Interview by Howie Rhee '04, with contributions by Vivian Chung, Lee Barnes and Michelle Zhu. Added March 15, 2015
Before Fuqua, I worked as a design engineer at Eastman Kodak. I was responsible for designing laser systems for military applications (reconnaissance). It was probably the most challenging job of my career, since we were designing a system to extremely difficult specifications, with no room for error. New technologies always present unpredictable challenges, and the laser systems had to be perfect. This experience of designing technology products was extremely valuable for future management roles in my career. It taught me how difficult it is to develop technology-based solutions, how you need to set realistic expectations, and how to manage through the challenges -- under promise and over deliver.
I was fortunate to have been employed by an Eastman Kodak subsidiary based in Boston. At that time in my life, right after college, I thought there was no better place to live. I was rooming with a few friends from my college fraternity, in a small apartment in the city close to Fenway Park, and was having the time of my life!
What did you focus on at Fuqua? What were your main activities and areas of study?
While at Fuqua, I focused mainly on finance classes, although I tried to mix in a broad array of subjects, including marketing, strategy, and organization behavior classes. I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a career in finance or general management so was trying to keep my options open. I also ended up working on an independent study project with a finance professor (Cal Kohen), which was extremely interesting. We were working on a paper that analyzed the quantitative and qualitative influences on the stock market. As a result of this work (and relationship), I contemplated pursuing a PhD in business, but eventually decided not to.
Outside of class, I spent a lot of my time as a leader of the consulting club, running several events and student engagements. At the time, consulting firms were major recruiters at Fuqua and I was trying to build my understanding of the job and assess if I could be successful and happy as a consultant.
I was also very active in the different club sports (broke a collar bone playing flag football), and best of all, met my wife at Fuqua (who was a classmate)!
What did you do immediately following Fuqua?
After Fuqua, I went into the music industry, which was both fun and challenging. I joined a group of ex-Bain consultants who led EMI Music’s (Capital Records, Virgin Records, Blue Note, etc.) mergers and acquisitions activities and internal consulting projects. We spent most of our time doing rollups in different music genres. I spent two years buying music labels in the Contemporary Christian music genre --which is rock music played to Christian lyrics -- talk about a unique niche! And if that was not interesting enough, I then did rollups in the New Age music category (think Yanni, incense candles, white robes).
The real benefit to the job was getting free CDs, tickets to any EMI artist (Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, even Frank Sinatra’s last show), and constant music playing in the office, at times at very, very loud volumes! The artists would often walk around the offices, so we quickly learned who were the nice artists (Bonnie Raitt) and who were the not-so-nice artists (won’t mention here). I am a mediocre guitar player, so for me, this was the perfect job for this time of my life.
You’ve recently been appointed President & CEO of Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. Tell us about the company and your daily role.
My role as CEO is to lead the business through a period of significant change. My prior three President/GM positions were running turnarounds and this role has a similar challenge. With a foundation of industry-leading expertise, we are in the process of rapidly expanding our digital product and service offerings. It is tough to describe a typical day. I spend time focused on a range of activities including new product development, marketing strategy, operation efficiencies, to name a few. In each case the objective is to develop strategies that drive business growth. I have really enjoyed my first six months and have a great team to work with, which makes every day enjoyable.
Any key pieces of advice to pass on to Fuqua students?
I would tell them to not stress over the many twists and turns that occur over a career. After I left Fuqua, I thought that my career would follow a straight path of advancements leading to a role running a business. It clearly did not follow such a prescriptive path, with stints in the music industry, education, and now information/publishing. There were probably times in my journey when I was too concerned about not having perfect clarity in terms of my future path. At the end of the day, however, it all works out, so enjoy the ride.
Favorite memory of Fuqua?
Meeting my wife has to been the top of the list. But after that, it would have to be the basketball games. Winning the championship in 1991 was an amazing experience to live through. So many games were unforgettable, but one that sticks out in my mind was the Duke vs. LSU game when Shaq was playing. I was standing right by him as he entered the basketball court and his sheer size was incredibly intimidating. Then, to see Duke shut him down, bringing him down to size is an experience I will never forget!
Anything else you would like to share with students?
The best mentor I have had in my career was an understated Scotsman who ran a ~$2B company. I, and others who know him describe him as “the most impressive person who was never impressed with himself.” No matter how successful you become, don’t let it go to your head.
Good luck, and as always, I am always available to help anyone in the Fuqua/Duke family.