Q&A with Todd Christy: General Manager, Raleigh
The former tech leader of Slalom Boston is now leading Slalom’s office in Raleigh, NC. We spoke to him about this entrepreneurial path, words he lives by, and what’s ahead for Slalom Raleigh.
I see you’ve been at Slalom since 2013 and were a founder of a software company before that. Can you tell me about your career before you came to Slalom?
I graduated college as an engineer and took a pretty traditional software job for the first couple of years. I was definitely a low man in that group but learned a ton from those around me. I had a bunch of friends that were flying all over the world doing consulting, and I thought that was kind of a cool thing at the time. My fiancée was one of those. And I said, “Hey, this Andersen Consulting [now Accenture] thing looks pretty interesting.” So that’s how I got my first taste of consulting.
I joined Andersen, was there for about four years, and I really liked it. But at the time, the dot-com boom was rising, and there were a lot of startups. I wanted to get in on that, so I left with a colleague of mine and we started a consulting company, which transformed into an enterprise mobility software company. I came up with a software idea and did a lot of the early engineering. I was a founder and CTO of that business and built a large team. We had about 200 employees.
We were writing software for Pocket PCs, which was one of the very old-school devices—early, early BlackBerrys. These were the very early days of enterprise mobility before companies were using mobile devices for anything other than email at best. Most mobile devices at the time weren’t even connected.
We eventually sold that business, and I was on the sidelines for a bit. Then Russell Norris, the GM of Slalom Boston, called me. And he said, “I’ve got this thing going on called Slalom. Not sure if you’ve heard of us, but I need a tech leader.” And that’s what led me here.
Congrats on your success. Obviously you’re an entrepreneurial person. How does that itch get scratched at Slalom?
I was honestly not looking to get back into consulting, and I told Russell that. I said I was really interested in building another business. But when he told me more about it, it turned out leading the tech team in Boston was very much what I was looking for—not brand-new, about 30 people, a little over a year in, about $10 million in revenue. I was very fortunate to get in early, and the business has grown 10 times in head count and revenue since I joined. So that’s been really fun.
I love the team in Boston and love the business we’re building there. But I’m excited about my very different challenges ahead—the excitement, opportunity, innovation, entrepreneurialism, and terror all rolled into one that is starting a new business in Raleigh. We’ll be under the protective umbrella of a $2 billion business that has done this 39 times before. It’s hard to find an opportunity like that. It’s pretty darn entrepreneurial, and I’m excited about that.
I’m excited about my very different challenges ahead—the excitement, opportunity, innovation, entrepreneurialism, and terror all rolled into one that is starting a new business in Raleigh.
So, why Raleigh? How did this opportunity come up?
Raleigh’s been on Slalom’s radar for a while. Raleigh is a vibrant commercial marketplace with a strong tech and life sciences segment. The commercial manufacturing industry is also quite significant here, as well as public sector and higher education. These are all industries that we have deep expertise in.
There’s also tremendous access to talent through the universities here and through the lineage of RTP, the Research Triangle Park, which for decades has been a foundational infrastructure for companies to develop innovative and breakthrough technologies. It has a sort of campus-style setting for advancing business and tech and life sciences. That has fostered a real growth of entrepreneurialism and innovation and talent in this area.
Combine that with the cost of living and a quality of life here and Raleigh is compelling. I think people will continue moving to Raleigh from high-density cities, and from a business standpoint, I’m very excited about that.
Personally, I don’t have deep roots in Raleigh. But my youngest daughter was a competitive soccer player, and there’s a national tournament here that she was involved in for a few years. That led to her applying to Duke. She’s a junior there now. So my wife, my daughter, and I have spent quite a bit of time in the Triangle for that reason. And getting away from harsh New England winters is never a bad thing. Combine those things, and we ended up in a good place.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
One of Russell’s hallmark statements is ”Let’s build a great team, and good things will happen.” In consulting, it’s very difficult to know what long-term skills you’re going to need to serve your clients. It’s difficult to know which technologies and tech partners or players are going to rise to the top and be in hot demand. It’s hard to know what the whims of various economic influences, macroeconomic indicators, industry slowdowns, or accelerations are going to dictate for your business.
If you stick to the fundamental mantra of hiring amazing people and building a great team, you can weather an awful lot of adversity and also capitalize on an awful lot of opportunity. I’ve certainly seen that in Boston. I don’t know what the Raleigh team is going to look like, but I’m going to hold that mantra very close to heart and try to keep that bar very high as we recruit. And hopefully good things will happen.
How do you stay organized?
I’m a big notetaker. I use a tool called Evernote, and I have a pretty specific structure for notetaking for client meetings, for partner meetings, for internal team meetings. I think, in general, people are not always good notetakers, so I try to instill that as a very basic, easy thing to do. It sends a very powerful message to the people you’re meeting with that you’re taking the conversation seriously. I also think it sends a powerful message when somebody senior on the team is taking notes, showing they’re as present and hands-on as anyone else in the room.
What’s a rule that you live by?
I’m a big believer that work ethic can overcome nearly all. You may not be the smartest or the first. There may be other barriers and limits. But you can usually work your way through most problems by bringing that amazing work ethic. I’ve seen so many people succeed that way.
Have you made a mistake at some point in your career? If so, what did you learn from it?
For sure. We could spend a long time on this one. One of the things I got completely wrong was when I was at my startup. When the iPhone came out in 2007, BlackBerry ruled the roost in the enterprise. Apple comes out with this new device, and it was very buzzworthy and garnered a lot of attention. I was convinced it was going to be a consumer-only device, that business activity would still take place on non-Apple devices. And I was very wrong about that.
That was a painful lesson in the rapidity and the relentless force of innovation and technology in business. I try to remind myself when I feel like I’m getting confident or comfortable with tech or with business innovation, whatever it might be. Like, “Hey, it wasn’t that long ago you made a really bad prediction. Keep that in mind. Stay grounded.”
What’s a book or podcast that’s inspired you recently?
I’m listening to an interview on Jocko Willink’s podcast now. It’s a four-and-a-half-hour interview, so this is a labor of love to get through, but he’s interviewing a guy named Jonny Kim, a Korean American who grew up in a very difficult life situation with an abusive father and joined the navy to escape. He became a Navy SEAL and served in combat on multiple tours. That’s a hell of an accomplishment in itself. Then he decided, "Yeah, that’s not enough.” He went to Harvard Medical School and became a doctor.
Most of us would’ve said, “I’ve checked enough boxes.” But he then decided, “I’m going to be an astronaut.” So he’s now a NASA astronaut. He’s at the pinnacle of his third career. It’s very inspiring. He’s pretty physically slight but has been an amazing warrior and patriot, and is a humble guy who’s giving back through medicine and service, and now through science.
Describe your perfect weekend day.
I’m a big cyclist, so it starts out with a long bike ride in the morning. A couple of years ago I got captivated by car detailing, so I bought all this crazy car-cleaning equipment. I love to detail cars. If I ever leave Slalom, it might well be to run my own car-detailing business. But I don’t think I can do that just yet. So in my ideal day, I detail my car in the afternoon for a couple of hours.
I love to cook. So my wife and I would cook an amazing dinner, barbecuing or something like that, and just hang out. That would be a good day for me.