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Q&A with Rich Coughlin: President, US Central Region

Slalom General Manager Rich Coughlin.

The consulting veteran shares the biggest risk he took in his career, the upside to making mistakes, and the importance of being true to yourself and others.

You were previously the general manager of our Minneapolis-St. Paul office and then regional general manager of Slalom’s Midwest region. Now you’re president of our US Central Region. Can you share what you're focused on in this role?

I'm focused on a number of things. Number one is supporting the 2,500 team members we have in the central region and continuing to work together to provide people with meaningful work, and personal and professional growth opportunities. In addition to our current team, I’m focused on paving the way for the next 2,500 that will be coming behind them, and ideally doing so in a way that focuses on the communities in which we live and work. Number two is making sure we continue to deliver exceptional outcomes for our clients.

Number three is growing our business. As a company, we continue to grow at a significant pace on a global scale. To support that growth, I’m focused on opening new markets in our central region, as well as expanding our business in the cities we’re currently in. There’s a tremendous opportunity for growth, both with the clients we currently serve—doing more transformational work with them to make an even bigger impact—and the clients we haven’t started working with yet.

Tell us about a time you took a risk. What was the outcome?

Nine years ago, I left a senior leadership role at large consulting organization where I’d been for 23 years, and I came to Slalom. At the time, Slalom was a relatively small, national company—a very small portion of the global company we are today. But there was something special about the leaders I met and their vision. I put a lot of faith and trust in them, and I am glad that I did. The decision to be part of Slalom has been the best career decision I have made. I wouldn't change a thing. My only regret is that I maybe should have done it earlier!

Why was Slalom a great choice for you?

It’s the talented and passionate people I get to work with. It’s also the culture and core values which are incorporated into how we work with our clients and treat our people. I’ve always said our core values aren’t something that were created for the company, they are truly a definition of our people and culture and created from the bottom up.   

I also love Slalom’s entrepreneurial culture. I love that all our team members are able to make decisions, grow the business, and do what's right for our people and clients. We're not just allowed to do that—we're encouraged to do that. That is unique, and exciting to be part of an organization that embodies this. 

What do you consider your greatest achievements?

Being a father to three amazing daughters would be number one. I’m proud of the young women they've become.

Professionally, I’ve been in consulting for 30 years and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of companies during that time. I continue to grow, expand my understanding of different industries, and build lasting relationships. One of my greatest accomplishments is finding opportunities—and a company—where I can be continually challenged. I think that's huge in our business and in anybody's professional career.

If you can be your authentic self and allow others to do the same, it’s amazing the relationships you’ll build and things you’ll accomplish.

What themes or challenges are you hearing from clients across industries right now?

Finding great talent has been a challenge for our clients, in both the technology and business space. Our clients are also seeing challenges in getting initiatives done in shorter order. Everything is moving at a very fast pace. There’s not a large appetite for the big, massively elongated efforts. Companies are really focused on: How do we get business outcomes faster? Those are just a couple challenges that we’re seeing from our clients, and we’re uniquely positioned to help them.

What do you think makes a great consultant?

There are so many things that make a great consultant. A few that are top of mind include listening, curiosity, and the ability to take ownership and quickly adapt to changing environments. I look for people who want to succeed while helping others succeed. Everybody we hire has to have a sense of community and engagement with our people—treating others with respect and giving others an opportunity to grow.

What’s your approach to dealing with a team member who makes a mistake?

I think making mistakes is absolutely OK. People grow stronger and quicker by sometimes making mistakes. I don’t want to create an environment—I don’t think our team has ever created an environment—where it’s driven by the fear of making a mistake.

We’d rather have individuals make decisions, and if those decisions result in a mistake, acknowledge that it was a mistake, take accountability for that, and look for the opportunity to learn from it. If we’re doing that and not repeating those mistakes, it’s actually a great learning opportunity.

And, frankly, I like to see some mistakes being made, because those are the people that are actually going out there and trying to make things happen, trying to move the ball down the field.

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

"Be who you are.” If you can be your authentic self and allow others to do the same, it’s amazing the relationships you’ll build and things you’ll accomplish. And another great piece of advice, as my father told me often: “The one thing you have that you can always rely on is your word.” Do everything with integrity.

What’s your ideal weekend day?

Wake up before sunrise (I’m a morning guy and love a sunrise over a sunset), grab a coffee, catch up on the news and some current events, and head out to play a round of golf. Then come home, maybe hop on the bike with my wife, and spend time grilling dinner (it’s a bonus if it’s for the whole family). Then, close the day down with a great bourbon or whiskey, get to bed early, and repeat on Sunday!

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