The Story of one Deloitte Consulting Senior Manager
Are you interested in Deloitte Consulting? Or just in good stories about how consultants transition as experienced hires?
Have we got a treat for you today! Our team recently connected with Lynn Carter, a former Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting (now at Informatica Professional Services). Buckle up as Lynn as talks about her path into (and out of) Deloitte consulting, life as an entrepreneur, and why consulting is the best move she ever – accidentally – made.
Namaan: Lynn, I’d like to start by giving us a snapshot of your background. I know you have an engineering background – did you go to Deloitte Consulting right after undergrad?
Lynn: I actually spent five years in an engineering rotation program after I got my Bachelor’s degree. I worked at a very, very large manufacturing plant where they made military radar. We made the radar that went in the F-16, the F-15, the B-1 bomber, as well as all of the ground-based radar for the U.S. and other militaries. The plant employed 16,000 people and it was a half-mile long! I was able to work in design, production, and all different areas before I decided what I wanted to do. It was a program that guaranteed a job at the end based on what I would like to do.
So, I ended up solving a bunch of manufacturing problems. I shouldn’t say a bunch of them, but I identified a couple of problems. Before we had ERP, we had this thing called MRP (Material Resource Planning), which was the old mainframe green screen, and that’s how things got scheduled to the manufacturing floor and worked through the production cycle. When you’re building things for aircraft, every detail is tracked, it has to be traced by serial number, every component, piece part, and assembly has to be tested at every level. There’s a lot of unique paths; it’s not a single production line. You’re making a bunch of different subassemblies that then come together and, if something doesn’t pass tests, it takes a different path. Some things go back into engineering and then we have these huge status meetings where all of these people come together locating where all of these critical components were because, when you’re paid on progress, you’re trying to get to the next progress point in your contract so they would know how far away they were for their next progress report.
I was there and I said, “Why aren’t you running the reports off of the MRP system?” They were like, “Because we can’t trust them.” That’s where it all started and I was like, “If we just trained everybody and we did it right, we could run reports and you wouldn’t have to have 30 people.” Literally, there were 20 to 30 people in a meeting every day at 10 o’clock when they got to critical points. And so I proposed the MRP system and that became an entire program where they determined how they wanted to use the system. We put together a whole training program and retrained all the production personnel in the whole factory. After that is when I went into the internal consulting group/think tank. Unlike a lot of the people that you deal with, I never intended to go into consulting; I just kind of fell into it.
Namaan: It just happened by accident, huh?
Lynn: Yeah. A friend of mine said, “I’ve heard a lot of people really like working for this group called Gemini Consulting,” and so they set me up with an interview and that’s when I went and started working for them. That was back in the day when all we had was a facilitation toolkit and the firm was all about organizational change and business process re-engineering. It was only my 5th year there that ERP started to take a stronghold and that’s when we merged with Capgemini; the business processing engineering became merged with the ERP implementations. That’s when I became tied more to the technology side.
But, I will say that the skill set that I learned from Gemini, not having any technology or features or functions or anything sexy like that to rely on, is a skill set that serves me today in how to get issues resolved, how to facilitate a meeting, how to get ideas on the table. I think more of that needs to be done with people in the technology consulting arena.
Namaan: So you built that toolkit first and then, when the technology came around, you skilled up as needed. In essence, you were well rounded from the beginning.
Lynn: I think so, because we just had to go in and get groups of people together and start facilitating these sessions and mapping business processes and trying to figure out where they’re broke and get people to rally around a solution.
Namaan: I’m curious – what was that process like as two pretty big organizations were merging? Did that affect your work on a daily basis?
Lynn: I was actually on a project that was being managed by both of the companies at the time and then we became one, so we were two teams at the same client and then we became one. It was a little more of a collision on the project because, all of a sudden, it was like these people came to us and said, “Your processes have to work in the system,” and I was like, “What’s the name of the system?” I didn’t even know what it was. They were like, “It’s this thing called SAP,” I’m like, “Oh, really? Okay.” We were just learning as we went and trying to merge our processes, real-time, while literally serving a client.
Namaan: How long would you say it took to fully integrate?
Lynn: I was there for probably a year from the time they started the merger until I left. Process-wise, it was coming together. When you were on a project, you definitely knew who the EY people were and the Gemini people.
Namaan: There was that clear line of demarcation?
Lynn: You could just tell that we were trained very differently, but everybody believed it was for the greater good. We were going to be a bigger company, everything was going to be complementary. I personally never felt like there was any competition; we were just foreign to each other. We didn’t know what each other did.
Namaan: You just mentioned that about a year into the merger, you left and transitioned. I’m curious, number one, where did you go, and was the merger a reason that you decided it was a good time to transition out?
Lynn: I actually was approached by someone that had left Gemini and went to work for Deloitte. They talked to me about joining their ERP practice because I had been on this project for a year doing our processes and ERP. And they were like, “Deloitte, we’ve already got this all figured out. We do the business process, we’re big in the ERP, so we’ve got it all figured out,” and, really, they do. They have rigorous training, both on the technology and the process. I will say I think Deloitte Consulting made a big investment in their people. When I joined Deloitte Consulting it’s when I actually got trained…I was never a developer, but they afforded everybody, clear through management, hands-on technology training so that you knew about the tools that you were implementing. So I actually learned the technologies and not just the process and the implementation methodology.
Namaan: What I’m hearing is that what made your time at Deloitte Consulting a lot more enjoyable is that you had more of an understanding of the end-to-end work that you were doing.
Lynn: Exactly. It was like, “Now I understand what they mean by getting it from a sales quote to cash in the bank. It all goes together through an order, to pick list, to an invoice, to a payment.” There’s a lot more steps than that, but essentially, you were able to see how they tied all that together. That was the big thing with ERP and that was back in the day when there was greenfield opportunity and, right now, there’s not a lot of greenfield ERP opportunity. When we talk about greenfield opportunity now, you’re looking at big data, you’re looking at analytics, you’re looking at cloud. That’s where you go to a company and you’ve really got to train them, educate them, and bring them up to speed on what you want to do. When it comes to applications, clients are getting almost as sophisticated as the consultant sometimes so what you have to bring is not just your software; you really have to lay business value and all of the processes and such on top of the technology to show your worth.
Namaan: Can you talk about one of the projects you worked on while at Deloitte Consulting? Weren’t you on the firm’s biggest ERP implementation project up to that point?
Lynn: It was the biggest bond project for Deloitte. It wasn’t an SAP project, it was a competitor that really didn’t have a huge presence in the United States; they were very big in Europe. I joined the project and I was part of the Customer Service Order Fulfillment team. When I came in, they were getting the kickoff done. Back then, we still did the as-is analysis and then we would do the to-be and how that maps to the ERP. I know, nowadays, it’s a little bit different because they assume a lot of best practices are baked into the software so you don’t spend a lot of time analyzing your current process, but back then, we still did that. They didn’t have all the verticals of the software necessarily. There were a few, but not that many.
I got through the design when they were starting to actually do the configuration, and that’s when I got pulled off to start working on the sales of some other projects. I had gotten so ingrained in it that they felt like I had the ability to really articulate some of this stuff and create a vision, so they wanted me to come off and work with the business development team.
Namaan: AKA clean up their mess.
Lynn: Basically, yeah. I was the cleaner, exactly. It got back to the fact that I had those facilitation skills to be able to sit down and listen and try to break through a lot of the emotion and the, “They did this wrong. This is screwed up.” What is the real problem here and where do we need to go? And so we ended up coming in and doing some interviews, and ended up scoping a few small projects in a row because it was part of our sales cycle.
Namaan: So even beyond your technical expertise and consulting tool belt, what was most important for you were the relational skills that you had built?
Lynn: Yes, that has definitely served me well.
Namaan: I want to go back to one point. We have people write and email us every day talking about how they can find mentors inside of firms and I’d really love to hear how you were able to build those relationships while you were in consulting. What was your approach? Did you have a game plan?
Lynn: When I was with Gemini, they encouraged us to get a mentor.
Namaan: So it was built into the culture?
Lynn: If you didn’t have one, they would assign you one, so it wasn’t somebody I reported to. Initially, I got assigned one and it was okay, but it was like a forced relationship. But, I saw the value in it and so I ended up with a guy that had previously managed me, I went to him and I said, “I want to get here, here, and here. I want to get on these types of projects. What do I need to do?” Because when you’re starting out and you’re at the level of consultant, you feel like you’re at the mercy of the staffing call every week as to what your destiny is.
I didn’t want to be that, and so I said, “What do I need to do?” and he gave me advice like, “You need to tell your boss these things and I can support you by putting in a word for you over here, here, and here.” He specifically started giving me pointers on things I needed to achieve on my projects, whether it was my assigned job or not, to get to the next level. For example, you need to be able to calculate an ROI and explain it. Don’t assume that the work stream leader is always going to do that. You need to be able to go out and get those numbers and do the calculations and be able to speak to them. If you’re going from consultant to senior consultant, that’s a difference.
Namaan: You’ve got to show you are at that level already.
Lynn: Right. He was saying you’ve got to earn the right, show that you’re willing to do it. Even if they’re not ready to move you in, show that you can do it and that you know how to do it. And so based on that experience, I would always just find someone, and sometimes it would be my boss, sometimes it wouldn’t, to sit down and just say, “From the outside looking in, what do you know about me? What do you think I need to improve? What do you hear about me?”
Namaan: You would actively solicit that feedback?
Lynn: Yes. Sometimes it’s fun; sometimes you hear things you really don’t want to hear.
Namaan: Sure, but that’s how you grow. Is there a time you heard some particularly tough feedback that really changed the course of the way you were doing something or really altered the way you were thinking about something?
Lynn: Oh, yes. There was a very valuable lesson of trying to move too fast. I’m a firm believer of under promise, over deliver, but there’s a reason why there’s all the steps and if you skip them, there are consequences. Speed is important, but so are all the steps.
Namaan: The secret sauce is combining the steps and the speed.
Namaan: You were with Deloitte Consulting for two years, you were a Senior Manager, and then you transitioned over to Extraprise.
Lynn: Yes. Basically, it was a lateral move and the reason for the move was, as I said, I had always been working in the order fulfillment customer service side of the ERP world (business process re-engineering, etc.). This is when CRM hit the market and Extraprise became one of the first Siebel partners. Extraprise was a startup, the founders were personal friends of Tom Siebel, so they got some special consideration to get preferential contracts, and so I went to work for them. CRM was the next thing after ERP, so I felt like it was a way to stay in the industry but expand my skillset.
Namaan: And stay on the cutting edge.
Lynn: Exactly. Like I said, looking for that greenfield opportunity, being able to bring something new to industry that they didn’t have, especially when there weren’t 100 players in the field at the time. Actually, that was a great experience on a number of fronts. You’ve got a new technology people don’t know about, so you’ve got to be able to go in and be able to explain the value from a business perspective so they want to buy it. It was a small company, and we didn’t have a lot of support staff. No matter what your title, everybody had to do everything.
Namaan: You were in the weeds.
Lynn: Yeah. The owners and partners would come on the project. Everybody knew everybody. I think I was employee number 105 or something like that because, in fact, that was one of their big things. They issued you shirts with your employee number on it because the numbers were all so low.
That was all great, I absolutely loved it. At this point, I have a two-year-old and I’m traveling 50 weeks a year, so I was getting a little tired. A friend of a friend, when we were talking one day, asked me what I do work on. I said, “I work in consulting and I work with this software called Siebel. You’ve probably never heard of it.” He said, “Wait a minute. I know somebody that’s looking for somebody that knows Siebel.” I said, “You’re kidding.” He said, “No,” and the next thing I know, the CFO of this technology company calls me and says, “I hear you know Siebel. We want to buy that. Would you come in and talk to us?” and I said, “Sure.”
Namaan: So you transitioned from Extraprise to a much more mature company…
Lynn: It was a small company; Levi, Ray, and Shoup (LRS for short), but they are actually the worldwide leader in mainframe print distribution software. A global leader. It’s a niche market, not a lot of people know about it, but they’re a hugely successful company and have spawned off seven other specialized business units. They were big Microsoft partners, had a whole education department where they sold education to companies, had a consulting arm, they were an IBM reseller, had two other pension management packages they had developed, and then they also had sports software.
I went in and basically worked for the CFO and the CEO to implement Siebel internally. We agreed it would probably be a two-year process, so I agreed to stick with them for two years and I did. They’re a great company and I loved working for them. When we got done, they offered me a job in their consulting arena. By this time, I now had two kids.
Namaan: So you’re thinking, “I’m done with this travel for a while”?
Lynn: Right. I said consulting has served me very well, I’m in a position I can just do something else for a while. I think I’m going to do that and just see what happens.
Namaan: You made a pretty dramatic shift.
Lynn: That’s when I opened my own store.
Namaan: Tell me, how did that come about? Have you always had a passion for fashion?
Namaan: So this is something that had been a lifelong dream of yours – to open a boutique?
Lynn: I don’t know necessarily if it was necessary a boutique, but growing up, my dad owned his own pharmacy for 40 years, and so an independent business owner raised me. I knew what that was about and I always thought I’d like to do that myself, and so that’s what I did. I picked the clothing market because I just happen to have a little passion for clothing and decided to do it.
I loved the whole idea of putting a business plan together, selling the concept, finding partners. I went to New York City and actually used an arm of what’s called the Doneger Group; Doneger is a huge fashion consulting firm. They’re the people who do color predictions. This is the firm Neiman Marcus hires and Sax Fifth Avenue hires, but they have a small little group in there that works with specialty stores, so I used them and they trained me in the market because you can’t learn it all in a week or a season. It was really fun and then I just decided I’ve been there, done that.
Namaan: It’s as simple as that?
Lynn: I was just “I’ve been there, I’ve done that,” and started to realize my kids were getting older now. I really did like the corporate world, I liked the hustle and bustle, I liked being around people and so it was time to figure out a transition plan.
Namaan: Before we hear about your transition, I’m really curious. What was the most challenging part of moving from consulting to entrepreneurship and being all on your own? Or maybe it wasn’t challenging at all…
Lynn: No, it was challenging because I always felt like I worked for a really good company and, no matter where I worked, I was always able to find a really good mentor. I also think that was also part of my success – I always sought out people that weren’t necessarily my boss but would provide me very candid feedback and help me get to where I wanted to be. It was hard not having that because I felt like I always had to be in control and didn’t really have that sounding board. It was just me; I had to shine and that was the hard part.
Namaan: The lack of a support system is tough. Were you able to find mentors during that period of time when you were running this store or did you adjust?
Lynn: I did. Through going to markets and stuff like that, I ended up finding people, but here’s the difference. They’re providing you, pretty much, industry advice; not necessarily personal advice. Because – let me tell you something, everybody in retail, they all lie. Okay? I’m telling you. I’ve been there; I’ve dealt with all of them. They say, “How much was it in sales?” I’m like, you know what? I could tell you $1M, but anybody that knows Springfield, IL and knows what the margins are would say that’s not right. You talk to people and they’re like, “I’m doing this, this, and this. I’m doing this and that in the business,” and I’m going, you know what, having been in that business, I can walk in and I can tell you how many dollars of inventory, pretty close, you have sitting here. I know what you can do and can’t do.
Namaan: I need to have you teach me how to walk into a store and start picking fights (laughs).
Lynn: You just learn it. You can walk in and you can see there’s probably this many units in the store, average price point is this. After a while, you just know. It was also, in my 10 years, it got to a point where if you really wanted to be sustainable in the type of market that I was in, you had to have an online presence. Social media was really picking up. You just had to do all of that and I just really was ready to move on.
Namaan: So you were at LRS, you left, you were an entrepreneur and had your fashion boutique in Springfield, IL. You decided, you know what, been there, done that. What was the next challenge for you?
Lynn: There was a nonprofit here in town that was looking for a marketing and PR director and I was like, “It’s here, it’s available. Yeah, I’m going to try it.” I had never worked for a nonprofit, but I’m a really good communicator and thought I could help them out. The guy that was running it seemed to just be floundering, literally, and so I went over there and basically propped them up. They had absolutely zero plan. All they did was publish a newspaper to their membership every month and I’m like, “I don’t know how that is helping you grow because these people already bought in.”
So we did a multimedia campaign and we ended up getting donations you would not believe. Crazy donations that we were able to turn them into money. We had a company in Chicago that was a manufacturer of higher-end luggage, and they had 200 units of luggage sets that had some water damage on them. It was fabric and they’d just have little water spots on them. You give the airlines that luggage one time and it’s going to look worse than this stuff did. They said, “Do you guys want it?” and we were like, “Yeah.”
Namaan: We’re talking an in-kind donation of thousands and thousands of dollars.
Lynn: Yeah. They made a $100k donation by retail value. So we used that for raffles, there were various things that we used it for. Then we got a lady, some other business, who closed her business and donated 5000 pairs of sunglasses.
Lynn: Yeah. I’m like, “Sure, we’ll take them. I don’t know what we are going to do with them.” This is a veteran’s charity and one of the things that they did was they employed veteran service officers over at the VA hospital, so those are people that come in and help veterans get their benefits and get the services that they need at the hospital. What we did is we had cases made for these sunglasses that had our logo on there and, “Join our organization, this is how,” and we put a little pamphlet in the sunglasses and all the service officers gave them away to all the veterans that came in to try and generate more membership.
All of this came about through, basically, just awareness. We were on the radio, we did a huge television campaign, and we totally revamped the web campaign as well just to get the word out. After about, I would say, a year, all of those things really started coming together and donations were coming in and people were starting to know the organization. It was, honestly, a shock for them. It was more than they could handle. They were like, “You just need to slow down because we’ve got all the stuff coming in and, my God, it’s just overwhelming.” I’m like, “Well, I’m glad I got you off the ground. I think I’m going to look to getting back into IT…”
Namaan: Sure, you took them from 0 to 60 and they were just hanging on.
Lynn: Yeah. It’s just like, “Okay, we’re good now.” It was fun and I think I did really good things for them. I think it was a win-win, but long-term, it just wasn’t what I was going to do, so that’s when I really sat down and started saying, “What are my options in IT? Do I want to go back to LRS? Do I want to go directly back into consulting? What do I want to do?” Luck was on my side again because I got in with the state of Illinois, probably one of the sexiest projects they had going on – a whole shared interoperability platform right in the alley of big data, which is the latest and greatest thing and where I am now.
Namaan: Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing right now. This is one of the biggest initiatives that the state government is currently pursuing.
Lynn: Yeah, and it’s focused on healthcare and human services. The state of Illinois has more agencies than any other state. Our programs are very siloed, so a person in need of public assistance, whether that be public benefits (healthcare, food stamps, cash assistance, employment assistance, workforce training, rehabilitation services, substance abuse help, etc.); all of those services are handled independently within the state of Illinois. A person, pretty much, has to be able to log on to multiple state websites, navigate themselves and say, “Here is where I think I need to go,” and if you get somewhere, the state may say, “You’re not right for our program, but I think you might want to look over there,” and all they can do is hand you a phone number or an address. There’s not a way for any one person to cohesively help you with all the services you might need and seamlessly direct you.
This project is, number one, going to be able to tie those services together to make it easier for citizens to find what they need and, hopefully, on the state’s part, reduce redundancy which, in the long run, is going to save a lot of money. In particular, they feel like the behavioral health area is going to see a huge savings. Number one, through more targeted services, but also there’s going to be an analytics component to this that will identify trends for the higher-risk populations. The plan is to institute early intervention and prevention services to reduce the number of people that end up with long-term dependency on state assistance.
Namaan: So you’ve gone from ERP to CRM to big data. What do you see as the next – beyond big data – what is the next technological frontier you think you may find yourself working in during the next 5-10 years?
Lynn: A lot of companies are still trying to figure out what they can do with their data and how they can use artificial intelligence and machine learning. How do you turn that into profit? How do you get that to the bottom line? We see all kinds of things that we can do – language recognition is big right now, facial recognition – but how do you use this to improve healthcare? How is it going to give you better outcomes? I think it’s these questions around data, security, artificial intelligence, analytics, and data science. How do we operationalize all of that into our business to better serve the customer, improve outcomes, and improve profitability? How do you tie it all together because a lot of people are wowed right now, but there’s got to be a business case for it and I think we’re still learning the best ways to use all that.