Q&A with Donna Painter: General Manager, Philadelphia
Our Philadelphia leader opens up about her love for Philly, the best sport you never heard of, and the importance of “grit.”
What do you think makes Philadelphia so unique for business?
Often, people think about Philadelphia being in the life sciences corridor, but in fact we have a very diverse set of industries—from healthcare to banking to natural resources—and that creates a great environment for business.
And with Philly’s location between New York and Washington, it’s easy to get to those major business and government hubs. It’s also a really affordable place to live compared to those two cities. So we attract a lot of talent thanks to our cost of living and our fantastic public transportation.
What do you like to do when you're not working?
My favorite thing is international travel because I love to experience new cultures and new foods, cities, and beaches. I also love spending time at the Jersey Shore. And my favorite sport is platform tennis, also known as paddle tennis.
You’ve probably never heard of the sport, but it’s played outside in the winter on a platform surrounded by a cage. We use a ball that’s slightly heavier than a tennis ball, sort of a cross between tennis ball and lacrosse ball. It’s a doubles sport, and the ball is played off the cage (or “off of the wires” as we call it), so it’s very aerobic. And finally, you can play in all weather conditions, so when we’re out there at night with the lights on and the snow coming down, there's just nothing like it.
What drew you to Slalom?
I spent a couple of decades working for a large multinational organization, and as my career and responsibility advanced, my span of control increased. I found that my clients and my teams were spread out across the country and the globe, and it became increasingly hard to add value to client engagements and to my team because we were together so rarely. When Slalom contacted me, I was immediately interested in the local model and the ability to work with clients in person.
I was also really impressed with the interview process. Slalom and I courted for a few years until the time was right for me to join. In that time, I got to know Amy Loftus fairly well, and, in fact, we competed against each other for business. I remember seeing her walking out of orals as I was walking in. During the early days of my courting, we stayed in touch every so often, and by the time I joined, I really felt like I knew the company and the people.
What is your favorite Slalom core value, and why that one in particular?
For sure, it's do what is right, always. I feel like the most important thing in business and in life is trust. If you do what’s right, then trust will naturally follow.
What has kept you with Slalom?
Slalom has provided me a great opportunity to use muscles that I have never had to use before. I have the support of a global company in terms of back office and technologies that allow me to be creative, build and run a business at a local level, and make local decisions. I’m empowered to do what's right for my community, team, and clients.
Tell us about a time that you took a risk. What was the outcome?
Midway through my career, I was given an opportunity to completely change my trajectory. I’d spent the first 10 years or so in sales, and I was asked if I would explore an opportunity to lead an infrastructure services business. In terms of the language and the client set, this business was foreign to me, but I was asked by someone I trusted. So, I interviewed and was offered the job. It was a great learning experience to understand that I could take on a role for which I had a foundation but very little specific background and learn it and be successful.
Would you be willing to share about a mistake you made in your career and what you learned from that?
There's probably a lot to choose from here, but one stands out, and it was fairly early in my career. I was in sales and working with a large police department. Together, we outfitted the entire police department with the first laptops ever to be mounted into police cars.
Over 200 laptops were installed, and we found out very quickly that laptops were made for office environments, not for police cars going 80 miles an hour up on curbs and racing through narrow city streets. After a couple of months of many, many repairs, and a lot of time wasted by everyone having to return cars to have laptops replaced and fixed, I took all of the laptops back.
It was really difficult to work through that experience, because I felt like I let my client and company down. But the relationship I built with the Deputy Police Commissioner through being in the trenches together and doing what was right lasted well beyond his retirement from the police department and my move to new roles and ultimately to a new company. We’re still in touch to this day. So, what I learned is that unexpectedly good things can come from challenging experiences.
For anyone that is looking to join Slalom in the Philadelphia area, what are you looking for in a new hire?
That’s a tough question because we have so many different roles that we hire for, but the common denominator is culture. A positive “can do” attitude is important as well. Yes, we have ups and downs in our working environment, so the ability to look past the immediate challenges or discomforts into the future and stay focused is definitely something that I look for.
One of the things I love about Philadelphia is our “grit,” and I think that aligns nicely with what we’re looking for at Slalom. Philadelphia even has a mascot named Gritty, and our local office has named an award after him!
To me, grit is about people who will roll up their sleeves and get to work. I like to see someone go outside of what is being asked of them to build the business and behave like an owner. That entrepreneurial spirit and “grit” are a few of the common denominators across all of our roles—and they’re qualities that we deeply value here in Philly.
How long have you lived in Philly and what do you love about this city outside of the “grit?”
I’ve lived in Philadelphia most of my life. I was born and raised in the suburb of Villanova. I went to Penn State University, a long way from Philly, but still in Pennsylvania. Then I traveled for about 10 years, lived overseas, lived in upstate New York and Oklahoma. Ultimately, when I was ready to start a family, I made my way back to the Philly region, where my parents were living.
What I love about it is that we’re a passionate city committed to our food scene and sports teams. I’m a big sports fan—whether it’s the Eagles or the Phillies or Penn State football—so this is home.
Which books or thought leaders have influenced you the most?
Most recently, a book by Indra Nooyi called My Life in Full. I found it really encouraging and inspirational. It was also beautifully written.
You could picture yourself sitting in her grandfather’s living area in India, where she was born. And you hear and understand the journey she went through from the influence her parents had on her education and the confidence they showed in her. Even though it was years before my time, I found common experiences in the challenges of trying to juggle being in the workforce, raising children, caring for elderly parents, and having two working spouses.
What’s more, Nooyi went through all of her experiences enroute to becoming a CEO. I found her journey relatable and her passion for improving the future so that women can stay in the workforce truly inspirational.