You spent your pre-MBA career at Mars & Co, leaving after five years and two promotions to go to business school. What prompted you to pursue your MBA at that point, rather than earlier or never?
Up until that point, I was still learning things and making traction. Mars isn’t the type of firm to look at a calendar and tell you it’s time to go back to school. You stay until you feel like it’s time to do something else. When I left, it was because it felt like good timing and I wanted to get my MBA at that point rather than wait a few years longer.
Did you ever consider the Partner path?
No, never. Selling business wasn’t what excited me about consulting. I’m a business junkie – I like the art and science of business. In consulting I liked getting wide exposure to business at the start of my career. Eventually, however, I realized that while every consulting project is fun to talk about around the dinner table, every project is ultimately a bit of a grind when it comes time to do the work.
You then spent your summer internship at Disney, and joined the company after business school for a very successful 13 years at the company. What advice would you give to consultants who are evaluating similar corporate opportunities? How can they know there will be opportunity to grow?
Employees of the service sector need to understand that corporations are organized in layers – the corporate level is one layer, but there are also divisions and business units. There are also global, regional, and local layers. Consultants need to conduct due diligence around what they’ll be doing and what other people around them will be doing. You wouldn’t buy a house without knowing what the adjacent houses look like, and you shouldn’t take a job without knowing what the roles adjacent to yours look like. For example, let’s say you get a role in Digital. Find out how many other people in the company believe themselves to be responsible for Digital, and in what capacity. You don’t want to accidentally end up in a role that is shared with several other people, at least without knowing it going in. The reality is that big companies have lots of adjacencies and occasional overlaps, but you don’t want to be tone-deaf to that when evaluating options. Sometimes there’s a reason why a role is open!
What initially interested you about Disney, and what kept you at the company?
I had experienced good success with consulting and thought, “What now?” I knew I liked sports and movies. Disney was a global company with a good brand, and it felt like a good transition point. I didn’t initially plan to stay for any particular length of time. I stayed because every two to three years, there was something new and different for me to do. And I knew when that was no longer the case, that it would be the right time to make a transition.
You joined Disney in a finance & planning role, and then quickly climbed the ranks to become the CFO of a business unit there. What advice would you give to consultants who want to be able to similarly hit the ground running?
It helps to be able to work at a consultant’s pace to help compensate for that initial lack of experience, but it’s important to remember that you can’t force everyone else to work at that pace. You need to learn how to blend well with a non-consulting team. Once you leave consulting, the hard part is not just getting the correct answer – it’s working with people and influencing opinions.
What specifically about your experience in consulting has helped you get where you are today?
Consulting allowed me to be curious about business the same way a sports fan is curious about sports, without being too functionally defined. That broader perspective of how business works gave me an edge early on.
You recently moved into a CFO role at Mattel Consumer Products. Having worked with large, global brands in the toy and interactive media realm specifically, what do you find most exciting about the space?
This industry is not so different from other industries. Business models tend to be similar across industries. It just happens to be fun when the business model is centered on Barbie or Winnie the Pooh. It’s fun to think about the consumer base for these brands, and to be able to pull the levers of where these brands go.
Any advice for consultants who are looking to move into this particular industry?
Some consulting skills are transferrable, and others are not. Being super smart does not compensate for a total lack of relevant experience. So it’s good to leverage your consulting experience into something adjacent to the opportunities you’re seeking. Build a bridge for the hiring manager and be able to show that you won’t be starting from zero.
If you have spent a lot of time working in another industry, you might lose the broader perspective that business models in that industry may be similar to business models in this industry. When making an industry switch, be able to articulate to the hiring manager why industry A and industry G are more similar than meets the eye.
Admittedly, you’re now a very old man. If you had to go back and do anything differently, what would it be? And don’t say “this interview.”
This question makes me think of conversations I’ve had with other former consultants over the past 20 years, many of whom ended up kind of professionally adrift. The longer you stay in consulting, the more you need to think about what your competitive advantage will be in the future – especially if selling business isn’t your bread and butter. There are two types of hiring situations you might face. In one, the hiring manager approaches a candidate and says “You’re smart, you have interesting experience, and we’ve heard good things about you… why don’t you give this job a try?”
But more often the pendulum swings toward the other hiring situation, which is, “We want someone who has spent five years doing this exact job at our competitor.” What if you meet that qualification but you’re not sure that you want to continue doing that role? If you attempt to switch to a role in which you haven’t developed proficiency, your competitive edge is lost. Or what if you haven’t been at anyone’s competitor for five consecutive years because you’ve been “professionally snacking”? If you’re hopping around, your competitive edge is lost.
Everyone inevitably develops experience in specific areas, either by design or default. We see 40-year-old NFL coaches and think, “Wow, he’s only 40 and he’s coaching a professional team!” The reason he is able to do that is because he has focused on football and only football for the last 20 years of his career. He fought his way to the top in that one area. At some point you need to look back and ask yourself, “What have I been building towards? What proficiencies have I been developing over the last 20 years?” It’s better to figure that out sooner rather than later.
What makes you successful in the early part of your career probably won’t make you successful in the middle part of your career. The challenge is to figure out what your evolution will look like, both personally and professionally. Let’s say you have the opportunity to travel to the South Pole to take wind measurements for five years. Or maybe you could spend five years as a ticket taker at a London theater, interacting with hundreds of people on a daily basis. Either of these experiences would have a profound impact on your personal and professional evolution. If you can identify ahead of time where you want to go, you can work backwards to determine which opportunities will allow you to get there.