Q&A: A conversation with Slalom Atlanta's Paul Schur
Paul Schur is the head of Slalom's Atlanta office. He spoke with us about building future leaders and what his dad taught him about leading by example.
You’ve said in the past that one of your goals as a leader is to build future leaders. What do you mean by that?
I’m a believer that your impact and your success as a leader is not measured on what you do while you’re actually there. It’s a component. I think the true testament of great leaders is the impact they have on an organization after they leave. And so a big part of that is creating a legacy of all the leaders that continue to evolve the business and evolve the people in it.
How do you measure success in creating future leaders?
One way is to see our consultants move up and through the organization. A few years ago I was asked for one of my proudest moments, and although we accomplished a lot in business I answered it was seeing Dan Okray promoted. He joined Slalom as a consultant. But that (is) just one way. You know, leadership is more about behavior and the opportunities we get, versus just a title, so seeing that is really cool.
I’m curious what other goals you’ve set for yourself, either personally or professionally.
As I moved into the position, I knew it was, for me, a temporary move. This isn’t a finish line. It’s just yet another step in my journey. I love being with consultants and with clients, and, so personally, I want to stay connected to our business. That’s where I’ll ultimately be—just getting back and doing consulting work—and that’s my passion.
Most people, I think, would look at the job you have as the pinnacle. It’s unusual for someone to say, “I want to go back down to the front lines.” Tell me a little bit more about why that’s important to you.
I guess I’m just not done. My goal is not to be in this role for 20 years, but I also know that I’m built to work. I was raised that way.
You know, in Cleveland, which is where I was born and raised, there’s kind of a blue-collar mentality. You’ve just got to keep working, and help and make things better. For every milestone you reach, it’s a new start for something else. I just see it as yet another step in what hopefully becomes just an overall great career of serving others.
Thinking back to your own childhood, what were some of the early experiences you had that taught you about leadership?
My dad was extremely smart and extremely successful, and he was also extremely humble. You know, leadership is more about what you do versus what you say, and I guess I just remember him working hard. He was always an honest man, and he was a hard worker, and I guess I just absorbed that. For me, he lived by example.
Tell me about a mistake you made in your career and what you learned from it.
I was given an opportunity—this was many years ago—to take over a project that was failing. And I was given a choice to either take what was there (and) work with it, or throw the whole thing away and start over.
At the time, I guess, the easy thing to do was just to say, “We can work with this, and we can make it better.” And in retrospect, we would’ve been better just to scrap the whole thing and take the initial hit on the chin early on.
And so, what did I learn from it? You know, there are times where you just need to stop and say, “Wait a minute. This is not working.” It’s given me self-awareness (and the ability to) take a critical lens even to my own decisions.
I’m going to switch gears a little bit because I want to talk about Slalom Atlanta. Tell me a little bit about some of the cool stuff Atlanta’s doing.
I think one of the things we will be known for in Atlanta—or I hope that we’re known for—is our innovation work.
In Atlanta, we don’t have an innovation team. It’s almost like an ideal that we incorporate into everything we do. The concept of innovation is actually in all the practices, and I think that’s been a big, big change for us.
What else are you doing in the office that you’re excited about right now?
We have a big, big push (around) our connection with the community and our ability to partner with our clients in their philanthropies.
It sounds like you see community work as beyond just donating money to a philanthropy or something like that. Is that right?
Our backpack drive is one of the best things that we do. Our consultants collected over 250 backpacks that were each filled with an entire year’s worth of school supplies, and we worked with another nonprofit to actually work with inner-city schools in Atlanta and give those who are underprivileged their own backpacks and their own school supplies.
So, I mean, a $10,000 donation (to a nonprofit) is certainly nice. It’s good. But changing the life of that kid—that one child who got a free backpack— that’s the stuff that we talk about most.
Why is it important to you that the folks that are in your office have a connection to their community?
I think that just grounds us. I mean, we are doing some really cool, awesome work (with) big-profile, global companies. And then (there are) times, where you go back and say, “Well, let me help a high school rebuild their website.” It just—it brings it back to our own backyard.
I think that fits our style, as a company. You know, we talk about being local, and the best thing you can do is, literally, help your neighbor. When people have a passion for that, we could never get in the way.