May 15, 2015
Tom Snapp, general manager of Slalom's Midwest region, opened Slalom Chicago’s doors over 11 years ago, watching the office evolve from its first copier to a thriving business. Snapp reminisced with us about Slalom Chicago’s scrappy beginnings and announced what’s ahead in the next chapter: expansion throughout the Midwest.
It’s been an amazing year for Slalom Chicago, and we hear there’s going to be something special to celebrate soon. Want to fill us in?
We're really excited to announce what we've been working on for a while: expanding Slalom in the Midwest. We’re launching an expansion strategy for Slalom in the Midwest. We want to create an opportunity—for clients and candidates—in places we don't do business today.
What were the deciding factors in making this strategic move for Slalom?
For our people, opening new markets creates opportunities for new work, new challenges, and new ideas.
For our clients, this allows us to extend our reach. Many of our clients have operations in the Midwest and this opportunity strengthens our ability to provide coverage for them.
For our alliance partners, this represents an opportunity to collaborate and come through for clients together. We have several strategic partners that have been rooting for us to expand our services in the Midwest.
We've created an incredible opportunity and home for people here in Chicago and every single one of our markets. To have the opportunity to create a home for new people is really huge for me.
You’re no stranger to charting new territory. What was that first year like for you at Slalom Chicago?
The first year in Chicago was incredibly tough. At that point, we were Slalom’s first office to open outside of its Seattle headquarters. We entered Chicago with nothing, really. We had no sales engine, no recruiting engine, and no brand. And unlike today, we had no materials to leverage.
We spent 6–8 weeks without an office space. I was working out of a Panera or Starbucks. I was living in my brother-in-law’s condo in Chicago trying to save money. Every day, I set out to convince every single consultant I wanted to hire, and every single client I wanted to partner with, of who we were, what our potential was, and why they should partner with us.
But there was something that bonded our early Chicago team. We knew it was going to be hard and that brought us close together. We were fighting against impossible odds, but we got there.
What’s one memory from your first year in Chicago that you’ll never forget?
The copier. Originally, our office was pretty stark. We inherited the office furniture from the previous tenants. We had mismatched desks and chairs. And we didn't have a copier. I refused to buy one until we had a start to our business. So once we had a start, I went to Costco and bought my own—one of those single-page copiers where the top slides back and forth and copies about two sheets a minute and only in black and white. We were really scrappy back then and I loved it.
As you move into the Slalom Midwest general manager role, who will be the next fearless leader of Slalom Chicago?
Justin Odenbach will take on the general manager role in Chicago. Justin and I have worked together for nine years, and it's been an incredible nine years. He’s continued to impress me with his ability to focus and generate results not just for himself, but for all of us.
As he elevated to a managing director, his skill and orientation for solid operational capabilities became obvious. He has an ability to see what’s coming around the corner and make decisions better than me or anyone else that I know. It’s been fun to watch his growth and I’m excited about what he can do to take Slalom Chicago to the next level.
What value does regional growth provide to our clients?
Regional growth can help our clients in a number of ways. The most obvious is that we’ll be able to support them in other markets where they may also have operations.
There's another piece that’s not quite as intuitive: as we bring in more people, we get smarter. We have more scale and skill, more experience, more capabilities, more creativity, and more diversity to help solve our clients’ problems.
I look back when Chicago started and all that really existed were 100 people in Seattle. Today when a client has a unique need, we're able reach out to expertise in New York, San Francisco, or Houston. As we get bigger, our client support gets richer, bolder, and more creative, and that's the part that I'm most excited about.
What opportunities will our new markets bring to our consultants today and those who join in the future?
There is something for everyone in the regional expansion.
Some people are really excited for the growth in the Midwest region because those cities are their homes. And they want to go home. They want to get back to where they grew up, where their family is, and look forward to transferring to help build, grow, and develop these new markets.
Some people like being part of the growth of Slalom and helping in that process. We are filled with very giving people and this is a chance for them to contribute to our growth.
And there are other people who are looking forward to more people bringing more experiences, more viewpoints, and more ideas. If you're only working with 20 people that will get stale eventually. But if you're working with 200 people, you get to challenge and be challenged by others. That’s fun for a lot of people.
You’re not going at this alone. Tell us a little bit about the leaders who will be joining you in the Midwest region.
The Midwest is going to benefit from the strength of a handful of folks. Through the incredible leadership of Hans Nelson and the force of our alliance partners harnessed by Natalie Resteghene, this region is going to be unstoppable.
When I look at what Hans Nelson has done since he's been here, it’s amazing. Where he goes, great things happen. His confidence and belief that things are going to happen inspire anyone around him to be a part of the game, get involved, and go five yards further than they thought possible.
Adding to the mix, Natalie Resteghene is going to create a new role for Slalom as our first regional alliance director. Natalie has single-handedly defined how Slalom can be successful through better relationships with our alliance partners, and is taking that to a new level for the entire region.
Between Hans and Natalie’s energy, confidence and creativity, I am so excited about what we're going to do in the Midwest. It's going to be an incredible journey and a big impact for Slalom and for the new teams that will form in the new markets.
What’s on your plates right now?
We’ve been very focused on two markets: Detroit and St. Louis. We won’t officially launch the region until Q1 2016, but Hans and I have made many trips to these markets to explore and understand the landscape and community. We're meeting people, networking, and recruiting. We're in a huge learning phase so we can position our entry in the most successful way possible.
You only have a few weeks left of being the GM of Slalom Chicago. What are you most proud of?
When I started, I had very few people that believed in what we were doing. They told me I was nuts—that it wasn’t going to happen.
But it happened. We’ve created a home for 500+ people in Chicago. A place that they actually enjoy, where they’re excited about coming to work. There are people who have gotten off the road and can now enjoy more time with their families. And considering a big chunk of what we do every day is work, the fact that we’ve created a place where people love their work is an amazing thing.
My hand in what we created is pretty small. The great parts of this organization were brought by all the people who have joined and picked up a shovel to dig next to me, and dug so much deeper, harder, and faster than I was ever able to. The ideas and creativity brought to the front to make a difference in people's lives has been amazing. That's the part I am most proud of: that we've been able to create a home and do what people said was impossible.
Would you say that’s what most excites you about this opportunity?
Without a doubt.
Yes, it will be hard work. Hans, Natalie, and I will be working really hard, but the end result—creating that home for 1,000 more people—that will fuel me for a long time to come.
Hans Nelson is no longer with Slalom.