Nautilus as Metaphor
Like the nautilus shell, my story begins at the center and spirals outwards, rooted in and expanding upon previous experiences.
My grandparents immigrated to Chicago from Central Europe shortly before the Great War. My Polish paternal ancestors lived in (what was then) Prussia; my Polish maternal grandparents lived in (what was then) Russia. From them I learned the importance of cross-cultural interchange. They also instilled in me a love of languages.
The Core – Liberal Arts and Languages
I am grateful to my parents for the early education they provided me in Chicago. I am fortunate that I received a robust “traditional” formative education. It was college preparatory – emphasizing a broad survey of academic disciplines – patterned after a French Lycée or German Gymnasium. I studied mathematics, (physical and social) sciences, history, literature, and languages.
Desiring a “Great Books” education, I attended Columbia University in New York City. The College’s Core Curriculum was an intensive and integrated survey of Western philosophy, political economy, literature, art, architecture, music and history. I also studied languages: French and German. Living in diverse New York City was significant – it taught me the importance of blending and synthesizing ideas from around the world. As a result, I moved to Paris my third year of college to pursue studies at the University of Paris (Sorbonne).
The Second Chamber – Information and Computer Science
Unfortunately, my studies in Paris were cut short due to the financial pressures I faced. I am from a family of modest means and had to support myself financially through school. Lacking funds to stay abroad, I returned to New York City and worked as a translator for the New York Visitor’s & Conventions Bureau.
I subsequently worked full-time for the Columbia University Libraries where I catalogued materials using emerging online technologies. (This was long before the advent of eBooks.) I also completed my undergraduate degree part-time in the evenings, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science.
At that time, Wall Street firms recruited the majority of Computer Science graduates at Columbia. I joined the investment bank Goldman Sachs as a Senior Analyst in their MIS Division. The US and the UK simultaneously deregulated their financial markets. As a result, the stock market boomed.
The Third Chamber – Trading, Finance Theory and Financial Services
Wall Street firms needed to process their growing daily trading volumes on the financial exchanges. Back-office transactions exploded. And computer systems were at capacity. At Goldman Sachs, I customized, installed and implemented IBM’s Info Management software package, one of the first commercial knowledge management platforms. Goldman’s MIS Division required a system to track incidents / problems encountered during overnight processing of the firm’s transactions. More importantly, they needed to catalogue the solutions / “fixes” to those problems so Operations could quickly respond to similar situations in the future.
I learned the accounting, regulatory, and reporting requirements of transaction processing “after a trade.” As I grew more interested in the actual business of financial markets – trading and investment – I wanted to gain an even deeper understanding of finance and accounting. I returned to Chicago to pursue graduate studies at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. There I studied corporate financial valuation, security pricing and risk management theory / principles. The Black Monday Stock Market Crash occurred just four months after I had left New York City.
After earning my MBA (in Finance and Accounting), I joined First Chicago Capital Markets. I researched municipal fixed income securities and priced tax-exempt derivatives (interest rate swaps) for the firm. I also developed financial models using spreadsheets combined with add-in functions (to construct interest rate yield curves, perform Monte Carlo simulations, and price embedded options). I grew ever more interested in research.
The Fourth Chamber – Academic and Applied Research
I moved to Boston to work as a Quantitative Analyst for Harvard Business School’s finance faculty. At HBS, I conducted empirical analysis of security prices using statistical programming software. I also taught financial derivatives and risk management at Boston University’s School of Management. I considered pursuing a PhD in Finance, but learned a finance doctorate requires sophisticated knowledge of mathematics. (For this reason, Wall Street firms hire PhD’s in Mathematics / Physics / Engineering for their derivatives trading desks and give them a “crash course” in finance theory.)
I concluded that I would be better suited to a career in applied business research. I therefore contacted management consultancies to inquire whether they were interested in MBAs for such positions. Andersen Consulting (predecessor to Accenture) created such a position for me in their Strategic Service Group in Chicago with their Financial Services Practice.
As a Research Manager at Andersen, I managed a large project researching a customer’s buyer values when purchasing retail financial services (banking, investments and insurance). The project team designed and developed a PC based pairwise trade-off survey, collected data in locations across the country, calculated respondents’ utility functions, and developed value-based segments using cluster analysis on those values. Using such a value-based approach to marketing resulted in more effective business strategies. Clients hired the team to conduct similar studies of their respective customers to develop value-based go-to-market strategies (consisting of the proper channel, technology, process and organization configurations).
The Fifth Chamber – Value Chain Management
Financial firms were specializing by role (retail / commercial loan originators, institutional loan aggregators / security resellers, debt servicers, fund managers, investment advisors, etc.) Information technology, deregulation and globalization enabled disaggregating financial services by role. As the industry disaggregated and as firms pursued “role plays” (dynamically restructuring industry business models), focus shifted to the value chain.
To learn about value chains, I joined A.T. Kearney where I served as Research Manager for the consultancy’s Purchasing and Supply Chain Management practice areas. Kearney excelled at Strategic Sourcing – helping clients consolidate and negotiate supply spending. Business-to-business purchasing (and supplier management) became a critical performance lever for companies.
At A.T. Kearney, I established research partnerships with external academics to publish white papers and industry reports on supply (chain) management. I also began a PhD program in [Value Chain] Management at the University of Bath in the U.K. while working full-time in Chicago. A company’s value chain, i.e. its business model consisting of the physical, financial and information activity flows from its upstream suppliers to downstream customers, became the critical factor in securing competitive advantage / business success. Surprisingly academics and executives had (and still have) an inadequate understanding of the concept of value, its definition and the process of managing value on an integrated basis.
The Sixth Chamber – Information Flows
I joined McKinsey & Company’s Operations Strategy and Effectiveness Practice where I was Knowledge Manager for its Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Purchasing & Supply Management (PSM) sub-practices. Consultants’ knowledge is the underlying asset of the firm. At McKinsey, my interests in business research and value chains intersected and combined. I led research publication efforts for the SCM / PSM practices while conducting my PhD research into value chains. With the rise of B2B e-commerce, executives sought guidance on how best to pursue electronic marketplaces, online auctions, and internet-based purchasing consortia. After publishing research whitepapers on these “hot” topics, the “dot.com” stock market crash occurred. I spent the ensuing market slump completing my PhD research.
After graduating from the University of Bath, I served as Knowledge Manager for Heidrick & Struggle’s Industrial Practice. Heidrick is one of the world’s largest and most prominent executive recruiters. Its Industrial Practice was the second largest practice in the firm, and also its most diverse. The Industrial Practice served clients from multiple sectors: Automotive, Oil & Gas, Metals & Mining, Chemicals, Transportation, etc. To develop a knowledge platform for the Practice, it was essential to identify a limited number of “Communities of Practice” (COPs), each composed of consultants serving “related” sectors (i.e. asset intensive vs. “light” companies, continuous vs. discrete processors, manufacturers vs. assemblers, etc.) These COPs provided a “segmentation” approach to structure and manage more effectively the informat needs of the practice. After rolling out the platform, the Global Financial / Banking Crisis occurred — the third market meltdown I have witnessed in my career.
I subsequently enrolled in the Information & Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program at Columbia University. There I studied the theoretical underpinnings and current industry practices of knowledge-intensive companies. I learned of the ongoing debate over information flows, how knowledge should be communicated / measured, and how business intelligence is actually measured by executives. I was struck by the similarities between this debate and ongoing confusion over the concept of value, its definition, and its management.
The Next Chamber – Optimizing Company Value
In my PhD thesis, I advanced the Integrated Value Process (IVP) framework. IVP provides an integrated process for defining, translating, aligning, and managing value across the enterprise and its value chain. So that value flows more effectively from upstream suppliers to downstream customers. Inter-organizational value chain management is complex and difficult. Confusion about the concepts of value makes it even more daunting. Fortunately, complexity theory, cognitive neuroscience, systems thinking and decision science provide useful insights and “ways of thinking” about the organization.
The purpose of companies is to create value. To do this, organizations need to “make sense” of their information / data, optimize their decision-making and mobilize their value flows. Value creation is the essence of business. A company’s value creation ability is reflected in its market responsiveness (“response-making”) to all of its stakeholders –employees, functional groups, and value chain partners (customers, suppliers, subcontractors, etc.). To be competitively responsive, integrative value management is required across the value chain.
This represents the next chapter of my story.