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Q&A with James Young: General Manager, Silicon Valley

James Young reflects on the human heart of Slalom, driving transformation with clients, and building a throne out of skis.

 

You started at Slalom in 2008, and you’ve progressed from consultant all the way up to general manager. How does it feel to take on this role, leading your market?

I feel incredibly fortunate to be in this position. I've had an amazing experience at Slalom—one that's allowed me to play a number of different roles and grow in new and interesting ways. Becoming the GM was an honor and something that ignited an even greater sense of purpose in me. In this role, I'm looking forward to creating opportunities for others to have a Slalom experience as amazing as my own.

I’m excited for this new chapter. I’m excited to put my fingerprints on our Silicon Valley market and the broader Northern California region.

Having been with Slalom so long, what do you think makes us unique in the consulting industry?

There are a lot of things. You can look at how we engage with our clients, how we support our communities, and the experience that we provide to our people.

With clients, it starts with being in the local markets and focusing on long-term relationships. We’re building with our clients over their own journeys. We work with them, not for them. The more we get to know their business, the more that we can help them. I’ve worked with one of our biggest clients since 2009. We’ve been able to see the way their business has transformed, and we’ve been able to help them along that journey and be with them every step of the way. That history and impact is powerful.

Because of our unique model, I appreciate that we can have a different level of connection supporting our communities near and far. It's been extra meaningful to engage and volunteer with local organizations that are helping others live a better life.

With our people, there’s something that’s hard to describe about Slalom in the way that we think about our people and what’s in our DNA. We have a real human element that you just have to experience to fully appreciate.

Can you share an example of when you’ve felt it?

I’ve experienced it throughout my career at Slalom. When I’ve come across difficult or challenging times in my professional life or my personal life, the company and the people here have always supported me.

Some years back I broke my wrist quite badly. I had to have surgery. It was a difficult time in my life because the recovery period was challenging, and I was off of work for a number of months. The first quarterly meeting that I came back to—even before I went back to work—everybody was wearing these bracelets that said “James Strong” on them. It was so meaningful to me that I had this group of 100-plus people who were in my corner and cheering me on.

It was around the same time when Lance Armstrong's Livestrong bracelets were really popular, so I think some people initially thought I was dying or had cancer.  I had to first let everyone know that I was going to be fine and I had just broken my wrist! I still have those bracelets today, and the support I received is something I'll never forget.

That’s just one example, but it’s things like that that I think show the power of Slalom and how we care about people beyond the professional world. We all want to help others to lead great lives and be really fulfilled.

We spend so much of our time at work. Let’s enjoy what we do and have fun doing it.

What makes the Silicon Valley business community unique?

It’s really the epicenter of innovation. The world is looking to Silicon Valley for what’s next. We have the incredible opportunity to work with an amazing set of clients on those next-generation problems that the world is trying to solve. There’s a responsibility that we have being in this market for Slalom and more broadly speaking for creating a better future for all of us.

What are some of the ways Slalom’s work is driving a better future?

I think about the way that people interact with technology now. We’re helping companies to build better products that are considerate of some of the new concerns people have with technology. I think of data privacy and how technology has become more immersive in our lives. We’re helping our clients think about how they need to evolve and take their customers on that journey as their services expand.

There’s a lot of transformation happening in Silicon Valley. There are a lot of disruptors, of course, but there are also a lot of companies that have been or are being disrupted. We’re helping those companies, whichever side they’re on, with important initiatives. For example, we’re helping one of our clients navigate from a sales model of selling perpetual licenses for its products to entering the subscription economy.

The way the business world works, the way consumers buy products, has radically changed. We’re helping our clients rethink their customer experience and also their business operations for how they support that type of change.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Leading by example comes to mind. I try to set the tone for the team by having an open mind and working collaboratively toward solutions. I’m also willing to roll up my sleeves and jump in where I need to.

I try to be thoughtful. It’s important to build a team that trusts each other and is excited about working together. I think that starts with me having ongoing regard for the people on my team and across the market. I’m trying to help every person in the team be their best, so the team as a whole is the best it can be.

I also try to be fair and thoughtful about doing the right thing. When you make a decision, you have to listen first and think about all of the different factors. I’m a very data-driven person, so I’m always trying to get to the facts, get to what’s objective, and share information in a transparent way. I have very little tolerance for drama and politics in the work environment; I’m very much about rewarding the people that really deserve it.

What do you consider your greatest achievement at work?

There isn’t any defining moment. What’s most fulfilling for me is seeing others succeed. Seeing people get promoted. Seeing my team accomplish a goal or celebrate some kind of success. Seeing joy.

We spend so much of our time at work. Let’s enjoy what we do and have fun doing it. If what we’re doing at work helps people lead more fulfilling lives and have more joy in their lives, that to me is just one of the greatest achievements.

When you look ahead to the next five or ten years in Silicon Valley, what are you most excited about?

We have an amazing opportunity ahead of us to grow with the amazing set of clients that we have. We’re really fortunate to be living where we are and work with some of the most innovative companies in the world. We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with the clients we’re working with today and a whole new set of clients that we haven’t yet started working with. I’m excited when I think about what that can mean for our people growing their careers at Slalom.

I’m also excited about establishing Northern California as a region. We split our markets about five years ago to accelerate growth, and we’ve had a great run working more independently building our respective markets. But now Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and East Bay are spending a lot more time together. We’re collaborating. We’re thinking about the future of Northern California and how we can do more as one. And it’s really exciting.

If you hadn’t become a consultant, what career might you have chosen and why?

I was an aerospace engineer by degree. I was interviewing with aerospace companies when I decided to take a pivot and try out consulting. Obviously, that worked out, but there’s always this engineering side to me. In my spare time, I always have some side project.

For one of our quarterlies recently, we had a Game of Thrones theme, so I built a Slalom ski throne. I went on Craigslist and bought pretty much every old pair of skis and cut them down and built this thing. We had it on stage at our quarterly, and the person who was crowned winner of the Freestyle Award got to sit in the Slalom throne. That was pretty cool.

I always thought it would have been a fun social experiment to put the throne in our lobby, with a cushion on it so it looks a little more inviting. And then when people come in for interviews, we could see who sits on it—or not. Who’s brave enough to sit on the throne?