Podcast

Episode: 66 |
Tim DeRoche:
Novelist and Consultant:
Episode
66

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Tim DeRoche

Novelist and Consultant

Show Notes

Our guest today is Tim DeRoche, a McKinsey alum and independent consultant who is also the author of The Ballad of Huck & Miguel, a novel published in February 2018 by Redtail Press.

The Ballad of Huck and Miguel is a retelling of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which Tim imagines that Huck is alive today and instead  of traveling on the Mississippi with an escaped slave, Huck is living in Los Angeles and travels along the Los Angeles River with an undocumented immigrant.

It is a fabulous novel with wonderfully inventive language and great fun to read.

In this episode, Tim and I discuss how he came to write the novel, and how he combines this creative pursuit with his management consulting practice.

Independent consulting provides the career flexibility to pursue a career as an artist in parallel, and Tim’s experience is a great example of that.

I hope you enjoy this discussion as much as I did.

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

Will Bachman: Tim, it is great to have you on the show.
Tim DeRoche: Thanks for having me, Will.
Will Bachman: So Tim, in your latest book, there is a line that says, “She explained to me that she was something called a management insultant.” And this is from your new book, The Ballad of Huck & Miguel, which we want to talk about a little bit.
So you were both management consultant and a published novelist, which, I really, really enjoyed your novel.
Tim DeRoche: Thanks.
Will Bachman: Give me just kind of an overview here, and then we can start in and talk about your novel first and then talk about your consulting practice.
Tim DeRoche: Sure. Well, first I feel I should address the management insultant line. The book that I’ve written is a retelling of Huck Finn, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, and the great thing about Mark Twain is he directs his keen eye at everyone, including himself, and so in the book, we … The book’s really an adventure story, but along the way we poke fun at a variety of folks, and I thought if I’m going to poke fun at everybody else, then I should at least poke fun at myself a little bit for being a consultant, and so there, that’s where the line comes from.
Will Bachman: I love that, a management insultant. That was genius.
So give us your thumbnail bio here. So give us your thumbnail bio and then we’ll spend some time diving into the book a little bit.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. So I was a business analyst at McKinsey in the LA office, was actually an English major undergrad. When I was going to school at Pomona College, I didn’t even know what management consulting was. I had a bit of a math and science background, but during college was really rebelling against that. And then a year after I graduated kind of had a friend, a good friend, who stumbled into consulting or got into consulting. And I was like, “Oh, wow, that sounds really interesting. It’s problem-solving, it’s analytical.”
And so I started researching and applied to McKinsey and somehow got an interview. Was very unusual for someone to get an interview a year out of school at that point, and very unusual for an English major to get an interview. But like I said, I had a background in math and science and had a really good math GRE score. So while there were some other consulting firms that said, “No, we can’t take you. You’re an English major. We don’t trust your math skills,” McKinsey asked to see my GRE scores, believe it or not, and so they understood that I actually had some math skills. And it turned out that the case interview kind of fed into my strengths and so did better than expected. I probably benefitted from the fact that folks had low expectations of an English major going into a case interview.
But so did two years as a BA in LA and then applied to business school, got in, and just decided, “You know, I want to go out and have some more experiences,” and so spent a bit of time … I had done some pro bono consulting for the LA Unified School District when I was at McKinsey, and so went into school reform and worked for a nonprofit that was a joint venture of the business school and education school, doing consulting projects for the LA Unified School District. I was young and naïve and thought, “Oh, hey, we can just transfer these great models that I saw work so well at McKinsey, we can just take those and do them for this great behemoth of an organization, the LA Unified School District.” So really fascinating experience, in retrospect was not very successful in that effort, but really, really great experience.
And then went to work for Knowledge Universe, the big education company founded by Mike Milken and Larry Ellison, and was a private equity analyst there for a while. We purchased what at the time was the fourth largest childcare company in the United States, and so moved up to work at that company as the director of strategic planning, and then ended up taking a gig for another Knowledge Universe company, which was producing TV-based science curriculum for kids. And so went there to be the executive producer of a TV show, a science tb show, aimed at third and fourth graders. And that’s really where I made the transition into writing.
Will Bachman: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You produced a TV show?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah, yeah. So that’s sort of where the pivot came where my business life met my writing life. So yeah, an executive at Knowledge Universe came into possession of this company, this small little company that was doing a TV-based science curriculum for kids. And so they had a fictional TV show in which science would factor into the plot, and they were just launching a new show, and so she installed me of the executive producer of that show. And so I was kind of overseeing the budget, taking bids from production companies, all of that kind of stuff.
Once that got off the ground, I hired the head writer for that show, who was kind of a classically trained theater writer. And I said to Doug, “You know, I’d really like to write some of the episodes of the show. I have a background in writing. I was an English major. With your help, I think I could do this, so let me write a couple episodes.” And so he let me do that.
One of the other writers fell out, was not a good fit for the show, and they ended up liking my writing. So in addition to being the executive producer of the show, I ended up writing about half the show. And so that’s where I started. Really, what I got was a paid tutorial on how to write for the screen from this guy, Doug Anderson, who had been the head writer for one of the big soap operas, he had written for 3-2-1 Contact, so was kind of operating both on the creative side of that show and on the business side of that show.
And then after that sort of launched my independent career both as a consultant and writing, and so have kind of been doing both in parallel since then.
Will Bachman: So this is such a genius example of a lot of people do independent consulting for different reason. Some people just a full-time way to make a living solely, and that’s 100%. Then some folks do it because they want to do some kind of passion on the side, do something creative. And wow, you’ve done it. I mean, you’ve written a book and it’s published. It’s awesome. I love it.
And maybe you could give us the kind of thumbnail description of the book, and then we can talk, kind of go into detail on it some. But how do you describe it to people?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. So it’s a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn. It’s set on the LA River. And so for folks who are familiar with the original book, the book is really targeted not at children. If you read Mark Twain, the original Tom Sawyer is really a kids’ book. Huck Finn is not a kids’ book. Now, the protagonist is a kid, the narrator’s a kid, but it’s not meant for kids. I mean, there’s some different racial stuff, there is a lot of social satire and irony, and a lot of that’s going to just go over the head of most kids.
So this is a book for adults. It is an adventure story. It is not meant to be high literature, right? So Twain has a great quote where he says, “Fine literature is like wine. My books are like water, but everybody likes water.” Right? So Twain did not think he was writing high literature. And certainly what I was trying to do was write a great adventure, write a tribute to Twain’s original.
And so the LA River in Los Angeles, it’s been channelized, so in many parts of the city the river is just a concrete ditch in many ways. But there are three distinct parts of the river that are wild, what they call the soft bottom portions of the river, where there’s actual wildlife and trees and you can kayak down these portions of the river.
And so I was out doing a kayak trip with my wife one time, and it’s about the same time I was rereading Huck Finn, and just started thinking, “Okay, this is kind of a cool place. There could be an adventure. What if Huck Finn were alive today? What if he were traveling down the LA River instead of the Mississippi River?” And then the natural next question is, “Okay, who is he escaping with?” And so then in the original, Huck is escaping down the Mississippi with an escaped slave. In our case, he’s escaping down the LA River with an undocumented immigrant.
Will Bachman: Now, you really have just inhabited Huck’s voice in this book, and it’s all written from Huck’s point of view, just like the original Huckleberry Finn. One of my favorite parts of the book, and I’d love to hear you talk about this a bit, is you’ve made up a bunch of words. And for me, part of the fun has been just coming across these words where you have like, distractified, relucterant. He goes to a cockatiel party. He talks about his curiopathy instead of his curiosity.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. Skyscratchers.
Will Bachman: That was on my list, skyscratchers. Disgustable, suspecticle, adjusticate. It was just so much fun coming across these words, which often sort of, I don’t know if they’re called portmanteau words, or they combine two words to sort of kind of make sense. Tell me about how you came up with these. Was it a very deliberate process of … I’d love to hear the sort of constructive process of how you came up with these words.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. Well, so the original book … Huck’s a naïve kid. Huck Finn, the original book, was originally banned, not because of racial concerns, but because the literary community did not believe that Huck spoke like a proper child, and he does not speak like proper child. He speaks in a vernacular of a hick kid. And the other thing that Twain does, is he … the original Huck Finn mangles the English language in a really creative way. And so what was so much fun for me in writing this new retelling was to try and match that and to take it to new places.
And so in the original book, Huck is messing up words, he’s using things incorrectly. He does not use correct book grammar. And so the fun for me was to try and match that and to have Huck be describing a modern environment, but then be using these new words, these words that they’re incorrect, but in some ways they are correct and they combine two other … in many cases, they combine two other words, like you were saying, that are somewhat related and they’ve kind of taken on a new meaning of their own. If I’ve done my job correctly, they’ve taken on a new meaning of their own.
It’s a great question, Will. Part of that was just being in Huck’s head and trying to match that voice and to let my creative juices take over and not overthink it, at least in the first draft. Now, so some of those … skyscratchers came out of nowhere, I think, if I remember correctly. This is what Huck calls a skyscraper. He calls it a skyscratcher. So that one came just unbidden. I don’t know where it came from.
There was a process. The rewriting process had a lot to do with reading the book over and over and finding those words and saying, “Okay, which ones of these work, which ones of them seem clumsy, which ones are the ones that are going call attention to themselves,” which I did not want. Right? I wanted this to seem very natural and I wanted each word to have a specific meaning, to conjure something up in the reader’s mind. And not every one of them from my first draft was doing that, and so a lot of the revision was, “Okay, let’s find the ones that I love that are working. Let’s take the ones that aren’t so good and either get rid of them or replace them with something that’s funnier or more interesting or that more directly captures two words and smashes them together.”
Will Bachman: I mean, there’s no doubt … And I mean, I can imagine adopting some of these words. We know exactly what you mean. Like, “I was distractified.” That is probably different than, “I was just distracted.” When he adjusticates to a new situation, it’s a little bit different than just adjusting to it, but I know exactly what you’re getting at.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. I love the English language, and it was really fun to just grind, riff on it a little bit. And we definitely, we’ve integrated some of those words into our … I have two young kids, and so we … skyscratchers, they are no longer skyscrapers in our house; they are skyscratchers. And turtles are no longer turtles; they’re turkles.
Will Bachman: Well, you can look at those skyscratchers with your bifoculars, right?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah, exactly.
Will Bachman: That’s awesome. And then you also incorporate a bunch of social commentary, obviously, so there’s a lot of topical stuff, there’s a section where you make some reference really to the whole housing crisis and the mortgage crisis, where there’s this fellow who’s offering Miguel a million dollar mortgage and says, “Don’t worry if you can’t pay it off, because the government’s backing it up,” and Miguel just sort of really has a lot of integrity and turns it down. So tell me maybe about that one or about some of the other places where you are inserting some sort of very current news events into the book.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. It’s one of the things that’s so great about the original book, right? So the original book is an adventure story. They’re escaping down the Mississippi River, but along the way, Huck and Jim encounter all of these different folks, communities, con men, just a variety of different people that allows Twain to sort of poke fun at American culture and poke fun at what’s going on around him.
And so I wanted to do that, as well, and so right, there’s just a lot of … They run into a lot of different folks, both before they start their adventure and then after their adventure. It just allows me to have a little bit of fun in talking about some of the current things that are going on in our culture. The mortgage crisis comes into play. There’s a group doing a protest down by the river. There’s a religious group down by the river. And there’s an old vet along the river. So it’s just way to kind of work in different things that are going around us in the culture and kind of have a little bit of fun with them.
Will Bachman: Yeah. Huck’s kind of attitudes towards Mexican immigrants evolve a bit over the course of the book. Talk to me a little bit about that arc and maybe what you’re hoping to convey with … And he uses the term, which could be construed potentially as … He uses the term Mexigrant, one of those other portmanteau words for Mexican immigrant. Talk to me a little bit about his evolution and maybe awakening on that score.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. This is another place where I’m kind of riffing on the original, right? And what I’ll say is at the very beginning of this project, I was talking to Laura Trombley. Laura’s the former president of the Huntington Library out here in Los Angeles and is a Twain scholar, appeared in Ken Burns’ Twain documentary. And Laura said to me something that really resonated. She said that Huck Finn, the original, is not about slavery, it’s not about race. It’s about an abuse kid, an abused boy looking for a safe haven.
And so that really rang true to me. Now, there is a subplot around race and a subplot around slavery in the original in which Huck goes from seeing Jim through a very … Seeing Jim is not fully human, and then over the course of their journey … Jim in many ways is the hero of Twain’s original book, and Huck kind of comes around. There’s a famous scene in which be kind of the emotional climax of the original book in which Huck is considering Jim in, because he’s been taught that it’s wrong to help an escaped slave and he’s feeling guilty that he’s been taught that this is the last person on earth he should be helping is an escaped slave. He should be turning this person in.
So he thinks about turning Jim in and he writes a letter, and then he can’t do it. He’s come to love Jim and Jim has protected him and saved his life. And he says, “Well, if they think I’m going to hell because I’m helping this guy, he’s my friend, I can’t help it, I’ll just go to hell.” And so he decides to continue helping Jim and continue on the journey.
And so that is analogous to what goes on in my book. Huck’s been sort of trained by his dad to think of undocumented immigrants as not fully human in this kind of racially derogatory way, and so there’s a bit of a journey there where he befriends Miguel. Miguel protects him in as many ways as a replacement father, since Huck’s father is a psychotic racist. Miguel kind of becomes this pseudo father for Huck and Huck comes around and kind of figures out, “Okay, clearly Miguel is my friend,” and hopefully he comes to see him as fully human. That’s at least what I was trying to go for.
Will Bachman: Well, your experience writing for the screen, writing for the TV show, clearly comes to a ness, because it feels very much paced and very cinematic, I guess, throughout the book. The chapters are clear, different scenes. Each one has a bit of an adventure and a story to it. How deliberate was that, and could you see this sort of being made into a film? Have you kind of studied the save-the-cat kind of books and kind of writing for the screen? Talk to us a little bit about that, about how deliberate were you in trying to craft this per those principles that you’d learned with the TV show.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. So very deliberate, and in fact, this book started as a screenplay. So I wrote a screenplay for Huck Finn on the LA River, and for a couple years was trying to get that movie made. Very difficult to get indie movies made of kind of a medium budget amount right now, and so, so far that hasn’t happened. Although the success of the book may lead us to revive that project.
I used all of everything I learned, both from writing for the kids’ TV show, and then I studied screenwriting, so feature film screenwriting I studied for many years after that TV show, and all of that fed into how I structured the book. To me, screenwriting, the craft of screenwriting, is tapping into a lot of very deep psychological things in the human mind. And so I just, I write that way naturally right now. It’s such a part of the way I see the world.
And so the book is definitely structured along what would call the three-act structure in the feature film screenwriting world, in which in Act 1 there’s some sort of equilibrium. You kind of introduce the characters to some sort of status quo, and then something kind of comes in and perturbs that status quo for the protagonist and kind of sets up that protagonist on some sort of a journey.
Act 2 is the protagonist struggling through trying to reach this goal that was set up by Act 1 and often failing, often failing quite impressively, so overcoming obstacles. And then there’s usually a big turning point at the end of Act 2 where you think there’s kind of a false happy ending, and then you think everything’s going to turn out okay, and then something happens that changes the circucstances and the protagonist ends up losing everything.
And then Act 3 is sort of the process of the protagonist learning that what they really wanted after all along wasn’t really what they needed, and somehow they get what the need.
And so that three-act structure really underlines the book and informed how I approached kind of plotting it out.
Will Bachman: It also informs just about every strategy document that … Situation, complication, resolution …
Tim DeRoche: No, I’m so glad you mentioned that. That’s the first thing, when you’re learning screenwriting after coming out of the consulting world, right … and especially McKinsey, right, McKinsey teaches you that situation complication resolution, right, that storyline that’s at the front of every strategy doc, right? And it is, you’re totally right, Will, that structure is just deep in our brains and people respond to that structure.
And in many ways, in the early days of my writing, I tried to keep those two parts of my brain separate, the writing part and the consulting part, and I thought, “Oh, the consulting’s my analytical businessy-type world, and screenwriting’s my creative kind of more emotional world. And really, I’ve come to learn that there’s a lot of overlap. And I’ve tried to bring lessons from the writing into how I approach serving clients. And that’s one way, just mastering that storytelling, and then there are a few other ways, as well.
Will Bachman: Tim, could you elaborate on that a little bit more? So much of the learn the craft of consulting, particularly for folks who came out maybe more of a business training, is learning to tell those stories, is learning to synthesize all these interviews and all the data and all the analytics to tell a more emotional, more narrative type story that people can understand, believe in, and support, rally behind. Can you talk a little bit more about how you have incorporated your lessons learned from screenwriting and writing into your consulting practice?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. I think when I started as a consultant … and I think this is common for a lot of folks, right? You think, “Oh, if I put the facts, right, if I put all the facts here into these nice, PowerPoint charts and I run the client through this PowerPoint deck, then they’re going to understand where I’m coming from and they’re going to change how they act. And really, that’s what it’s all about. I mean, if at the end of a consulting project, if the client isn’t changing the way they behave, if they’re just acting exactly as they were before you came in, then you’ve failed.
And I think what I’ve found over time is that the importance of the facts, right, that you’ve laid out, and the importance of that PowerPoint deck, it’s not as important as you think it is. It’s probably much less important. And that’s not to say that I don’t work very hard on PowerPoint decks, but the key is how you talk to your client, right, and how you work through their problems with them and understand where they’re coming from and try to help them see things from a different point of view. And often that involves storytelling, right? If you can give them a different story that they tell themselves, that they tell the people they work with, then that story can lead to changes in how they behave and it can lead to changes in how the business operates.
It doesn’t always work, right? It’s a hard thing. As a consultant, you’re coming in trying to make a change, and it’s very hard for folks to change how they do things. There are reasons they’ve been doing them the way they have. And everyone around them is expecting them to continue to operate as they’ve operated in the past. And so to get them to really change, you need to get them to think differently, and often the way we come to think about things differently is through story, right? We have one story, or we’ve been telling ourselves, “If that gets replaced by a different story, then that’s going to be reflected in different ways of behaving.”
Will Bachman: Yeah. Beyond the sort of the three-part, three-act structure that you mentioned, are there other kind of narrative tricks from the screenwriting practice that you’ve found helpful, ways to tee things up or ways to tell the stories, either in the document or face to face?
Tim DeRoche: So a couple things. One thing that I learned from a screenwriting teacher was at the end of every screen in a screenplay, the last line in the scene should be an action line that indicates how is the protagonist, right? You’re following some protagonist in this scene, and the last line of that scene should reflect what is the protagonist’s emotional reaction to what just happened. That scene had some significance for the protagonist, otherwise you wouldn’t have put it in the movie. And the last line of every scene just indicates, okay, was this person surprised, is this person angry? Is this person sad about has what just happened? How are they processing what just happened? Because you want the audience member who’s watching the movie or the reader of the screenplay to be processing the events in the same way that your protagonist is processing. And so that was very useful to me.
Will Bachman: From Star Wars. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. I think they say that in every movie at least once.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah, no, it’s true, it’s true. And that wasn’t something that I knew, right? I mean, originally I thought, “Oh, you structure all these sequence of events and you just write them down and then the audience or the reader of the screenplay has an emotional reaction.” So that was really interesting to me, and it’s paralleled I think in a way by interactions with clients. I’m always reminding myself that most … 99% of people are processing so many of your interactions with them in terms of, “What does this mean for me,” right? Not necessarily, “What is right for the business? What’s the right strategic decision? What’s going to make my company the most money?”
They may be seeing it through that lens of what’s right for the company, but they’re also … They have an emotional voice underneath that is processing everything you say in terms of, “What does this mean for me? Is my job safe?” Right? “How am I positioned with the hierarchy at the company?” And as a consultant, I’ve found I’m almost always underestimating the emotional piece.
Does that makes sense, Will?
Will Bachman: It does. I mean, you’re right. People are always thinking, “Okay, what’s this mean for my division? What’s this mean for my group, my personal job? Is this going to contradict the forecast that I made six months again, the analyses that I did?”
Tim DeRoche: Exactly
Will Bachman: So all those kind of thoughts are … Even if you’re saying, “We’re going to grow sales 10% … ” Is this going to make me look bad?
Tim DeRoche: Yep, it’s totally true. The other thing, I think … and it’s something you can see in really successful McKinsey partners, right, is just put away the PowerPoint deck, right? Not that the PowerPoint deck isn’t important, and all of the thinking … If you’ve done your job, the PowerPoint deck helps you structure your thinking about the problem. By the time you’re talking to the client, you should have internalized all of that. Not meaning that you’ve memorized every chart, but that you’ve memorized the rationale of the new story, right?
The PowerPoint deck sort of provides this very fact-based more details, hashing out of the story. But the story, you should have that story in your head a very high level, and having a meal with a client and talking through everything that was in the PowerPoint deck but in a conversational way and in ways that utilize some of these storytelling lessons, I think that’s a very … and understanding what their emotional state is, ’cause an executive is not a machine, right? An executive’s a human being with emotions, and they’re motivating their team with emotions and they’re communicating with their team every day with emotions. And sort of being able to put the PowerPoint deck away and have honest conversations with your client and being able to actually listen to them and respond in ways that allow them to see things in different ways, even with all this training, I’m not always sure I’m doing it that well, but that’s where I feel like I’ve made the most difference for clients.
Will Bachman: I’ve go a question around sort of mechanics for you, and it’s probably maybe the more trivial questions that a writer gets, but I’m really curious of how you combined writing this book with consulting practice. Was it that you did consulting for six months and saved up money and took three months off, or was it you carved off every Friday, or you woke up at 5:00 AM and wrote for two hours every day before you did your strategy document? Could you talk a little bit about how you combined your independent consulting life with this novel-writing life?
Tim DeRoche: Sure. So I’ll tell you exactly how it happened. The screenplay for this story had been written, and it had been kind of marinating in my mind. And I got it in my head that it might work as a novel. And I hadn’t written prose. I had written some very poor short stories, some very embarrassing short stories, when I was a young man, like in my early 20s. But I hadn’t written prose for a while, so it was a little bit daunting, and taking on a classic like Huck Finn, and so I had been putting it off. And I got a call from an ex-McKinsey colleague who said, “Hey, we’ve got this big earnings improvement project starting in two months,” right, or six weeks or two months or something like that.
And these are big prescribed projects. They have a defined time frame. I’ve done these projects before. They’re big teams for big companies. They are very prescribed and they kind of take over your life. And so I knew I wanted to do that project, but I was like, “Hey, I’ve been talking about writing this book. If I don’t write this book, if I don’t make progress on this book by the time that project starts, I am going to be really angry at myself.”
And so I sat down in … it was 2016. It was the very beginning of 2016, maybe even the end of 2015, maybe December of 2015, and I knew I had six to eight weeks to get a start on this book. And so I wrote … I sat down and I wrote about a third of it in those six to eight weeks. Now, I had the advantage that I had outlined the whole story a couple years before when I wrote the screenplay, so I knew where everything was going. I had the advantage that I was working from Huck Finn, one of the greatest books ever written, and I was riffing on that, so if I got stuck I could always go back to the original.
And so then what happened is I wrote a third of the book, felt really, really good about it. It came much easier than I thought it was going to come and I was having much more fun with it than I expected. It was just a really, really fun writing experience.
And so I had to set it aside when that project started and did that project for four months, maybe a little bit more than four months, and then came back to the book that late spring, early summer, and so wrote the final two-thirds of the book over the summer. And kind of took a little bit of time to jump back in. It wasn’t totally easy to transition from crazy consulting world to, “Okay, I’m going to go back and write this whimsical adventure book.” But once I did, once I made that transition, then it kind of poured out of me again and was able to finish it in a couple months.
Will Bachman: Can you tell us the types of consulting projects that you typically work on?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. So my consulting practice kind of has three legs, one of which I just mentioned, which is these big earnings improvement projects. Will, I don’t know if you ever did an AVA while you were at McKinsey, in activity evaluation analysis?
Will Bachman: I did. I’m not sure if all our listeners have done one, but I had the pleasure of doing one of those once.
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. These are big … We call them earnings improvement projects, and there is sometimes a growth component, but the bulk of the project is often focused on cost reduction, so these are big, prescribed projects. It was a McKinsey alumni kind of spun out and it’s sort of an AVA 2.0 or an AVA 3.0. I actually never did an AVA when I was at McKinsey, but my understanding is that this project is sort of a riff on an AVA. So those projects are often with a company called VG Capital Partners. There’s a bunch of mostly McKinsey alums, and so have worked with them on several of these big earnings improvement projects.
Secondly, I do kind of classic McKinsey strategy projects for middle market companies. So these are companies that are smaller usually than the companies that we’re doing the earnings improvement work for. So this is often marketing strategy, market entry strategy, things like that, for companies ranging from a hundred million in revenue to maybe up to a billion.
And so I can give a couple examples. So did a big project after Obamacare was passed, for a big life insurance company, looking at, “Okay, what’s going to be the impact of Obamacare on the health insurance market? What’s going to be the impact on our customers? What are the risks and opportunities for us?”
Did a project for a landscape maintenance company looking at new technologies that allow for the kind of better application of water, so irrigation. Typically landscape companies just put down enough water until everything’s green, and so their new technologies allow you top put down water appropriate to the weather conditions. And so kind of did a big strategy project for them looking at, “Okay, how can these technologies help our customer save money, what’s the ROI for our customers, how can we sell them on these technologies?” So those are just a couple of examples.
And then the third leg of my practice is I do a fair bit of strategy work in the education sector for nonprofits. So these are often much smaller organizations that are funded by grants from some of the big foundations, and so the big foundations in the ed space, like the Gates Foundation or the Walton Foundation, they often want their grantees to work with someone who has a strategy background from the business world. And so they will give the organization a grant to work with someone like me. And then I kind of come in and I act almost like the McKinsey partner, right? I’m partnering with the executive director of the organization, talking them through, “Okay, what are you trying to accomplish? What assets do you have as an organization that would enable you to do that? Where do you have gaps? How much capital would you need, right, to execute this plan, and what does your team look like?” And so really functioning in almost a McKinsey partner type role with the EDs of these kind of mid-sized nonprofits.
So I’ve done work for the Colorado Leagues of Charter Schools. I’ve done work for Green Dot Public Schools, which is a big charter school operator out here, actually run by a McKinsey alum. And there are lots of other add reform organizations like that that I’ve helped in that way.
Will Bachman: What’s your thinking going forward? Do you see yourself continuing this dual life of creative writing and consulting? If the book turns into a screenplay, could you imagine yourself just focusing purely on screenwriting? What’s sort of your ideal next five to 10 years look like?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. I mean, I think most likely I will continue doing both. The one exception would be that if we’re able to make a movie out of Huck & Miguel and I’m attached to that to direct that as I was attached the first time we went out and tried to make that happen, then I would probably have to set consulting aside, at least for a bit.
I really love consulting, and it activates a different part of my brain than writing, and writing’s also a very solitary endeavor, right? You’re sitting in a room by yourself. And certainly publishing this book has been not a solitary endeavor, but the writing itself is fairly solitary. And I really enjoy the problem-solving of consulting and the interacting with folks who are trying to achieve some sort of business goal. It’s really fun and it’s really fun to try and … I really believe in the client service aspect and I really enjoy that part, and so it brings me something that the writing can’t. So I anticipate I’ll probably keep doing both.
Will Bachman: I’m always curious to hear about the morning routines of folks. Do you have any kind of special morning routine or any routines throughout the day?
Tim DeRoche: Well, yeah. I mean, often the best time for me to write is early in the morning, and I can make a lot progress. Now, when I say that, if I’m into a project, whether it be Huck & Miguel or another writing project, or working on a PowerPoint deck, if I’m really into it, usually I’ll do it any hour of the night that is available to work, any hour of the day or night that’s available to work.
But certainly the early morning hours are a … It’s just a good time to be creative and it’s a good time to get work done, and so I agree you. I don’t have any specific routine, right? I have an office that’s a separate building that’s on my property. And so I walk outside from our house and go out to office and work. And so it’s great to have a special space that’s kind of reserved for work but that’s so easily accessible and that’s just on the property that, it just leads to … it enables me to be pretty productive.
Will Bachman: That’s very cool. Is this like a little shed that you have, like a little writer’s shack or something? What’s this other building?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. Well, so, it was here when I bought the house. It’s really one of the few things I’ve done to the house since I bought the house. It was a shack. It was kind of a shed. It was filled with books, actually, because the guy who lived here before was a filmmaker and a writer. But it wasn’t finished. And so I just had this … It’s probably 100 square feet. I’m standing in it right now. And I just had it finished, so it’s got a TV. I can watch movies in here if I want to. And there’s tons of books. But it’s literally off our back yard, so I look out on a lemon tree and I look out on my views the hills and here in LA. And so it’s a very peaceful place to work, either of my types of work, either consulting or writing. It’s just, it’s really nice.
What I love about this setup for a home office is it’s just outside to house, right? I mean, my daughter’s old enough now, she knows how to come out and knock on the door, and I’m fine with that. Usually I’m very happy to see her. But it is separate from the activity that’s going on in the main house, and so it gives me a little bit of sense of separation. So I’m just very grateful for that.
Will Bachman: Yeah, that is a great setup to have, to be able to have something separate from the house but also just a commuter’s walk across the yard.
Tim DeRoche: Exactly. Exactly.
Will Bachman: That is awesome.
You mentioned books a bunch of times. Are there any two or three books that you have gifted most often?
Tim DeRoche: You know, I love … Let me think. I love … My favorite novel of all time is probably the Magus by John Fowles. You can read it. It’s a great rollercoaster of a book. You can read it as pure pulp, but it also has some levels of … It’s just more intellectually interesting if you want to go there.
And then what else? What else do I read? I mean, I read so much, right? I mean, I read a lot of older stuff. Right now I’ve been going … I’ve written this LA book, and so I hadn’t really read a lot of old kind of the classic Las Angeles books, and so I’ve been going back and reading all of these classic Las Angeles books to see how have other writers processed Las Angeles. And so I’ve been reading books like Ask the Dust by John Fante, which I think is wonderful. I read a book called Baked by Mark Haskell Smith, which is also wonderful. So those are two good ones.
And then I like old … I just, I like finding old … like I read John le Carre books, the spy novels. I read Patricia Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier, and then I read high literature. I was a big, big fan of Faulker, although I haven’t read Faulkner in a couple years, so I should probably go back and revisit Faulkner at some point.
But I try to read a lot. I probably read more than the typical person at this stage.
Will Bachman: When do you read?
Tim DeRoche: When do I read? Well, I read when I have breaks. I’ll read at lunch. If I don’t have a lunch meeting, I’ll read while I’m eating. I’ll read at night before I go to bed. If I’m really into a book, then it just kind of takes over and I’ll just read it until it’s done.
Will Bachman: What’s the best way for folks to find you, find your consulting practice or find information about your book? Do you have any websites you want to share?
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. So I have two websites. So timderoche.com is my writing website. So that’s where information about the book is. You can see we have a wonderful three-minute video about the making of the book. This is an illustrated book, and I worked very closely with a printmaker, a Mexican American printmaker here in Las Angeles, who just did incredibly gorgeous work for this book. And so there’s a three-minute video kind of describing his process and how we collaborated on the book.
Will Bachman: I really, really loved that video. That was so nicely done, and the wood cuts were such a genius choice. They really enhance the text. So I definitely-
Tim DeRoche: Yeah. I just feel so fortunate. Thank you for saying that. My friend Roy did that video. It’s a great little video that sort of communicates kind of the emotion. This was a labor of love for both me and Daniel, we’ve become good friends through this process, and that short little video just kind of captures that.
So there are links to that. There’s also links to some of the media. We’ve had a great response from the media, and so we’ve gotten great reviews for the book so far. And so there’s links to all of that stuff up on my personal website, which is my writing website, timderoche.com, and DeRoche is D-E-R-O-C-H-E.com. And then I have a consulting website, derocheconsulting.com, which is just sort of a single brochure site that sort of describes the types of projects that I do and lets you know how to get in touch with me on the consulting side. So both places are great places to go.
Will Bachman: Well, Tim, I am looking forward to seeing the film of this book.
Tim DeRoche: Me, too.
Will Bachman: Shout out to any Hollywood producers out there. This would be really fantastic to see on the big screen. And also would love to collaborate with you on some project at some point. It’s awesome talking to you and hearing about your work in both of those worlds.
Tim DeRoche: Yep. And I would love to collaborate with you, as well. I love what you’re doing with Umbrex, Will, and please let me know next time you’re out in LA.
Will Bachman: All right. Hey, thanks a lot for joining.
Tim DeRoche: All right. Have a great day.

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