Q&A with Jeff Van Wie: General Manager, New Jersey
Our Garden State GM talks about running track, his screenwriting career, and his passion for serving the New Jersey market.
What do you love most about working at Slalom?
In all my years here, I've never had the Sunday blahs. I look at my calendar to see what’s coming up and what I’m looking forward to, whether that’s a sponsorship session, a client meeting I need to prepare for, or the Monday morning meeting with my whole extended leadership team.
Prior to Slalom, you had many different roles on many different teams.
I started at Accenture as an application developer in the late 1980s. Then, I led teams that were designing new capabilities and eventually went down the entrepreneurial path to land large deals with clients. I was always the one that would sell it to them and then stick around to deliver it. Whatever I sold, I made sure that it would actually be successful. At Bell South, I switched from consulting to outsourcing, where I got to see how IT operated. For a short time, I ran infrastructure at Johnson & Johnson. What I realized, though, is that I really love consulting.
You may be the only GM with an iMDb profile. Tell us about this.
When my last child was born, I decided to take a leave of absence to spend more time with my family. During that time, I wrote a film with Nicholas Sparks, who was my roommate in college, and we pitched it to Hollywood. It was made, but not right away. Then we were asked to write a film based on one of his books, so I’m the co-writer of The Last Song starring Miley Cyrus and Greg Kinnear.
What has it meant to you to run the New Jersey office? What has it meant to your clients?
In the beginning, we had a really interesting challenge to grow the New York market and team, which we did. It continued to grow and we had a lot of fun growing it. In 2019, I was asked to open the New Jersey market. It’s given me and my team the ability to spend 100% of our energy on New Jersey clients, including public sector. Those buyers are saying, “We want you to do the work because you care about what’s going to happen inside our state and how it impacts our citizens.”
You’ve seen tremendous growth in your market. What has that looked like from the inside?
We opened Slalom’s New Jersey office in January 2020. We have since more than doubled the number of employees in our market and continue to grow at an exciting rate. This growth has allowed us to focus on additional types of work and a targeted client base, so we can have an even greater impact on organizations across our state.
What do you look for in a new hire?
I look for curiosity and flexibility. Once I have a thorough understanding that a recruit can do the job, I love to ask what they’re curious about right now that’s unrelated to work. I want to know whether they keep challenging themselves. Consultants often ask me what the key to their success at Slalom is. I tell them to be flexible with their assignments. Throughout my career, I never turned an assignment down. I feel like I learned something awesome from each one and I believe our consultants will, too.
How can Slalom better recruit and retain a more diverse workforce?
In New Jersey, we’ve made a commitment to become the most diverse office in all of Slalom. For every role, we want to make sure we’re representing more broadly the demographics of the state of New Jersey.
In some of those demographics, we are misaligned, so we’ve put big goals out there in terms of diversity of candidates. Our recruiters have been doing a great job at this. The other area where we’re trying to make progress as quickly as possible is gender diversity at the leadership level. I have a sponsorship and mentorship program in place that's designed to elevate women and help us reach gender parity in leadership.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your mentors?
It started with my high school coaches. I was very competitive in track and wound up going to Notre Dame on a track scholarship. My coaches were intense and treated it more like a job, so from them I learned the value of overpreparation. There’s a strategy to running—when to push yourself, when to make a move, and how to assess your competition so you can try to anticipate what might happen.
That’s something I’ve carried with me in the business world. I’ve always tried to impress upon my teams that we’re going to prepare, prepare, and then overprepare. I’ve seen that really come together with a lot of my teams as we get opportunities we never thought we had a chance at winning.
This can be a very competitive environment, and along the way, mentors would remind me to worry only about what I can control. They also taught me to lead from the front. To me, that really comes into play when your team is facing a heavy-duty challenge. You’ve got to handle stress well and model what you want your teams to do.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
Well, we’re very fortunate to have a place at the beach, so my perfect weekend always starts by driving down there on a Friday night. I love the rhythmic, calming nature of the ocean. I grew up going to the Jersey Shore quite a bit when I was a kid, so I have so many good memories of that. My favorite vacation is always at the beach.
Then it’s plenty of time with my family, in particular my wife. She and I are best friends, so a lot of the quality time I spend is with her, sharing ideas and talking about plans. We have a funny thing between the two of us. When our kids were little, and we were dealing with messes and the headaches of parenting, we would look at each other and say, “I wouldn’t want to go through this with anybody but you.” And that was our way to make it lighter when it was heavy.
Best concert ever?
Genesis And Then There Were Three. It was 1978, and I remember riding on the back of my brother’s motorcycle over George Washington Bridge. He's 10 years older than me and we saw them at Madison Square Garden.