Q&A: A conversation with Slalom Boston’s Russell Norris
March 4, 2015
Russell Norris is the general manager of Slalom’s Boston office. Russell talked to us about his approach to hiring, the importance of supporting colleagues, and his mantra of “seek to understand.”
What attracted you to Slalom in the first place, Russell, and what’s keeping you here now?
I’ve always been intrigued by what Slalom is doing. When I looked at the opportunity to bring so many parts of my life together, for me it was family; it was the not-for-profit sector; it was building and growing people. And the opportunity to bring those together in a single space, and then share that with other people, is what really inspired me.
What keeps me going is that really every day is different. And when I come in, no matter what it is, I’m inspired by the people when I walk into my office. That’s what fires me up.
Slalom Boston had seen some pretty incredible growth since it opened. What do you attribute that growth to?
I think it’s the people we hire. We’re pretty specific about who we bring into our market. Everyone comes in with that same approach of “we know we’re going to build and grow something special, and it’s our own.”
Boston is home to many bio-pharma companies. What opportunities and challenges are you seeing in that space right now?
The bio-pharma market in Boston is phenomenal. The only thing I can compare it to is my early experience with the .com days, in that these companies are growing so fast with such unique challenges and such great focus on innovation—only they do it in a way that’s really changing the world.
We meet them where they need help. We aren’t coming in to bring big, oversized structure to their problems. We’re bringing real, thoughtful approaches and great people who are willing to work hard. So for us, keeping pace with them is a big part of it. And living their ups and downs is a big part of it. And then being able to pick up what we’ve learned from one to the next.
What are some of the most interesting business trends that you’re seeing right now?
On the technology side, the cloud is certainly coming to light. We’re seeing a lot of activity with AWS, as well as the Azure capabilities. So a big help in moving companies to the cloud and how they leverage that piece in their business day to day.
On the business side we’re also seeing a lot of leverage out of the information management and analytics space. Predictive analytics has been a growing practice and opportunity for us.
And lastly, folks are recognizing the impact of change on their organization. So our change management organization has been certainly having a big uptick as well.
What motivates you both personally and professionally?
I love to see people grow. I love to align people with their passions and interests. I view many of the folks that I work with, both clients and our consultants, as lights and how do you turn their lights on so that they get more excited about what they’re trying to do and energize. I also love to watch us work together as a team and see people accomplish things that they didn’t think possible.
Can you recall an early experience that taught you something about good leadership?
One was when I talked to a mentor of mine early on about my career development and growth. And a piece of feedback he gave me is, “If you want to be at the next level, act like you’re already there.”
The second one was [when a manager and I] couldn’t agree on what approach to take on a very critical next step. After several hours of arguing, we took it to the parking lot … and he said to me, “You know what, it’s your problem. You decide which way you want to go, and if you’re wrong, just know that I’ve got your back.” And that’s something that I’ve carried with me. It’s just important to really vet the ideas, but at the end of the day, support your folks.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever given?
I’d share a mantra that I live with, which is “seek to understand.” There are always many sides to a story and many sides to the reason people are doing it. If you can understand or put yourself in someone else’s place, you’re much more capable of relating to them.
What one person, past or present, would you like to have dinner with and why?
I’ll go with two: Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie. I’ve always been fascinated by his ability to lead in an environment where there was so much oppression and how he kept himself steady through those difficult times.