosystem. Supply chain, supply chain-oriented roles, and strategy roles are very broad and you need to understand how the business works. It ended up being a great stepping stone, to come into a company in a perhaps more humble position because it gave me the runway to learn, and expectations were such that I had that runway at a Director-level versus if I were entering as a General Manager or in a more senior position.
Entering a new company and industry, switching from consulting to corporate—you anticipated that there would be a learning curve and some surprises. What have been some of the surprises for you since going internal? Were there any misperceptions that you had about life on the inside that has proven wrong?
When you grow up in a top consulting environment you are surrounded by extremely talented thinkers and Type-A personalities who will work 100-hour weeks. You perceive that environment as being the top talent pool to be surrounded by in any field. But I have found Gap to be filled with extremely motivated, intelligent, top-of-their-field professionals and it is an amazing group of people to be surrounded by. I feel like I am not an outlier in terms of what I am bringing to the table. I am amongst folks who are equally motivated and passionate about the business.
Any tips for how people can onboard based on your own experiences?
There is this saying used at Gap, “go slow to go fast.” You need to take the time to learn. In consulting you are encouraged to hit the ground running and you only have a certain amount of time with any given project if you are, say, at the Project Leader or Principal level and you yourself are not developing longer term relationships and you need to start making an impact right away. In corporate, I think it is more important when you are coming in to have a more balanced perspective, especially if you have not worked in the company or industry before. You need to take the time to listen and get to know the people around you, how the business works, how people operate with each other. Yes, you need to be showing up in the right way and providing value, but to come in and think that it’s about putting out all this new work and making a huge impact on Day 2 can backfire. Take the time to understand the lay of the land and how you may best add value and achieve what you want to get out of the role professionally.
Was the transition easy for you, or was there anywhere you think you got it wrong?
I wouldn’t say it was “hard,” but there was still plenty I had to adjust to. I didn’t have a team – I was an individual contributor to start off with, which in one sense was hard because I was now left doing all of the work that I used to only do a part of. But the flip side was that this gave me the time to understand Gap. I just had to learn how to direct myself versus directing others. After that, it was a process of really navigating different areas that needed support and starting to slowly build the relationships that would enable people to understand the value that I and ultimately my team could bring, but also that they trusted our capabilities and insights despite the fact that I was new to Gap and apparel retail. I built a new strategy team with primarily former consultants and when building that team from scratch with people who were from the outside and new to Gap, I had to assure my colleagues that I had a team of smart, quick learners, who were committed to collaborating with the people who are already experts.
What have been the highlights for you since leaving BCG, both personal and professional?
The highlights are certainly building and maintaining my own team. I like helping others develop and watching them grow, whereas at BCG you may only have people on your team for a short amount of time. Now I get to see folks grow over a longer period of time. Another highlight is feeling like I am building a really rich expertise, both in logistics and apparel retail, whereas before I had focused primarily on pharmaceuticals. I like being a knowledge expert while also being able to apply industry knowledge from different areas to what I am doing today. Lastly, a big highlight is being able to see the impact of the strategy that we have developed over the past eighteen months. We are really moving forward and changing the apparel supply chain, and charting a course that will enable us to be a leader in retail fulfillment. That is very exciting to be a part of.
Do you have any regrets about leaving BCG? Is there anything that you miss?
I miss my frequent flyer miles! No, most of all, I miss the people. There were a lot of friends I made over five years, and I miss the environment. There is a buzz about BCG. You see new people come through and there is an excitement of the new classes, in part because a lot of people are there to build skills and go off and do other exciting things. That generates this sense of urgency among the talent.
How has the work-life balance been for you?
We work pretty hard at Gap and supply chain, especially as we are going through a transformation. Since I’m in a new role and building out a team, there’s a lot to do. It’s a really exciting time to be at Gap.