On this week’s episode of Beyond Consulting, Ken welcomes Kevin Waddell, a former Senior Partner at BCG and current President at SemiTorr Group, a leading sales and distribution company for gas and fluid handling systems and components.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara.
Ken Kanara: Hello and welcome to Beyond Consulting, brought to you by ECA Partner, the only podcast dedicated to helping our listeners understand the wide variety of options they have available to them after a career in consulting. To put it a different way, you could think of this show as addressing the question, “What can I do with my life after countless hours spent in PowerPoint and Excel?” I’m Ken Kanara, host of Beyond Consulting and CEO of ECA Partners, a specialized project staffing and executive search firm focused on former management consultants and private equity. Each week, I host guests that have spent time in consulting and made some pivot or career change. The goal is to help our audience understand all the options available to them and ideally, learn from them, both in terms of what they did right and things they wish they would have done differently. Today we welcome Kevin Waddell to the studio. Kevin, thanks so much for joining us.
Kevin Waddell: Very happy to be here.
Ken Kanara: Thanks Kevin. Maybe it’s best if we start with a bit of background on yourself. I know right now you’re president and COO of a private equity—what used to be a private equity-owned portfolio company, but let me let me get the full story from you and then we’ll jump into that.
Kevin Waddell: Okay, sure. Going back, I graduated from Stanford University. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s in electrical engineering. Out of that, I joined Hewlett-Packard and spent a couple of years designing chips and then a couple of years designing computer systems. I decided I wanted to get a little broader exposure so I went back to business school—I went back to Stanford again, so I bleed Cardinal Red. It was in Business School where I found consulting, oddly enough. Some of my engineering colleagues, even, had gone into consulting—investment banking and some of those types of fields. I’d never even heard of it, but I got to business school and heard about consulting. I was like, “Wow, that sounds great…project work, lots of variety, the opportunity to get lots of experience really quickly…that sounds really interesting and really exciting. Let me go pursue that.” So, that’s what I did. I joined the Boston Consulting Group in the Chicago office. I worked in Chicago for 11 years and then BCG was looking for people to go to Central and Eastern Europe and a few other places to support growth in those markets. I’d had the chance in college to go overseas and I didn’t do it. I had the chance early in my career and didn’t do it. I talked to my wife…at the time, my kids were fairly young: nine, four and two, so we talked about it and we ended up going to Warsaw, Poland for a variety of reasons. I stayed in Warsaw—it was supposed to be three years—I stayed for seven and a half.
When I left Poland, I left BCG. We moved to Portland, Oregon and started networking in the Portland business community. I found a small private equity group based in Portland, a group called River Lake Partners, who was in the process of making an investment in SemiTorr, and that’s what I was looking for, either to do consulting on my own or to join a small business and help grow it and run it. River Lake put me in, but not immediately as CEO. I was doing business development and running a portion of the business, but with the idea that I would eventually take over from the then-founder and CEO who wanted to get back into doing sales and business development and not running the business. I took over as President and CEO in 2015 and then we went through a couple of changes of control, the most recent one in December of this past year, in 2021. I’m still here, running the business. We’re now part of a much larger, private equity-backed, strategic company, a company called FlowWorks.
Ken Kanara: Excellent, thanks for sharing. Kevin, if we could start by telling our listeners what SemiTorr is and what are the different products and services that you all offer?
Kevin Waddell: What I simplistically say is that SemiTorr is a high-tech plumbing store, but we are a classic distributor. We buy product from multiple suppliers. We serve a classic distribution role where it’s uneconomic for suppliers to go to sell direct to customers, but because we can consolidate volume and sales activity across multiple product lines, it’s economic for us. We buy product, hold inventory and sell it. We have three primary lines of business. The biggest business is what we call “high purity” and what it is, is it’s everything you need: pipe valves, fittings, regulators—to carry liquids and gases to, primarily, a semiconductor tool and then, what you need to take it away. It’s called “high purity” because you want those liquids and those gases, ideally, to be perfectly pure because any impurities could eventually make their way onto the wafer and, thereby, reduce waythrough yield, which the Intel’s and the Global Foundries’ and the Samsung’s of the world don’t like. That’s what we provide.
We also provide similar products in what we call “sanitary,” that’s life sciences, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical food and beverage, but it’s the same types of products—stainless steel, plastic pipe valves, fittings—these are very highly engineered. They’re clean, double bagged for example, in both high purity and sanitary products. They require a lot of careful handling, a lot of technical expertise to sell, and then, similar products in industrial markets for us that we’ve entered via acquisition, in mining, for example, power generation and the like. The big picture: distributor, buy, hold inventory, sell, but like I said, “a high tech plumbing store.”
Ken Kanara: Yes, I think the high-tech plumbing store analog definitely tracks. You’re obviously in charge of the business. Could you tell us a little about what your role encompasses? I think a lot of people hear titles like, “CEO, president, COO…,” right, and they assume things, but tell us what you focus on. Obviously, you have overall accountability, but what do you focus on, on a day-to-day, in a year-to-year?
Kevin Waddell: Yes, there probably would be three or four areas, but at the end of the day, it’s making sure that the business is running and running smoothly. Sometimes I’m in triage mode, where it’s, “Okay, what’s the fire that’s burning the hottest right now? Let me go chase it.” It depends where things are in the business. There have been times where we expanded pretty rapidly and business slowed down a little, so we had to be very, very careful in terms of how we were managing cash. Then, there’s the classic thing you hear in business education and business school which is, “You could be profitable and still go broke because you run out of cash.” We were never in danger of running out of cash, but we could see the tips of the trees a few times. In those moments, and there was a period of about three to four months, you’re focusing on the balance sheet, focusing on the collections from customers, you’re focusing on how long is your days payable to suppliers, you’re focusing on payroll and just making sure at the end of the day that you’ve got the cash to be able to pay your suppliers and importantly, pay your people. That’s something that, as any business, but especially as a distributor, in the business we’re in, there could be cycles—it can get pretty lumpy, where demand can spike up and you’re ramping up inventory to support a lot of demand, then the cycles back down and you get caught with a lot of inventory. Inventory consumes cash, so you’re always keeping an eye on the balance sheet.
If the balance sheet is pretty firm, then what I’m looking at would be probably two or three things. One, working with the sales team, helping them and supporting them. I have the title of President and CEO, so if I go visit a customer or supplier, it carries some weight, ostensibly, even though, really, I don’t bring to the discussion what our sales people and our suppliers bring. Nevertheless, if I’m in the room and I can help our sales guys crack into new accounts, in whatever capacity…there’s two pieces to that. There’s helping them on the, call it, “customer and market side,” just generating new business, but it’s also on the supplier side. That’s something that I think people may not really appreciate about being a distributor and even sometimes our sales people forget, which is, there’s two sides to that coin. We have two sets of customers: we have the customers that we are supporting and selling to, but we also have our suppliers and we have to look at them as, in a way, customers as well. We have to take care of them. They’ve got certain needs, expectations and so on, just like customers do, it’s just the fact that they’re not buying from us, they’re selling to us. I’m working on managing those two sides of the equation there.
The other piece I spend a fair bit of time on is business development—looking at potential acquisitions, potential new product lines, and working on that. Then, related to the first point around managing the balance sheet, just keeping an eye on the financials and how the business is doing. Is it performing relative to where we want it to be and the commitments and expectations that we’ve set. If not, why not and what are we going to do about it?
Ken Kanara: Thanks. I can especially appreciate your point on the supplier side when it comes to the sales aspect. I think more and more, the more folks start to think about suppliers the way that we almost think about employees of our own companies, the more that we will succeed. Just because someone’s giving us a service or a product, it doesn’t mean there has to be an adversarial relationship, or an overly hierarchical structure, as well. I think you win more when you take your approach.
Kevin Waddell: It’s interesting that you bring that up and you say, “adversarial relationship,” because that’s something that has evolved over the years. I joined SemiTorr in 2012, so I’m approaching my 10 year anniversary. There are a number of our supplier relationships, that over that period, have evolved. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were “adversarial,” but they were transactional, if you will, or a little bit hands-off or…arms-length is what I want to say. But they have evolved to the point where they’ve really become true partnerships and we’re hand in glove together. We go and we attack the marketplace together. We win together, and if we lose, we debrief and figure out what happened, but there’s not finger-pointing. It’s, “okay, that didn’t work this time,” or “We dropped the ball, let’s figure out how we’re not going to drop the ball again.” It’s gotten to the point where, with some of our suppliers, we’re pretty deep in their own business development, helping them look at markets and opportunities and launching new product lines. It’s has really been a real benefit to us in myriad ways.
I look at some other distributors where they don’t have those relationships and the frustration that the suppliers have. It just creates a lot of inefficiency because the supplier is trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the distributor and vice versa, instead of spending that time figuring out, “How do we win together in the marketplace?”
Ken Kanara: Thanks for sharing that. One of the things, and I don’t want to belabor the point, because I do want to get back to your journey at SemiTorr, but why do you suppose that is almost the default in a lot of these types of supplier relationships? I’m just curious. My hypothesis is that it has something to do with typically coming in with our egos, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Kevin Waddell: Yes, and it will come to something I suspect we will touch on as we talk about the consulting experience as well, which is, ultimately, it comes down to some combination of risk and trust. In any relationship, especially in a business relationship, there’s the mindset of, “Okay, it’s a zero-sum game, so anything you get, I give up.” But you can also look at it and say, “Well, can we work together to expand the pie? Even if I’m getting maybe a little smaller slice of the pie, I’m still better off and the pie is bigger. There’s plenty of pie here for everybody to have.” It’s hard to get past that point of feeling like, “Okay, anything you get, is going to come out of my hide,” versus, “Okay, I understand why you’re asking some of these questions and let me just embrace the conversation.” To your point, there can be ego involved, which is, if you come at it from a defensive perspective and you feel you’re being attacked, then you’re going to play things close to the vest. But if you look at it and say, “Let me understand the perspective that this supplier, this person, or whomever, is coming at it from…okay, I see what they’re trying to do. Let me help them.” That is how you start to change that relationship from one of being adversarial or arms-length to being one of collegiality, cooperation, and ultimately, one of trust.
Ken Kanara: That makes a lot of sense, thanks for sharing. Kevin, we touched on this a little, but I would love to hear about your journey. You said you’re coming up on your ten year anniversary now. You joined in 2012. Could you walk us through the different, big—obviously, changes of control, but also different growth initiatives that you led since joining SemiTorr?
Kevin Waddell: Sure. Over 10 years we’ve grown the business by about a factor of six in terms of revenue, in terms of number of people, in terms of, when I joined, we were a Western regional distributor, pretty much the West Coast, with three locations. We now have 12 locations and we’re pretty much national. The growth initiatives have really been twofold. One is M&A…so, go out and acquire other distributors. That’s where you’re looking at similar lines of business, other geographies or new lines of business. The other channel for growth is what we call “organic,” which would be, typically, existing suppliers in new territories. If you look at our trajectory over the last ten years, that growth has been pretty much 50/50 between those two things. We’ve done six or seven acquisitions over that period and then expanded into new markets with existing suppliers.
The challenge as a distributor is that you have a lot of balls in the air, because you never really know which one is going to convert or which one is going to yield, ultimately, the growth that you’re looking for. At the end of the day, if you’re thinking about organic growth and expanding into new territories, or even bringing the new supplier into an existing territory, it’s the supplier who makes the decision. You can have the most compelling case in the world for why you’re the best to them in that particular market and unless they say, “Yes,” you’re not going to get it. The same is true with M&A. It’s basically like portfolio management, if you will, saying, “Okay, we’re just going to work on a number of different things at the same time.” Frankly, we don’t know which of these is going to hit, but in any given year, two or three of them are going to happen. Then you just keep doing it and keep trying to develop the business, while at the same time, staying true to your knitting. We’re a very technical sales organization and so that’s what we’re looking for: product lines or other distributors who have that same philosophy of go in, solve the customer’s problem, get in and figure it out with them, versus, trying to just push product on them.
Ken Kanara: How do you juxtapose that with focus? You talk a lot of different balls in the air, right? Maybe you’re looking at two or three different deals and you’re pursuing a few different organic growth strategies with suppliers. Your point is well taken around, “Let’s look at a lot of poker hands,” right? But how do you then stay focused and make sure that you’re managing your time accordingly?
Kevin Waddell: Yes—it’s a challenge. You start as you might expect, fairly broad-based in terms of looking at lots of different opportunities. It’s easier, obviously, when you’re looking at product lines because we know product lines, we know applications, so we can look and see, “Okay, we know this supplier and we have the territory in the West, and we would like it in the Mountain States or we would like it in the East. That’s very easy and very straightforward. It’s on the M&A side where it gets a little bit more, I don’t want to say difficult, but the focus is…you end up with a broad pipeline because you see some companies out there and they look like they could be interesting, but then as you start to dig into it you realize, “Okay, it’s not really a good fit because they’re different from us in a number of different ways.” So those get kicked out, and then you work on the ones that look like they do fit, and you just continue to plug along. But, to do one or two deals a year, you’re probably starting with 30 or so potential targets to yield the one or two in the end, because ultimately, you have to find somebody who’s potentially interested in selling their business. Then, you have to be able to come to terms in terms of valuation and all those sets of things. There are a number of different hurdles that you have to leap to be able to get from, “Okay, here’s a set of possible targets at the top of the funnel,” to, “Close the deal,” at the bottom of the funnel.
Ken Kanara: That makes a lot of sense, and specifically with inorganic growth or M&A. You’re looking to roll up different potential acquisition targets. Sometimes, these things go really, really well. Sometimes they don’t go so well. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes what makes things go well and where things can go off the rails?
Kevin Waddell: Yes, fortunately, we have not had anything go off the rails. We have also not done any really large acquisitions, but I think that the things that really are important are doing the groundwork and the hard work as early as possible. It’s looking at things like, “Okay, if we have any overlap in the sales organization, how is that going to sort itself out?” “What do the founders or owners or the executives of the company, what do they want to do? Do they want to stay, do they not want to stay?” Then the other big one is, “Does this fit? Is this a cultural fit?” What’s there mentality? What kind of company are they? What’s their philosophy in terms of how they do business, how they go to market and how they’re serving customers, and really working on and looking at those issues as early as possible. I think, also—people—making sure that you’re communicating to folks as early as you possibly can in terms of, yes, they will have a role and compensation and benefits and those sets of things. Those things are…it’s easy to say that they’re critical, but you can’t emphasize enough how important those things are. It’s CRITICAL in all caps, and making sure that you stay out in front of that and don’t let there be miscommunication or even a void in communications. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if there’s not communication, well, someone will fill it with something. It’s better than we as management communicate, and I think also, just being honest and straightforward. At the end of the day you have to be straight up with people and just let them know, “Hey, here’s what’s going on, here’s what we know, here’s what we don’t know, but those things we don’t know, we’re working on them and here’s when we think we will know, and here’s when we’ll come back to you with answers or perspectives on some of these open issues.
Ken Kanara: We’ll get into the difference between, call it the consulting setting for that and the real world setting in a bit, but before we jump off on SemiTorr, I just wanted to get your perspective on…you’ve had a few changes in control, a few different owners of the company. Could you talk to us a little about how that’s been different with each of the different groups that has invested in SemiTorr?
Kevin Waddell: River Lake was a smaller, Portland-based, private equity group and that’s the vehicle via which I joined SemiTorr, and then in 2018 we went through a change of control and were acquired by Transom Capital who owned us for three years. Transom is a bigger private equity group, River Lake was small, maybe a half dozen people or so when they acquired the whole organization. River Lake was a good caretaker and they worked with us through some fairly difficult times. Like I said, we expanded pretty rapidly and pretty aggressively in 2014. It was a combination of M&A and organic expansion and it was the right thing to do at the time, but it took us a while to grow into that footprint, if you will. River Lake was very patient and they worked very cooperatively with us. Transom is similar. I’ve got experience with these two, so, I know it’s hard to generalize from two data points. Transom also worked very well and very effectively with us.
Both of them trusted us, and me to run the company, and our CFO as well. There were things where we had issues…we had our issues along the way, but they both engaged very productively and very cooperatively. Transom was a little different in that, they’re a bigger entity, so there are some things where if we wanted to do some targeted projects, if you will, so for example, pricing is something we wanted to work on. They helped us find someone to come in and do some pricing work with us. They also had resources to help us do business development or M&A development. They have resources to search, do some initial screenings and so on, where with River Lake, that was done more by myself and my team. In both respects, like I said, they were both very professional, very trusting of us, and of me. I understood what they were shooting for, which was to deliver a return to their investors, but I never felt like they were beating me up to deliver returns. It was always, “Okay, here’s the strategy. Here’s what we’re trying to do, trying to build this business, we’re trying to grow, trying to diversify and trying to establish a national footprint. We believe, out of that will come the performance, and the sales and gross profits, and the…(inaudible). You have to focus on the strategy and the execution and the performance will follow and both of them abided by that strategy, versus, “Okay, let’s just squeeze as much blood from this rock as we possibly can.”
Ken Kanara: Part of the reason that I ask that is because one of the things that we’re observing with the most successful middle market private equity firms is, and you touched on two of these points which is, patient and supportive partners. I almost equate it back to your point on suppliers. I think the new world and the future is really about more of that supportive partnership versus, let’s call it the bad stereotypes from 30 years ago about private equity. That’s very refreshing to hear. I wanted to transition from your experience at Boston Consulting Group now to SemiTorr. In general, how did you feel prepared coming into the role and how did you feel underprepared?
Kevin Waddell: Overall, I felt pretty well-prepared. I’d worked with BCG for 18 years and it was it was funny, when I moved to Portland because I was leaving BCG. When I was in Warsaw, I ran the Warsaw office for four years and I was responsible for the whole office, right? I was responsible for hiring and firing, consulting staff, and admin staff, and so I show up here on the West Coast and I’m looking for a potential management role and the response was, which you hear almost universally when you’re transitioning out of consulting, “Well, you’ve never run anything.” Not really—I ran the Warsaw office, and I had a P&L, and I had to hire and fire people…yeah, I didn’t have an injection molding machine spitting out plastic parts, but I still had the P&L.” I think the hardest thing of running any business or entity is the people side of things. But anyway, looking back at my time at BCG, there are a few things I think really helped me in my role at SemiTorr, and I would even say, life in general. First, I felt it trained me how to think, so how to be a critical, objective thinker and how to be an abductive thinker, so, start with a hypothesis and then test, get it ready and work on that.
Another part of that, and I would say maybe the best—if you want to call it a skill, is understanding people’s motivations. This is something that I learned working at BCG working with clients, understanding clients, but also , when you work in strategy, you’re working on behalf of the client and you’re also looking at the competition, right? To be able to figure out, “What are these competitors doing?,” what you really need to do is understand why. Why are they doing what they’re doing? If you can figure that out then you can start to the least project, “Okay, what’s step two going to be?,” or “What’s step three? How are they going to respond to what we do?” It’s the same thing with people.
I’ve always felt that people are—whether you want to say people, companies or even countries—are rational entities. If what they’re doing seems to be irrational, you don’t understand their incentives and their motivations. That’s something I felt I really learned and honed at BCG and I brought with me to SemiTorr and I drive some of my colleagues crazy sometimes, but it’s really worked well, especially in M&A, where a lot of times, and you read about this in the business literature, someone’s motivation may not be purely money. There may be something else in there and if you can figure that out, you’re a step further ahead towards being able to get the deal done without necessarily having to write a bigger check. That was a big part of it.
Then, on the people side—let’s call it “people management,” what I learned at BCG working in consulting is, there are companies, obviously, that are these organizing entities, but at the end of the day, you’re working with people. When you’re working in consulting you’re working with a client and the client is a person, or a group of people, but ultimately you’re working with the person. That person may very well be taking some level of career risk in working with you—it’s a highly visible project, and management is watching, they’re probably spending a lot of money on it, so there’s some career risk in this. You have to understand that when you’re working in consulting and working with other individuals. It’s the same thing that we talked about earlier with working with suppliers. You’re working with people—they have careers, they have goals, there are things they’re trying to accomplish. It behooves you to engage on that and understand, “What’s going on here?,” “Who are they?,” “What are they trying to accomplish?,” “What’s their career goals?,” and so on…working on that, engaging in that and trying to help them—I’d say those couple things in terms of, like I said, how to think, be a critical, logical thinker and working with people I think, are what prepared me pretty well for working with SemiTorr.
Looking at the flip side, where did I feel I was less prepared? I’d say in the nitty gritty of running a business. You work in consulting, you work at BCG or wherever, and you may get into a certain amount of detail, but you’re still working at a somewhat high level. Now, my transition is different than what other people’s may be, in that I joined a company on the order of 20-30 million in revenue, right? I didn’t join a 100 million to 200 million dollar business or a one million dollar business. I’m in there on a day-to-day basis, sometimes, figuring out, “Okay, how are we going to package and ship all this product?,” or “We’re short two people in this area, how are we going to get it done?” In the early days, like I talked about living and breathing the cash management, that was something that I learned quickly at SemiTorr, that I just didn’t appreciate working BCG, because even if you’re doing turn around, or anything like that, at the end of the day you’re not the one who’s sitting there thinking, “Oh good grief. If we don’t collect from these customers, we’re not going to make payroll next week…,” that type of thing. It’s just different when you’re right there at the point of the spear on some of these things, versus, if you’re one step away in a consulting role.
Ken Kanara: One of the things you talked about feeling prepared for, and a theme of this conversation, is motivation. It’s interesting, you picked it up from a supplier perspective, you picked it up from an acquisition target perspective, employees, clients of yours at BCG…What advice would you give to folks who this doesn’t necessarily come natural to them?
Kevin Waddell: What do you mean when you say, “This doesn’t come natural to them?” Understanding motivation?
Ken Kanara: Yes, so, it seems you’re at least proactive, if not predisposition, to think about the other person or other party’s perspective. I think that’s been a core theme of a lot of your success and I’ve worked with a lot of folks where that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to them and I’m curious if you have any advice on that.
Kevin Waddell: My advice would be to run straight to it and just understand that at a certain level say, “Look, think about how you would like to be treated,” right? If someone is just treating you like a cog in the machine, if you will and says, “Hey, I want more, more, more,” or whatever it is versus, “Hey, how can we work together?,” or “Hey, Ken, what are your goals? What are you trying to do? Tell me what,” not what makes you tick, you’re not going to be doing a whole psychoanalysis, but I think for folks for whom that doesn’t come naturally, it’s just one of those things you have to stop and think about and be more explicit about it, because it really is important in whatever you do. Even in relationships, right? Being empathetic and understanding the other person’s perspective is a good contributor to more effective communication, whether it’s with your spouse, your kids, your boss, your client, your supplier, your customer or whomever, so I would just flag them and say, “Hey, in my opinion, this is something that’s forward to being effective in in whatever you’re doing. If you feel it doesn’t come naturally to you, obviously people are different, but at least be aware of it.”
Another thing to be aware of, and this has also helped me and still helps me, which is to look at indicators. “Hey, this person is responding in an unproductive way,” or “I’m feeling some heat in their communication. Why?” Right? Be self-critical. Something else I think that BCG helped teach me is to pull yourself out of the situation. Pull your emotions out, pull your ego and look at it objectively and critically and step away and observe from a distance, if you will, and see what’s going on. Then you can make your own assessment and say, “Okay, why is this happening and what’s my role in making this happen the way it’s happening? If it’s not happening the way I wanted to, what can I do differently?” Now, you obviously can’t control all elements of every situation, and you may look at it and say, “Well, there’s not really much I can do about that.” So you say, “I’m going to let that go as it is and focus on what you can control and what you can change.”
Ken Kanara: I like that advice, especially around if you if you see a fire, run towards it and figure it out, versus waiting 6-7 months…
Kevin Waddell: That’s right, and in fact, that was something I remember. I was in my third year at BCG, I was a brand new project leader and I was still very unsure about my role and how I was doing. I was working for an almost partner—an amazing guy, and whatever it was, there was some little fire, right? Something was brewing, and it didn’t seem like it was very good, and I didn’t want to say anything, I didn’t want to say anything and then, finally, I realized that looking at past experiences, little fires rarely go out on their own. They only turn into bigger fires. Then, in my mind, I’m like, “Okay, Kevin you can either raise it now and say, ‘Hey, I have this little fire, here’s my thinking of how to address it,’ or not say anything and then in a week or two weeks’ time, say ‘Hey here’s this bigger fire.’ Which of those do I think is a better course to take?” When you look at it that way, it’s obvious.
Ken Kanara: That makes a ton of sense. I’m chuckling a little because I think we can all think about experiences in our lives where we’ve ignored the little fires, for better or worse. As we wrap up, when it comes to consulting, you did it for quite a while, and successfully transitioned out of it. What advice would you have for folks that are currently in consulting and maybe considering a career change, most specifically as to a private equity portfolio company?
Kevin Waddell: I would say to look for people and a cultural fit is an underweighted factor in how people look at opportunities. You look at, okay, the company and the role and the wood to chop that you’re going to have in your role, but you also have to look at, “Who am I going to be working with? What’s it going to be like to work with them? What’s the culture of the organization?” In my experience, and I’ve been fortunate to be on the plus side of this, but you could say there’s the content of the work, which is the industry and topics and things you’re working on, and then there’s the environment of the work, which is people and management and all of that. In my experience, in hindsight, looking back, if I have to give one to have the other, I would actually give a little on the content to have the people in the environment and the management versus the other way around. There have been a few times in my career where, whatever the situation, the environment was not very good, and even though the work was interesting, I did not get up in the morning excited to go into work. I’d have a knot in my stomach because of the environment and the people side of the environment.
Ken Kanara: I think that’s right. I can even think to experiences of mine when I was in the Middle East, or something, on a consulting project and it was not necessarily a fun environment or fun content, but because of the people that I worked with, we still managed to have…it’s like you said, you woke up looking forward to work as opposed to dreading it. I think that’s great advice. Very good. Lastly, because we’re all a bunch of former consultant nerds, we’re always trying to build up a library, Kevin, of book recommendations from our guests. No pressure here, but I would love to see if you had any books that you would suggest for our audience?
Kevin Waddell: One that I really enjoyed—I don’t read much, in fact I read almost no business books. Maybe that makes me a little bit different, because I just feel I have enough business at work, so when I’m not at work, I’m reading other stuff. One, it’s not even really, necessarily a business book, is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It’s about behavioral economics and it’s just really fascinating, even if you’re not a business person, or whatever, and the research that they did in terms of how people make decisions. It pulls a few threads on classic microeconomic theory and decision theory, and so it’s relevant in the world of business and microeconomics. That’s just an interesting read and look at the psychology of people. Then, the other book I really enjoyed that I read quite some time ago is a biography of George Washington. It’s called Washington, it’s by Ron Chernow. In fact, he won the Pulitzer Prize for it. He also wrote Hamilton, that was the basis for the very famous now play. It’s a long book, it’s almost 900 pages, but it’s just fascinating. It’s interesting to see what was going on back then, in a way that makes you feel a little bit better about what’s going on today. There was backstabbing and just all kinds of machinations going on back when he was in the process of becoming president. It’s just interesting to read about his life on a standalone basis. It’s very well written and, like I said, it lays out to me…you know history tends to make it seem like the Founding Fathers were this group of men who got together and…
Ken Kanara: Everybody got along, and everything was perfect, right?
Kevin Waddell: Yes, everyone got along, they had some differences but they ironed things out. But there was plenty of “broken dagger” and backstabbing. Those would be the two books that I tend to bring up when people ask me.
Ken Kanara: That’s cool. And both those reads are quite weighty in terms of page count, so thanks for that, I like those suggestions. Well good stuff. Kevin, if somebody wanted to learn a little bit more about SemiTorr or yourself, what would be the best way to do that?
Kevin Waddell: About myself, they can go to my LinkedIn profile. I can never remember what our website is. I think it’s semitorrinc.com.
Ken Kanara: I don’t imagine we’ll have a lot of a lot of potential customers listening.
Kevin Waddell: If people want to learn see about sending they can go to our website which is semitorrinc.com
Ken Kanara: Excellent, well thanks so much for joining, Kevin, I really appreciate it. For those of our listeners that are interested in hearing future episodes, make sure to subscribe to Spotify or Apple. You can also catch past episodes on beyondconsulting.info. Lastly, if you want to get in touch with us, it’s going to be eca-partners.com, but until next week, we will talk to you then. Thanks so much.