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Slalom's Tiago Dias

Q&A: A conversation with Slalom Silicon Valley's Tiago Dias

September 3, 2014

Tiago Dias is the general manager of Slalom’s Silicon Valley office. We asked him to talk with us about what motivates him, what’s next for Silicon Valley businesses, and his favorite new gadgets.

How did you end up in a career in consulting?

I’ve always been someone who enjoys challenges, enjoys variety, and likes to tinker with things, so consulting just seemed like the perfect career opportunity.

I’m curious what you think makes a great consultant?

Someone that is curious. Someone that has a point of view. Someone that has a creator mindset. Someone that sees opportunity in every obstacle and every challenge that is posed to them. And what makes a great Slalom consultant is all of that and someone who does not take themselves too seriously.

What makes a great leader?

At Slalom we believe (in) servant leadership. I wholeheartedly think that one of the biggest leadership differentiators is someone that is in the role not because of what it means for them, but because of what it means for their team, the impact that they want to have on their people, on their clients, etc.

Can you tell me about an experience in your life that taught you something about leadership, or informed your leadership style?

I have a competitive sports background. I (used to) sail competitively, and so sailing really taught me a lot. It taught me to never give up. It taught me that talent is important, but hard work is just as important, or more important.

Is there something else that you think you might do for a living if you weren’t in consulting?

Teach. I love teaching. It’s so gratifying to me when I get the opportunity to show someone how something is done, and then that person is very quickly able to apply it.

What are some things that motivated you as an athlete, and also now motivate you professionally?

I love Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Everything seems impossible until it’s done.”

I was on the Portuguese sailing team, and I had the opportunity to work with one the best Olympic sailing coaches ever. He used to say, “First place wins, second place loses and everyone else is just watching.” That was his way of saying, “Nothing matters but first place.” And so that motivates me, being the best at what we do.

That’s a great quote.

Yeah, when I heard that quote for the first time from my coach, my initial reaction was: “Seriously?”

I mean, I remember being in the world championships, which is already the 100 top teams from all over the world, so if you place No. 10, you think, “Pretty good.” So when he said that then I was like, “All right, time to raise the bar.”

That seems like something that really kind of embodies that Slalom spirit. Do you think that’s true?

I think that’s true, and I think that’s true of Silicon Valley as well. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about Silicon Valley these days. There’s this optimism in the air and sense of purpose among everyone here - our consultants, our clients - about making a difference, about having an impact, and doing what others thought couldn’t be done.

You recently opened Slalom’s Silicon Valley office. Tell me some of the biggest changes you’ve seen here in the last few years.

Silicon Valley built its name with the semiconductor industry first, and then with the Internet industry during the dot-com days, but today’s Silicon Valley is not just about tech. Today, Silicon Valley is about financial services, the automotive industry, life sciences, retail. It’s about, quite frankly, challenging the status quo and changing the world.

Look at Tesla as an example: They’re threatening Detroit and the automotive industry in a major way. Google is doing the same thing. We think of Google as a search engine company, but they have achieved more than four million miles with their self-driving cars. So I believe in the next 10 years I’ll be buying a self-driving car made in Silicon Valley.

What are some of the big challenges that you think Silicon Valley businesses are facing?

One of the challenges that we constantly face here in Silicon Valley is how do we more quickly validate whether something that a client of ours is (doing is) going to be successful or not? How do we avoid putting a lot of resources, a lot of time, a lot of energy into something that is not necessarily going to work?

Here in Silicon Valley, people talk all the time (about) failing fast. I think it’s more about failing smart than just failing fast.

Failing smart is about a combination of failing fast and failing cheap. You can fail fast, which is good, but it can still be very expensive. There’s this abundance of capital right now in Silicon Valley, and so people ignore the cost aspect, and it’s creating a lot of waste.

That’s such an interesting way to put it, and it also raises for me this issue of how difficult it must be as a consultant to go to somebody who’s got their idea, their baby, and say, “I don’t think this is going to work.”

You’re exactly right. One of the biggest challenges we have as consultants is to have a point of view, a perspective, (or) a recommendation that is not necessarily in line with what our clients want to hear. But we’ve learned time and again that clients will respect us more, and that we add a lot more value, when we’re not afraid of being vocal in our thinking about their business, and put their long-term success ahead of the project at hand.

Tell me about some of the most innovative and interesting projects that the Silicon Valley office is working on right now.

I’ll talk about something that might be surprising to be put in the innovative projects category: Insourcing. We went through a decade of outsourcing, but in a lot of cases (our clients have) actually learned that’s not working very well for them. In order to maintain their competitive advantage, they’ve learned that there (are) some aspects of their business that they should be doing themselves. So we’re actually working with a lot of clients in terms of bringing some of the functions that they outsourced a few years ago in-house, and it’s proven to be very successful.

Many people think of Silicon Valley as a technology mecca. Are there some consumer gadgets that you’re really excited about right now?

I’m really excited about three things: wearables, drones for video, and electric skateboards. With electric skateboards, I think they will be an interesting transportation vehicle that will allow us to connect public transportation points with our homes, our offices, etc.


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