Our Denver GM talks about aligning work and passion, listening to his gut, and modeling equity and inclusion for his team and clients.
You started out as a scientist studying molecular cell biology. How did you end up in consulting?
I’m from an immigrant family. I was born in Vietnam, and we immigrated to the US in 1980 after spending a year in a refugee camp. We were sponsored by a church in Connecticut, so that’s where I grew up. Leaving Vietnam was all about opportunity and education. My brothers and sisters and I were the first in our family to graduate from high school as well as college. The careers that resonated with us were being a doctor, teacher, lawyer, that type of thing. I had always been interested in science and thought that was the path I was going to take.
When I entered college I realized I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. My brother had graduated with a chemical engineering (ChemE) degree a few years before, so I asked him, “What should I major in?” He told me if I wanted to go to medical school or prepare for another higher-paying career, I should look at ChemE. It was definitely a very interesting major, but after doing some internships and jobs in that space, I realized that chemical engineering wasn’t for me. Working in a production facility for the next 45 years of my career didn’t align with my interests and passions. I love learning, meeting people, engaging in new things.
How does working at Slalom satisfy those passions for you?
It offers such an energetic and fun environment for continuous learning, meeting people, solving problems. The job is always changing. There’s always an opportunity to engage in new problems, new activities, new clients, new challenges.
What makes a really great consultant?
When I interview people, there are three things that I look at. One is being a good practitioner of something. Our clients are always looking to Slalom for a level of expertise that they don’t have. Regardless of whether you’re a consultant or you’re a general manager, it’s about understanding what you want to continue being really good at and how you can offer that to your clients.
Two is knowing what you like to teach and what you like to learn. Having that active learner mindset is really important for deepening your expertise and identifying areas where you’re not so strong.
Three, from a culture and team perspective, a great consultant is somebody who is able to work well within a team.
What attracted you to Slalom? And what keeps you here?
Russell Norris was a career counselor of mine many years ago when we both worked at Accenture, and he’s somebody I respect very much. When he joined Slalom, that piqued my interest especially after a good friend, Matt Marker joined the Slalom Denver market right before. It was at a time when I was starting to think about what I wanted next in my career. I wanted to work for a company that was much more agile and nimble, a company that was focused in Colorado where I live with my family, and a company that was much more entrepreneurial. That’s what I found at Slalom and so much more.
What is your favorite Slalom core value?
“Do what is right, always.” It’s a value I had prior to coming here, and I think it represents Slalom very well.
That’s not an easy one, though. How you do you know what’s right?
You have to trust your instinct. My son, who is seven years old, was telling me the other day about a situation at school, and he said, “Every time I feel like there’s something that’s not right, my stomach starts to feel really weird.” And just like that feeling he has, we know from a values perspective what is right and what is wrong. Trusting that instinct is key.
How do you describe your leadership style?
Someone told me recently that one of my superpowers is caring. I think my style blends caring with a really curious mindset about others. I am always trying to find that intersection between a person’s energy and passion and what they want to focus on. I really care about creating opportunities for folks to build on their energy and interests.
I am always trying to find that intersection between a person’s energy and passion and what they want to focus on. I really care about creating opportunities for folks to build on their energy and interests.
As you continue building the team in Denver, what do you want Slalom to achieve for your clients in the next five to ten years?
We set a vision three years ago to be the most impactful and connected company in Colorado. Today we actively work with more than 100 companies in the state. Our view is that the more we can do to create alignment and connection between our public- and private-sector partners and clients, the more we will be able to achieve large, purpose-driven change within the region.
Our focus right now is around driving equity within the Colorado market. That could be education. That could be entrepreneurship. That could be expanding opportunities for folks. That could be about gender or ethnicity. I believe there’s an opportunity for us to really play a part in connecting our clients within that movement.
What does it take to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive team to help achieve that change?
I’m super passionate about creating an environment that is inclusive, that allows folks to be able to show up as their authentic selves. It goes back to, how do we continually have a curious mindset that allows us to be open to new ideas, new thoughts, new perspectives? Leading with that curious mindset is really important in order to create an inclusive environment.
What’s shaped your personal perspective on inclusion?
Growing up, my family was probably the only ethnic family in our very small Connecticut town. I faced lots of discrimination throughout my childhood. I’ve been called plenty of names, my parents have been called plenty of names, and it’s definitely stuck with me. Now, as a leader, I think about how we create an environment that doesn’t allow that to happen. I want individuals to be really proud of who they are and not have to cover up what’s true about themselves.
When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your time?
I love to cook and entertain. After being on the road for about 18 years for my job, I think it’s really enjoyable to be able to pull together the right ingredients to make something delicious at home. Although I grill a lot when I have time, I also love trying new concoctions across many different types of cuisines.
Describe your perfect weekend day.
I have four kids, so I like to hang out with the family and do something active. Maybe we’re up in the mountains skiing, out on the lake doing a little boating, going for a hike, or just kicking the ball around. Then we’ll follow that with a nice meal at the end of the day, good conversations, and hanging out by the fireplace and making some s’mores.