Q&A with Eric Gervet, A.T. Kearney Partner

Last week we had Eric Gervet, Managing Partner of A.T. Kearney’s West Coast office, host a Q&A on Fishbowl.

Eric has more than 25 years of experience in the Consulting industry and holds a unique perspective of what it’s like to be an industry leader in both North America and Europe. He specializes in consumer products, retail, and digital transformation.

His passion for the industry and positive attitude made his Q&A an immediate hit — with over 100 questions asked by the Fishbowl community for Eric to answer. Here are the highlights from the conversations that took place during his session:

Eric, what would you say are the biggest cultural differences between consulting in America and consulting in France/the EU?

This is not just about consulting, more about general culture. And before I jump into observations, I’d like to say that both the US and Europe are very diverse. If I step back, two main cultural observations: doing vs. being.

Americans generally define themselves by what they do, Europeans tend to do it more by who they are. The consequence is that we tend to move faster to execution in North America, whereas Europeans may spend more time ‘strategizing.’

There are pros and cons in both cases. When speed prevails (like now), the US culture has an advantage (and Europe is more and more embracing it). Second observation is about sociology: ‘the peach and the coconut.’

What are the top 3 things that you do that help you build strong relationships with your clients and become a trusted advisor?

  • Ask your clients for help. We love to help! Did you know that human beings enjoy giving more than receiving?
  • Care for your client like he/she is your best friend. Genuinely. The beauty of this is that clients then truly become great friends, and you truly enjoy spending time with them.
  • Never lose an opportunity to connect with someone you don’t know. The guy sitting next to you in the plane for instance. I know some great client stories which started like this.
  • Here is a 4th one: the higher the client is in the organization, the more important it is to reach out and listen candidly. Being a CEO can be a lonely job…

Do you see there ever being some shift away from the “on site all the time” model we operate in on most of our projects? Seems like every other industry has evolved to digital collaboration but ours.

There are 2 aspects here: how you manage the technical part of collaboration and how you grow the human side of it.

There are plenty of tools out there for the technical part. Now, human bonding and emotional engagement still require a minimum of face to face time. The day augmented reality goes mainstream, you can really work all the time from anywhere. Coming soon my friend! Existing tools already allow you to optimize and have more flex.

What role did mentors play in your career, from a development and growth perspective? For managers, how do you recommend forming these types of relationships?

Mentors have played a critical role in my career and in my life… Mentees as well!

It is a trust-based relationship where you listen to each other, care selflessly, provide candid support, and help along the way to expand your network. I would not be a successful partner without my mentors. I am sure there are people you like and wish to have as a mentor. Go reach out and tell me!

I see a lot of Partners in my group who do not have a personal life that I consider ideal. How did you maintain yours? When is it ok to push back?

I guess everyone is a little different, so there is not a single answer.

My personal tricks: my wife also has a demanding job, and we put (gentle) pressure on each other to make it work. 90% of the solution I think is about synchronization and flex. Also, I have become an early bird, so when I’m close to home I start early when others are still sleeping, and am usually available early for family and friends. Life belongs to early birds!

Do you mind shining light into struggles or failures you’ve encountered in your career and how you went about addressing them? Did you seek support or tried on your own? Dealing with stress?

The biggest challenge I have been faced with was as a young manager: traveling, with 2 babies at home, and my wife also had a great and very demanding job. We juggled for a year or so. Stress was very high… In retrospect, if I had to do it again, I would take a parental leave.

The other big challenge that comes to my mind happened right after I got elected partner. My largest client at the time, the one that got me to partner and where I had been spending 70% of my time in the previous years announced they would make a 2 year ‘consulting pause’ to digest all the changes we had been recommending and implementing. That took me by surprise!

I then got the opportunity to move from Europe to NYC to follow my wife who had a great job opportunity. Had a great time in NYC building my portfolio from scratch… Fun & challenging! Then moved back to Europe 4 years later, and now back in the US – San Francisco – for 3 years. I love global mobility, change is good!

To your question about seeking support: YES! We succeed in teams, never alone. Your network, both internal and external, is a critical asset. Developing your network is a core competency in this line of work. And seeking advice from mentors, other partners, virtually everyone!

In your opinion, what makes “Partner material?” I’ve heard a lot of different viewpoints (relationship building, MBA, etc.)

Like for any job: passion for the job. Consulting-specific: passion for problem solving + relationship building. Appetite for freedom, both thought leadership/personal PoV and willingness to drive your own destiny.

About to enter my first engagement next week, any tips/advice to really kill it? It’s a fairly large team and project so I want to find ways to really distinguish myself and stand out!

  • Be yourself, don’t try to play a role.
  • If you don’t know, ask. Don’t fear to look foolish. What would be foolish would be to wait.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, there is already enough pressure out there. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to shine!

We want to take Eric for taking the time to answer our community’s most pressing questions. See what other insights and words of encouragement Eric had to share by checking out the rest of his Q&A here.

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