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Q&A with Alex Liu, Managing Partner and Chairman at A.T. Kearney

Alex Liu, Managing Partner and Chairman at A.T. Kearney is the latest C-Suite leader who hosted a Q&A in Fishbowl’s Consulting community.

Alex joined A.T. Kearney as a Partner in 1996 and later served as head of the firm’s Global Communications, Media & Technology Practice, as well as a member of the Board of Directors.

Answering over 100 questions from our community, Alex tackled a variety of topics ranging from his experiences as an Asian American leader in the workplace, the art of ‘joyful’ consulting, and how consulting firms should transition and adapt in the age of digitalization. 

Check out highlights from the conversation below: 

Q: “As companies get more sophisticated with their in-house strategy, data science, and analytics groups in shaping their strategy, how do you see the role of consulting firms evolving over time?” – Manager

Alex: “I think it’s great that our clients are strengthening their mission-critical skills and applying enhanced business analytics to their situations. This is a positive sum for the consultants who are asked to co-develop or help execute their proactive strategies, get to results sooner, etc. I don’t see an inherent conflict at all. Consulting has always been about winning with data and working alongside committed and forward-looking clients: collecting it, cleansing it, interpreting it, visualizing it, and applying data. This rubric will never change but the quality and real-time nature of the tech-assisted process makes it less clunky to get to the answers that our clients need.”

Q: “Given the growing nationalistic sentiment, should firms and more importantly practices within firms, be regional or global?” – works at A.T. Kearney

Alex: “My own view is that all clients are local, but they have global needs. They want teams they see, feel and trust locally. To be great client stewards, however, those client teams need to draw upon the full force of the firm. That means global practice collaboration, innovation, and in-person support. The answer is yes, but not due to some geopolitical phenomena, but due to the natural arc of this client-focused profession.”

Q: Can you talk about ‘joyful consulting?’ What do you mean by it? What is ATK doing?” – Associate

Alex: “We don’t know how great we have it in this marvelous industry. I want us all to rediscover the inherent joy in helping companies and societies create their success stories. How heady is that? Let’s be grateful. Grateful for talented and dedicated colleagues who won’t let you down. The joy and self-sustaining power of true teamwork.

In our clients (and we did some global research on this) there is a distinct “joy gap” — too many layers, silos, not enough shared purpose, too much dissatisfaction. All demographics and size of a company, all geographies. We should be joyful that our profession is structurally advantaged to deliver team joy. We work in purpose-driven global teams of diversity and impact with ideally clear roles and harmony, like a championship sports team.

No layers and silos, just roles and impact. At ATK, I am championing the DIAL agenda to help push this people/appreciation agenda: diversity, inclusion, apprenticeship, and leadership. Dial up the culture. Push for and celebrate a joyful and appreciative workplace. The question to you is: are you joyful in what you are doing? What’s preventing it? How can it be changed for the better?”

Q: “East-Asians aren’t necessarily seen as leaders in America. How did you change that perception on your path towards the head of ATK, especially as an immigrant?” – works at Accenture

Alex: “This is one of the world’s most meritocratic professions: it’s the quality of your thinking and your ability to influence constructive change that matters. That is one key reason I chose it and the constant variety of situations and people. 

Asians do face some stereotypes that might get in the way of progress and acceptance. Meek, not social enough, IQ but EQ? Athletic? Look at the bias in the Harvard admissions fiasco. Answer: shatter the biases. Go direct.

My mindset has always been to exceed and surprise vs. those biases and expectations. If you’re always underestimated, then its easier to wow. You are educating the world to see each person as different.

The advantage of being an outsider is that you can see the whole picture. That leads to Roles. The best teams are diverse ones, they cover the blind spots, so find and own the role that allows you to best contribute to team success. Close up the team’s blind spots. Diversity is an ethnic, social, gendered point of view. Diversity is beautiful. If you can combine Mindset with Rapport and Role, you have a winning formula.”

Q: What is the strategy for realizing diversity? Given the lack of minorities at ATK, in leadership and otherwise, and a big push on DIAL efforts – what can we expect in terms of policy changes and action” – a Consultant

Alex: “We need better outcomes on diversity, especially gender, where we have fallen behind. All levers need to be pulled, intake and retention, informal and formal mentoring, clear succession planning, insisting on inclusive practices. However, we need to tackle the fundamental culture inside out. Reinforce our core values (generosity, solidarity, passion, boldness, and curiosity) that then manifest into not just the right behaviors but the ingrained habits of championing Diversity, Inclusion, Apprenticeship, and Leadership, by all. That is my vision… Culture is not some strategy that comes from some bubble. We are the spark to drive it.”

Q: “What are some tips you’d give to consultants with young families who want to maintain a strong career trajectory?” – works at Boston Consulting Group

Alex: “Keep equal passion around family, self, and “work.” We all need multiple sources of positive energy. Also, don’t place unnecessary pressure on yourself. There was a time when I thought the most important priority was to fast track to partner — in those days that benchmark was a little over 6 years. I had 2 small boys at the time. For pushing for that extra 6 months of acceleration, I probably stressed way too much. The fact that I have been a partner now for 27 years makes that early anxiety seem even more silly.”

Q: “Tips for building “executive presence?” I’m pretty young and feel like I need help commanding the respect of seniors at my client.” – works at Deloitte

Alex: “Practice simplifying your messages to understandable language/points that a 10-year-old can understand. No one likes a young hotshot consultant loaded with jargon and frameworks. If you have the right message, they will accept the messenger. Don’t back down when pushed, but do your homework.”

 

We want to thank Alex and Fishbowl’s Consulting community for such an interesting conversation. To see what else Alex had to share, be sure to check out the rest of his Q&A here.

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