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Q&A with Brian Jacobsen: General Manager, Houston

Brian Jacobsen heads up Slalom's Houston office and previously led Slalom Seattle. We talked with him about what makes Slalom unique and how he stays connected to a growing office.

 

You’ve been with Slalom since 2003. What’s changed and what’s remained the same?

It’s easier to talk about what hasn’t changed. In my mind, it’s the culture. It’s the people. Generally the people that we are hiring today are the same folks in terms of what they want out of a consulting company: Their passion, their energy, the desire to come through for clients.

While we have grown in terms of people, what that’s given us is breadth of services, so that we can bring different capabilities to bear for the client.

How has the consulting business changed over the period that you’ve been in it?

It’s shifted. It seems like clients still lean on outside help to help execute their most strategic initiatives, but they’ve moved from bringing in large teams and handing over the keys to smaller, more nimble teams.

That’s great for us. We’re able to come in and help out in pockets of a larger program, rather than taking a whole program.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Connecting with our clients and consultants.

What does that mean to you?

For example, every couple weeks I have a consultant breakfast, and it’s where I sit down with six to eight consultants and the agenda is no agenda. We talk about whatever’s on their minds.

A couple weeks ago it was probably more on the Super Bowl. Today it was what’s happening in the company, and what concerns they have and issues that they want to address and bring up. It’s just a really frank, transparent conversation. There’s no off-limits talk.

Are there other ways that you try to maintain that connection with the consultants as you grow?

Another thing I try to do is spend time out in the kitchen area. It’s easy to be stuck in my office all day with meetings and doing work, but I love to be able to jump out to the kitchen and hang out there, and work through e-mail, but then also catch up with people as they walk by.

If you’re coming to my office, you’re actively coming to see me. You don’t get the random connections.

How do you describe your own leadership style?

It comes down to: Hire people smarter than me, give them a direction, get out of the way, and be transparent.

I don’t have all the answers. I really lean on my leadership team to help us figure out what we do as a market. I don’t want to get stuck in this consensus trap, and I look to make the decisions where I can, but I really value their feedback.

Tell me about a mistake you made in your consulting career and what you learned from it.

I think it was not letting people know what you are shooting for, what your goals are. It probably delayed a promotion I might have had, but I think it was just a good lesson.

The same goes for letting clients know, “This is what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re going to get there.” And then they’re part of that journey along the way.

People sometimes feel nervous about saying, “I want to be at this level in five years,” so do you end up talking to consultants about that importance of being a little more overt about your goals?

We ask them as part of the annual review process, and some people are naturally going to be able to do that. I think your extroverts will be willing to put it out there a little bit more. Introverts aren’t. And I guess being an introvert, I recognize that, so I think it’s easier to also connect with people and ask them, “Hey, where do you want to go? Where do you want to be in a few years?”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Once a week, look for a situation where you’re uncomfortable, and put yourself out there. Just get out there and do it. And you’re going to live, and you’re going to come out so much stronger for it.