Podcast

Episode: 352 |
Jeffery Perry:
The Post-Retirement Practice:
Episode
352

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Jeffery Perry

The Post-Retirement Practice

Show Notes

After years of professional work experience, how do you leverage your knowledge and put it to good use? After a 30-year career as a global strategic business advisor, including 20-years combined as partner at Ernst & Young (EY) and A.T. Kearney, Jeffery Perry decided to found Lead Mandates where, as an independent advisor, he helps organizations improve business and leadership performance. Today, he shares how his experience helped him reach out, connect, and communicate when starting his independent consulting practice. Learn more about Jeffery’s company at Lead Mandates . He can be reached through LinkedIn or connect through Twitter.

Key points include:

  • 01:46: The strategic steps to building the practice with intention
  • 05:28: The many reasons to serve on a board
  • 09:06: Preparing for the career transition
  • 11:48: Leveraging connections and reputation
  • 15:59: Establishing a pipeline of opportunities
  • 17:09 Joining the board of Fortune Brands
  • 27:38: Establishing multi-dimensional purpose
  • 34:45: A summary of Jeffery’s professional experience

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m here today with Jeffery Perry, who recently retired from Ernst and Young as a senior partner and has set up his own consulting practice, and is here to tell us about that, as well as board memberships. Jeff, welcome to the show.

Jeffery Perry 00:27
Thanks Will, great to be here.

Will Bachman 00:29
So, let’s start with your thinking about and planning for retirement, I’d love to hear that thought process of how you thought about transitioning from a career as a senior leader at a large global firm to becoming an independent consultant. When did you first start, thinking about and planning that whole transition?

Jeffery Perry 00:53
Yeah, I think I started thinking about this probably over the past few years. And it’s actually not an unusual thought process, particularly for big four partners. Because we have a mandatory retirement. So as a partner, you’re either going to retire at the mandatory age, at the regular age, or from an early retirement perspective. So for all of us, as partners, we have to think about what that next phase looks like. This may be different from other firms that may not have a mandatory retirement where people extend their careers much longer at their firms.

Jeffery Perry 01:46
So, for me, personally, I made a decision pretty early on that I wanted my post EY existence to not be really a casual exercise, but much more of a strategic and intentional exercise. So one of the things that I gave a lot of thought to over the past few years is, okay, what is it that I would like to do, post EY. And it really came down to two broad categories. And within each category, what I tried to do was to be thoughtful, intentional, and strategic about that. And one area, like you mentioned, was leaning into corporate board service, you may or may not know that as an active EY partner. We cannot serve on corporate boards, or public boards because of independence reasons. We can do nonprofits, which I’ve done, but the whole concept of being able to serve on corporate board, and bringing years of experience into the corporate boardroom was something that I really look forward to from a post EY perspective. The second area was, I also wanted to have the opportunity to be an independent advisor. As someone with the years of experience that I’ve had across a broad range of businesses and business problems and issues and whatnot, I also felt that there was a lot of value that I could bring by also being an independent advisor. And with regards to that, again, there’s the opportunity to go about that, from a casual perspective, or go about it from a more intentional perspective. And I chose to take the intentional route by launching an LLC called Lead Mandates, with services defined from a business and leadership advisory perspective. And we can talk a little bit more about that in detail if you like. But that was also something very important for me in terms of gives me an opportunity to continue to provide perspective to clients. And also, it’s a way to stay relevant and current and in the marketplace of ideas and dialogues, if you will, that not only could help potential clients, but it could also help potential board opportunities as well.

Will Bachman 04:51
So, I have a question that it’s kind of ignorant and naive, but I’ll ask it anyway. What is the attraction of sitting on a board of directors of a public company? I mean, is the compensation that good? Or is it like prestigious? Or is it like kind of gets you entree to a network of relationships that are fun? Or is it just like a fun thing to do? I mean, I’ve heard other people that want to sit on boards, and I just, I don’t quite get why that’s attractive. I mean, I’m just not exposed to it that much. So I’ll ask this question.

Jeffery Perry 05:28
I think everyone arrives at it for different reasons, I can only speak about it from my perspective. And for me, one of the things that I have really appreciated and valued over my career, in general, has been the opportunity to have significant impact on organizations. And that goes from the clients that I’ve had over the years as a consultant at EY, AT Kearney, or Booz Allen, as well as being able to help nonprofit organizations that I’ve served in board capacities on. So one of the things that I view in terms of board service, is it’s really an opportunity to continue that opportunity to have impact on businesses as they are thinking through different elements of strategy, thinking through different elements of disruption, business transformation, making decisions around their product and service portfolio, if you will. And to be able to do it in a way that isn’t just limited to as if you were in management of these organizations, but bringing a lot of different perspectives to bare that can actually help the management team in terms of being successful in the business and driving shareholder value, as well as value for other key stakeholders, if you will. So, that’s kind of how I think about it. Another thing that I think that drives me is that, from a board service perspective, there really three categories of a role of a board member. One is around oversight, making sure that things are in compliance and making sure that things are the way that they should be from a business perspective. The second is insight, again, bringing perspectives based on your years of experience. Many management teams grow up with people who may be exposed to the issues within that particular sector. But someone with my experience working across industries, working across geographies, seeing a lot of different situations, can bring additional insights that can be helpful to the management team. And then the third area is foresight, so helping to anticipate things that may be of a concern in the future, and asking key questions and challenging management, if you will. So again, everyone gets to this answer in their own way. But for me, personally, those are some of the key drivers.

Will Bachman 08:26
Let’s talk a little bit about how you prepared for the transition. So you told me that you started thinking about it really a few years before you, you did retire across different dimensions, such as relationships, in terms of your profile, your thought leadership profile, in terms of your just individual skill set, and in terms of administrative infrastructure, like setting up a name or an LLC or website, across those four dimensions, could you talk a little bit about how you prepared to launch your independent consulting practice?

Jeffery Perry 09:06
Yes, certainly. Well, first of all, I think that, for me, you can’t get to this stage overnight. So I’ve had a 30 year career in consulting. And throughout that entire career, one of the things that I really focused on was making sure that I drove significant value for clients, and opportunities where I had the chance to lead teams and lead people to being a very inclusive leader. And in those situations, and in other situations, always treated people with respect and treated people in the way that I would like to be treated. So that doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just wake up one morning and say, “oh, I’m going to have a reputation that spans 30 years,” it has to be something that is core to who you are as a person. Having said all that, given the fact that I built my career, built a reputation, built a name for myself in the marketplace, if you will. Then the next thing is to think about, okay, so how can that be translated into what I plan to do next. And one of the things that was really important for me was to recognize that it’s really important to be able to leverage your network. So around the time that prior to my public announcement of my retirement from EY, I started the process of reaching out across my network in terms of here are things that I’m thinking about doing. Post EY be it a core service, launching an LLC, etc. And I have to tell you that I was really humbled by the responsiveness that I received by people that I reached out to in terms of willing to help, willing to provide perspectives, willing to connect me with other people. And again, I think that comes from having a reputation over a 30-year period, frankly. So that was, so that was very important. But it was an opportunity to actually leverage that going forward.

Will Bachman 11:35
How did you actually do that very tactically? Did you send out a blast email? Did you call people individually? Like, how did you get that message out?

Jeffery Perry 11:48
I would say it was a two-pronged approach. And part of it relates back to the focus on board service. So, as you probably know, executive search firms are very interested in board placements. And some of my initial conversations were with some of the usual suspects from an executive search perspective. And those conversations were very valuable in terms of me thinking through my value proposition, me thinking through, what would resonate in the marketplace. And that’s also true to who I am as an individual. But as you probably also know, only 30% of board roles are filled through executive search. 70%, are filled through networking. So, it was important to reach out across my network. And for me, that’s a broadly defined network that includes Harvard Business School, Babson, Executive Leadership Council, Inroads, Diversity Inc., my personal network, that EY network, etc. And to begin to articulate what it is that I plan on doing and to see perspectives, advice, help, support, etc. And, in fact, I remember in mid April, I sent out a message to approximately 50 people. And on that very first day, I heard back from 20 people who were willing to have a conversation and discussion with me. So, that was also very humbling. Because that level of response was very, you know, very, very positive. So one of the things that I do think that it’s important, is that as you think about this transition and whatnot, it does require that you put yourself out there, what would have happened if I sent a message to 50 people, and no one responded. So then you have to think about, okay, so what do I do about that? So, but you can’t not communicate because people aren’t mind reader’s, people wouldn’t necessarily know what you’re planning on doing unless it gets articulated and communicated to people. So, that was something that was a very important step.

Will Bachman 14:03
So it sounds like you sent out a note to people saying, “Hey, here’s kind of what I’m thinking about board service, and then LLC,” and then, it sounds like you also included in there, “Hey, I’d love to discuss this with you and get your thoughts.” So, you’re sending the message, but not asking for, like, “hey, do you have any board seats for me,” but, “I’d like to get your counsel on this and how I should approach it.”

Jeffery Perry 14:29
Yes, that’s exactly the approach that I took. And again, if people have a sense of who you are as a person, these are people that I had interacted with at some point in my 30 year career. And so they placed a certain judgment on that. And then from that, it led to the opportunity of having these conversations and discussions. One of the things that was really a pleasant surprise for me was that, as I had these conversations, I realized that in every conversation, they learned something additional about me and I learned something additional about them. And it was actually mutually beneficial. So in a lot of the conversations, it wasn’t just one way, obviously, it was initiated by me, in terms of, you know, articulating what my plans were and wanting to get their perspectives. But there were countless conversations that I had, where I realized there was a way that I could help the other person, or there was a way that I could get someone connected to someone else. And so that created, a mutually beneficial environment that was very helpful, you know, along the way.

Will Bachman 15:48
Did you eventually reach out to more than that initial set of 50. Folks, I’m curious, like, what the overall kind of approach look like?

Jeffery Perry 15:59
Well, that list of 50 grew to over 100 conversations, because as you talk to people, you get connected to others. And then what also starts to happen is, then you start to become aware of specific opportunities. And so future conversations are different, because it’s not just about an awareness of this is what I’m planning to do. But then later, it becomes, you know, a pipeline of potential opportunities. And for me, those potential opportunities were both in the category of board service, as well as in the category of how my business could be positioned. And what could be some of the things that could resonate from an overall LLC perspective.

Will Bachman 16:52
And now you have joined a board. Can you tell us a little bit about I don’t know what you’re allowed to share? But can you tell us a little about that process of joining a board and how you found out about the opportunity and what the process was like, from your perspective?

Jeffery Perry 17:09
I joined the board, effectively, December 8, at Fortune Brands, based here in the Chicago area. And throughout the process that I had mentioned before, in terms of reaching out across my network, there were touch points with executive search, as well as other people who are aware of Fortune Brands as a potential opportunity. And in the Fortune Brands situation, specifically, I had the opportunity to spend time with management; I also had the opportunity to meet the vast majority of the members of the board. And while these conversations were taking place, I also had the opportunity to do my own independent research on the business, and what their priorities were, how I might fit into their needs going forward from a board perspective. So, I don’t think that I would have been approached about this opportunity, if I had not been proactive in terms of getting the message out into the marketplace, that this is what I would like to do and what I’m planning to do. Again, it gets back to the point of unless you communicate things or give people a way to reach out to you, you may miss opportunities, just because people don’t know that you’re in the marketplace, or they may not know that this was something that you’re interested in. But because I’ve done that, that created the opportunity to have discussions with them, as well as with other organizations as well. And this just happened to be my first corporate board role. And I’m thrilled to, to serve on the Board of Fortune Brands.

Will Bachman 19:08
Can you tell us a bit about how you worked on just the infrastructure, preparing your firm, whether the website or the name or getting a trademark or, even just sort of setting up collateral? How did you go about those sorts of preparations?

Jeffery Perry 19:28
That’s a really good question. It gets back to what I had mentioned early earlier about wanting to take a more strategic and conventional approach as opposed to a casual one. And don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a casual approach. There are tons of retired partners who will say that, I primarily want to golf, and maybe I’ll do some consulting work on the side and that’s completely fine. But for me, I want it to be very intentional. So a couple of things that I thought about early on, was really taking a step back and thinking about, “okay, what would what would my value proposition be?” As an independent advisor coming from years of experience in very large firms and leading practices, and leading accounts at EY etc. But as an independent advisor what could I bring to the table. So I gave myself space to kind of think through that. And I also forced myself to actually write it down. And so for me, it was basically in two categories. One is a set of business services. So if you look at my experience, I have a lot of experience in mergers and acquisitions, integrations, divestitures. And many organizations struggle with thinking through how to reshape their portfolios, if you will. So that was an area where I felt that I could add significant value. Another was in the area of business transformation and disruption. A lot of my clients over the past several years have been disrupted through changes in consumer preferences, the influence of technology, etc. So, you know, there’s a body of work and perspective around that. And then the third was in the area of executive alignment, where many management teams, because there are so many different sets of information coming from different sources and whatnot, sometimes get hung up on actually making decisions. So I’m thinking back, you know, I took a step back and thought about, okay, these are areas where I could add value. And then the other category was in the category of leadership. And one area was in personal leadership, many organizations struggle with their leaders, being effective leaders, particularly when you’re dealing with younger generations, Millennials and the following generations, etc. And being a modern, inclusive leader, and I have a lot of perspectives around that. And then also in the leadership category is that many organizations develop Business Resource Groups, or affinity groups of employees. And there’s the opportunity for those business resource groups to be more effective in terms of driving belonging, and having people that are focused on the overall objectives of the business. So, those are the things that I thought for myself personally, were the areas where I could add some add the most value. So that’s pretty much the premise of Lead mandates, if you will. But to your point of just administratively, anyone can have these ideas with regards to services. But I think the next step that I was focused on doing was making sure that I actually wrote that down, and actually created a website, and actually created a name for the firm of Lead Mandates, and actually going through the process of developing an LLC. Again, for me, it was a way of being intentional, it was a way of being strategic, and it was also a way for people to land if they wanted to get more information about me. Now, I do think that it’s probably the case that most work for an independent advisor, such as myself, initially comes through relationships, if you will. But as things continue to grow, evolve, and develop, I thought it was very important to have a place for people to go to get more information or to get further perspectives. And I would never say that the things that I’ve articulated so far are set in stone, I may find as my business grows, that I may get into other areas and whatnot. But I did feel that it was important to put a stake in the ground and to have a starting point. And then you know, things could evolve from there.

Will Bachman 24:30
I’d love to hear a little bit more about the affinity groups or business resource groups as you call them. I think I’ve never heard a consultant talk about doing some kind of project or work around that type of internal group. Could you tell us a little bit more about maybe how you got interested in that, and about how you see that those sorts of affinity groups could be helpful to a company.

Jeffery Perry 24:59
I think that, it’s not unusual for corporations these days, particularly given the focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity, that many organizations are supportive of affinity groups and Business Resource Groups, etc. in their organization. However, it is important for those groups to be effective, it’s important for them to be additive to the business, it’s important for them to be resource effectively. My perspective is partly driven by the fact that one of the roles that I had at EY, in addition to my other senior roles, was I was the executive sponsor for a black professional network in Chicago. And so I saw firsthand how that Business Resource Group functioned, if you will, how it was chartered, how it was resource, how it focused on both the belonging of people within the group, the importance of having allies across the business, and ways that it could be additive to the business overall. So these concepts are not new concepts for me, nor are they things that are unusual, but there are a lot of things that organizations may miss, when they try to do the right thing by saying, “Yes, we want to have these Business Resource Groups, etc.” But without thinking through, okay, what does that really mean, across multiple dimensions in order for it to be successful for the people who are in the group as well as the enterprise in general?

Will Bachman 25:01
I can easily see how a company would say, “okay, sure, yeah, let’s, let’s have a group for different affinity groups. Yeah, let’s, that’s fine.” You know, HR sponsors that are someone suggests it, but then, I can easily imagine how not that effective maybe they hold a dinner or something, but it could kind of not really go anywhere. What do you see is kind of best practice around that? And how can that affinity group be helpful to the organization? Is it like, helping on recruiting I could imagine from that population, or what are some ways that it can actually be additive to the business?

Jeffery Perry 27:38
I think it’s important to recognize that these groups should be multi dimensional and have more than one purpose. So for example, you could have a group that is focused on creating an environment of inclusion, and belonging, and creating a situation where people feel that they can talk about their experiences and also focus on professional development. That’s just really one aspect and it’s a very critical and important aspect. But I think that there are further opportunities that best practice business resource groups have, and that is additional ways to contribute to the business. I’ll give an example. So, at EY, the firm has strategic growth forum, and an entrepreneur of the year program, where businesses compete for the award of being Entrepreneur of the Year. One of the focus areas of the black professional network from an EY wide perspective, was focused on increasing the representation of black businesses in terms of competing in the EOY program. So, the black professional network teamed with the Entrepreneur of the Year folks, and really coached helped identify in terms of a pipeline perspective, as well as coached businesses to participate in the EOY program. And the result was greater representation in the program. Now, if the network simply was focused on the experience of our black professionals, or focused on just cultural aspects or community aspects, we could have missed the opportunity to really drive greater representation in a program that’s very important to EY as a firm. So my point is, rather than thinking of Business Resource Groups as just one dimensional or just one thing, there is an opportunity to think about it from a broader perspective, because one of the additional benefits is that when you also involve people within the resource group on things that are focused on the objectives of the business, it increases their belonging to the institution and organization. And it gives them more confidence to recognize that they are bringing something unique to the table that will ultimately help the enterprise, but it also creates an opportunity for them individually to have a more fulfilling career.

Will Bachman 30:40
Fantastic. Let’s talk a little bit about the types of work that you’re doing now.

Jeffery Perry 30:57
Things from a Lead Mandates perspective are really in early stages. So, I announced the firm in the fall. So, I don’t have any cases to refer you to. One thing that I have done, that I’m also committed to doing is making sure that, on a regular basis, I get thought leadership out into the marketplace. And the way I do that, is on a monthly basis. Writing at least one article that gets posted on LinkedIn drives someone to the Lead Mandates website on a variety of business topics. So last month, I wrote an article with regard to divestitures as being the unsung part of portfolio management. So the month prior, I wrote an article on, on leadership and how adversity and early adverse experiences that people have, actually helped create them to be better leaders, as opposed to just being part of a personal, interesting narrative. And so, I’m committed to doing that on a regular basis as well.

Will Bachman 32:22
That makes a lot of sense. It’s certainly creating content is such a good way to, one continue to have ideas, and also it’s a way to just remind people that you exist, and to reach out to members of your network and say, “Hey, I wrote this, love to get your feedback,” and so forth.

Jeffery Perry 32:45
And one other point about that I think is really important. And again, everyone has to make their own decision in terms of how they want to approach that commitment. And that is, I didn’t want to put myself in the position of saying, “I’m a retired EY partner, and I’m here to help.” Or to say, “I’m a retired EY partner, so I should be able to serve on your board.” I wanted to in addition to everything that I’ve done across my career, I also want it to be current, relevant and timely, and being viewed as someone who is continuing to engage in the marketplace of ideas. And this is a way of doing that. And quite frankly, it’s actually very liberating, because it creates the opportunity to bring about a perspective on a wide range of topics that may not even have been possible or something that I would have thought of, in the context of when I was at my prior firm.

Will Bachman 34:03
We kind of jumped over this a little bit earlier, when we just started. Could you tell us a little bit more about what you were focused on at EY? I think you talked about M&A, and you have some examples, but can you go like did you have an industry or functional practice.

Jeffery Perry 34:45
Yeah, let me give you kind of like the 30,000-foot level from a career perspective. So I went to Babson College, undergrad, Harvard Business School, after business school started my consulting career at Booz Allen Hamilton in the energy practice where I did a lot of strategy work in the oil and gas and energy space, because prior to business school, I worked at British Petroleum later, I spent several years AT Kearney. It was AT Kearney where I started to do a lot of merger integration type work and I co led our merger under Offering across North America AT Kearney, in the fall of 2004, I moved to EY to basically build an integration and divestiture practice called operational transaction services. And this would have been part of EY’s transaction advisory services. Prior to me joining the firm, the transactions practice was primarily a financial diligence, a text diligence and evaluation practice. But there was no capability in terms of how you operationally integrate an acquisition, or how do you operationally separate a business from a divestiture perspective. So, I joined the firm to basically build that practice, which I did from scratch. I inherited a team of seven people, over a 10-year period that grew to 300 professionals, revenue grew to over $200 million. From a revenue perspective, during my 10 years in that wall, this practice was the highest growing part, the fastest growing part of our transactions business, highly profitable. And it was the most diverse practice within transaction advisory services. And so, that was what I did for my first 10 years at the firm. It’s a great entrepreneurial opportunity in terms of building a business from scratch, in terms of developing a strategy and vision, developing a value proposition for clients, developing a value proposition for people, and developing people within the firm, hiring a lot of people from outside the firm etc. The next six years at the firm, I went from leading service line and competency to leading accounts. So, I was the global coordinating partner for several of our key consumer accounts. So not just M&A services, but all EY services, and in that role, really had the opportunity to drive the agenda in partnership with our clients, and these were Fortune 200 type companies, if you will. So that’s a very quick way of describing what my work experience was like over the past 30 years. Well, that’s incredible building a $200 million business and within the firm, that is amazing. So, Jeff, this has been such a cool conversation to hear about how you were so thoughtful, and how you prepared for this career transition, not really retirement, but just more like the next stage in your career. Where can people go online to find out more about your firm?

Jeffery Perry 38:01
Yeah. So, you can go to www.Leadmandates.com. That’s my website. I’m also very active on LinkedIn. Anyone can reach out to me from a LinkedIn perspective, as well. So I would say those are the two easiest ways to reach me.

Will Bachman 38:23
Fantastic, and we will include those links in the show notes. Jeff, thank you so much for joining today.

Jeffery Perry 38:29
Great. Thank you.

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