Business consultant, Karen Walker, joins us today on Learning From Others. She talks about being one of the first employees at an unheard of startup at the time, and that company later became known as Compaq Computers. Fast forward just a short time later and she helped the company grow from no revenue to one billion dollars. She then took that experience to start with her own consulting services as well as writing a new book where she tells entrepreneurs and business owners how you can learn from her decades of experience in working with Fortune 500 and Inc 500 companies. Please welcome Karen Walker.

Episode highlights:

  • 0:44 – Karen Walker’s Background
  • 3:26 – As an Industrial Engineer
  • 6:41 – All about Billion
  • 8:44 – Job Journey
  • 10:54 – Data Fusion

Learn more about this guest:

Podcast Episode Transcripts:

Disclaimer: Transcripts were generated automatically and may contain inaccuracies and errors.

Hey, it is Damon Burton with learning from others. And today I’m excited to welcome Karen Walker. She was employee one Oh four, a Compaq grew from no revenue to 1 billion with a B fastest growing company in American history at the time and fastest to 1 billion. And also she just had a book come out, no dumbing down, a no nonsense guide for CEOs on organization growth.

And what she does in the book has helped CEOs align their internal strategies to support their external growth. Karen, thanks for joining us. Thanks so much happy to be here. So you have a, quite the book it sounds like, and very cool to be tied into the history of Compac. Why don’t you tell us, you know, what type of companies you work with nowadays and how long ago the compact days were and what you’re up to.

Yeah, great place to start. Uh, so currently I’ve been, I’m working with CEOs and other senior leaders and anything from inc 500 to fortune 50 companies. And I’ve been doing that now for a couple of decades. All of my clients are really focused on growth and I’m focused on helping them support that growth with sort of internal strategies that support.

What they’re doing externally. We can talk more about that later. Um, the compact story, which is really where I got my start, I’ve been engineered by degree and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when compact started. Uh, and when I joined, we hadn’t shipped any products yet. So I took this giant risk, leaving a very secure job at, uh, at a big company.

And, um, Ventured over to see what was happening at this little company, that sort of people I really admired, um, yeah. Or leaving the big company and going over to, but there was a lawsuit between the two companies. So I didn’t even know what they were making. In fact, we thought they were all making hard drives because that’s the division they came out of and not sort of the first portable computer that was IBM compatible, which was a big deal at the time.

Uh, anyway, I went over there. I was really 14 to be part of the senior team that, that led that organization from sort of no revenue to 111 million in our first year. We had no idea that that was going to happen. I’d be almost sort of the behemoth. And we were all concerned almost at any moment that would be put out of business, but that grows continued from the first year to two something second year to three something third year.

And as you said, Fastest to a billion of its time. By the time I left 14 years later, we were at about $15 billion and about 17,000 employees. And my job had grown from individual contributor, um, you know, division of one, uh, to, uh, vice president of operating services, all the global physical infrastructure.

So I had a giant team of hundreds of people and thousands of contacts. Contractors and consultants worldwide massive budget, about a billion dollars in capital spend while I was there and about $15 million a year expense budget. So, you know, really just giant growth on every front. And that started with my, um, the company grew and I was fortunate in a place to be able to do this, but I grew with the company.

So almost every day was a new challenge and new way to develop, to grow my skills and to learn a lot. Um, and a lot of that is both. What’s been applied with my clients over the last couple of decades, but also sort of the kernel of what’s in the book. So what was your background before then? So like you, like, you just kind of illustrated the company grew extensively and quickly, and so your skillset had to grow with that.

So what type of background did you have. Walking into this role. Yeah. So I’m an industrial engineer by degree. Uh, I was working for Texas instruments at the time. Yeah. Uh, which was a really solid growing company. I was working in their digital systems group. Uh, and I was, um, basically building buildings.

So they had a corporate architect. I was like project manager on the ground, uh, and building a facility for them. Um, and so that was, you know, I was, I think I had managed three or four people. Um, in, in a big budget, but not very many people and certainly not the pace, uh, that Compaq had. In fact, when I interviewed with Compaq, I remember saying, um, you know, I don’t think I can do this job.

Because I thought they were building clean rooms and I didn’t know how to build a clean room thinking, you know, like I have to know everything about building a clean room. There are people you hired to do that. Um, but anyway, they were very clear that, uh, yes, I could do the job, even though they couldn’t tell me exactly what it was.

And fortunately I believe them and took the leap and went over. Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask is, I mean, there had to be a lot of faith in what people were telling you to be able to take on the job, because it sounds like you didn’t didn’t know entirely. What the job was exactly. Uh, I, I left based on the fact that I was in my early twenties.

I figured I had, I had literally little to lose. I was just taking care of me. Uh, and it was a, it was an opportunity to go work with people that I really respected and admired and trusted them. Not to be doing something that would be useful and it turned out that was all true. Now did, did those other people you trusted, did they have any more knowledge than you or were you just kind of going sure.

Yeah. Yeah. At that point. And so the people I was, I was interviewing with were the founders and absolutely they knew exactly their goal. By the way, when they started the company was to create a good place to work. Um, So the legend is they’ve met it, uh, something called the house of pies and, uh, they were actually thinking they were going to, you know, one of the options was like a Mexican restaurant or something, but they, they had this idea about, you know, wouldn’t it be great if we, if there was a portable computer, that business issues.

Um, because at that time there really wasn’t. And that was the Genesis. They met with an industrial designer who sketched it out on the, literally the back of a placement. And I’m off to the races. It’s so interesting to hear about these stories of these mega companies that start in restaurants or on the back of a napkin.

And it happens more often than, than you’d think. Right. Yeah. And you don’t know, right. Which ones are gonna make it and which ones aren’t there? Lots of good ideas. Uh, but it’s the, you know, their ability to get, you know, this was back in the early eighties. And so it wasn’t sort of the Gogo tech scene that it is today.

Uh, they were based in Texas for one thing, not, not out in Silicon Valley, although it was a shadow of itself today. Um, and they, uh, got venture funding from a company called seven Rose and based in Dallas, um, And then just had a lot of things who go the right way in addition to all the hard work and the idea.

Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. Um, uh, when you talk about a billion dollars in these days, it’s obviously still a ton of money, but like you hear about it more frequently. And so I don’t think you really put into perspective how big a billion dollars. Was especially, you know, a couple of decades ago.

Right. And the, just the, the infrastructure it takes to make a billion dollar company work. Um, you know, it’s one thing to have a billion dollars in sales, which is, which is amazing. Right. Um, but often today, what you hear is billion dollar valuation. Yeah, right. Our company was valued at six, you know, MuleSoft, which is a terrific company just sold itself to Salesforce.

And I think their valuation was a little over $6 billion. Uh, but to have a billion dollars in sales, right. Our evaluation was many times that we were public company, but yeah. Great point. Yeah. Well, this is cool. You know, one of our other guests, he was one of the first employees at overstock. And so, um, yeah.

You know, it’s great to be able to talk to people like yourself that can speak to these war, the history of these water respected companies. So you’ve put in your time at compact, which by the way, how long were you a compact? I was there for 14 years and it was amazing. Uh, our founder, uh, left maybe 10 years in.

Uh, uh, was summarily fired by the board and it was a big change at the company. Um, the whole, uh, the, the Val I think the values of company changed at that point, what we were focused on, why people came to the company, uh, and there was like open weeping in the hallways, which was something for a company that size.

There’s a really good movie, by the way, it’s a little camp, but it it’s a lot of fun called Silicon. Our boys miss out on either Netflix and iTunes. Now it was put out two years ago by an Academy award winning director. Um, Silicon Cowboys premiered at South by Southwest, which was a lot of fun. And it tells the story of compact.

Um, not just the, the insight story that focuses on that, but also the way that compact really changed. Um, computing and really ushered in the era of open standards. Yeah. Yeah, no, I’m going to, like, I got that written down here. I’m going to catch up. Yeah. Okay. So you do your time at Compaq and then, you know, where do you go from there?

Is that where you jump into doing your own thing? Or was there a little bit of time in between doing some other stuff? Yeah, I, I sorted out after about 13, 13 and half years that I, my job was just going to get bigger. It wasn’t good. Get any different. And while it was an amazing job, I was flying all over the world, meeting with, you know, famous architects and buying land to build and buildings and.

You know, good stuff. Love my love, my staff. Um, I did do that the rest of my life. And at a certain point in a big company, you can’t just move laterally. Right. Um, that’s, you know, I sort of had my niche and I wasn’t going to be able to do much different than what I was doing just more. Um, so I, um, gave notice and I took time off.

Uh, and I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I was really fortunate again, I just had me to think about, um, but I also, um, had, you know, been there early enough that I hit some money, the bank, and I know I could put food on the table without worrying about that. So, um, and I was too busy to know what I was going to do next.

I couldn’t figure it out because I was too busy with my work. So I quit. Um, I moved to New York city. I took classes at Columbia. I, um, if there was an interesting speaker or a conference, I went to it and I just generally gave myself time to think. So it was a big inflection point in my life. Um, I have what I think about as my walkabout.

For a couple of years, I moved to a houseboat in Sausalito and lived there for while, while I worked first, my first consulting job, which fell on my lap for a startup out there. Um, and I met my now husband. Who’s a PhD, psychologist and consultant, and he was working with CEOs and senior leaders. And.

Primarily tech organizations, uh, to help them grow their companies. And that fascinated me because that was what I really missed about compact. So I went back to Columbia university. I did a program there, so I got the theory to go with the. The practical knowledge that I had about running an organization.

Uh, and the two of us worked together for about 10 years, primarily as I say, the tech companies, but fast growth organizations, um, helping them accelerate and grow sustainably. So you had mentioned that a startup kind of fell in your lap if we were talking offline and you had mentioned witnessed systems, is that the, is that the startup you’re referring to.

That was actually not started. The startup was a little company called data fusion, which was a really cool technology that was ultimately acquired by, by a larger company. A witness systems is a really interesting company, uh, as a consultant, if you look back, I think this is true for most of us. Um, it’s most of our work tends to come from referrals.

Uh, and it usually starts with one or two companies or one or two people that you can trace everything back to. So if you want to about the power of networking there, it is a witness systems was a cool company that actually did, um, voice recording and sort of data mining for call centers. So not so big today, but 10 years ago, uh, it was a company that, um, we’ve worked with in Atlanta.

Uh, Bob and I work. Actually on vacation in Bali, not too worried about work. Uh, when we got an email from the CEO who, who Bob had worked with in Boston, who said, Hey, I’ve just flown to Atlanta. I have a new team. Uh, please come help me put all this in place. Uh, and so we did, uh, and that was a company that really spread, um, as the company grew and people came and went, you know, other people took us with them, but, but wouldn’t, the systems is interesting because they were, they eventually bought another firm.

Um, and then later were bought by yet another firm. Uh, they were a public company, um, and they, um, in my mind sort of populated a lot of the Atlanta tech scene as people came and went from that organization. Um, but they were, um, Um, a company that might say probably led to 80% of our subsequent business.

Wow. Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s, I, I totally agree on, um, you know, in consulting, even with my company, um, as a marketing agency, there’s been points time for several years where, uh, you know, there’s, there’s one gentleman who’s become a good friend of mine over the last decade. When I was first starting, he was one of my.

Maybe first half a dozen clients. And over the course of the years that followed, he sends them built, built and sold five businesses in 10 years and I’ve helped him with those. And then in addition to that, there was probably a good three to four year stretch where he sent. 20 to 30% of my business. Just this one guy.

Oh, that’s great. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I’ve worked with a whole variety of companies. As you said at the start, I worked with a CIO at Aetna, for example, you know, big old steady company. And that was. Part of the problem. They were a steady company and, um, they brought in a succession of CEOs to try to make change, uh, with the new strategies.

And people would say, Hey, I’ve been working here for a long time and I’m just going to put my head down and keep doing what I’m doing. And this change will pass. And they, and that’s exactly what happened for many times. Um, but this, this man white teaching, uh, who’s a really good CIO, uh, was able to make some significant change there.

Um, Through, um, through working with his leadership team, um, in the work that we did there on a large scale. And then I worked with a company called, uh, organization called Champlain college, um, which was, uh, a college private college it’s sort of on the forefront of, um, a lot of changes are going on in the education world.

And they had a new CEO and new president who brought us in and, uh, had an amazing vision and we helped him implement it. That, uh, and to really go to fact, there was an article in Atlantic monthly, um, I don’t know, maybe three years, four years into his tenure. Uh, and the guy writing the article said, you know, it was doing a sweep sort of colleges across the U S and he said, if I could.

Could go to college today. This is the one I would pick. And so, um, that was just very successful. And so my, my dream is always working with a CEO with a great vision, um, a great product, uh, in a, in a market that’s growing. Um, and then helping execute on it. It’s amazing how big of an impact, just one person with the right vision and the right personality and ability to connect the team, how big of an impact they can drive on a company, even, even.

You know, even, especially beyond just a small company, but these large companies that you’re talking about. Now, one thing you had mentioned that I thought was, um, worth revisiting, as you talked about where you had after your, your time at Compaq, you had the financial stability to kind of take some downtime and figure things out.

And you know, a big part of our audience is entrepreneurs or people that are looking to jump into that world. And I think it’s really important that, um, To to explore like you did and not even if not, even if it’s in between things, even if it’s, before you start your first thing, don’t, you know, find what you like and, and dabble and break things and kind of figure out what, what path you want to go down instead of committing and then regretting it just because you want to commit to something.

Right. I think that’s great advice. Uh, the one thing I would say is that my time between Compaq and consulting, um, was anything, but. Downtime. It was just not getting paid time. Right? I was, uh, I was so enthused about the, uh, really being able to fulfill all of the curiosity that I had about what was possible, um, because we get in these, these boxes we don’t get in.

We put ourselves in these boxes, uh, where we don’t see what the possibilities are. Um, in fact, my advice to people is, uh, is not to do what I did. Right. Unless you have great financial stability, greater financial stability, even than I had, uh, don’t just quit and go figure out the next thing, but do down and, uh, try new things and, you know, introduce yourself to, to fields of study.

That seem interesting. Um, because it’s, it’s not that, you know, they’re very free. Sure careers today. Um, mostly what happens is we figure out what our strengths are. Um, we, uh, understand enough about our blind spots, so they don’t get in our way. And then for those of us that are lucky, we find, um, a place where we can apply those things.

Um, and that doesn’t always happen on the first try. Just keep learning, keep learning from that. And then eventually you’ll slot yourself into, Oh yeah, this is what I love doing that I get up in the morning and just ready to go get at it. Yeah. You know, it’s funny that you say that you don’t recommend people necessarily do exactly what you did because there’s, I’m starting to realize there’s this reoccurring theme with some of our guests where they had this, like a thing they did that.

Greatly contributed to their trajectory. And they said they wouldn’t change it, change it for the world, but then they get, then they say, don’t do it at home. Yeah. And I think, you know, if you think about who’s on your podcast, the people for who did that and it didn’t work or not going to be at your podcast.

Yeah. So there’s, there’s a there’s correlation and then there’s causation. Um, and, um, if you’re miserable in your job, change it, right. Um, if you’re not miserable in your job and you have the, um, the luxury of really, you know, trying to sort out other things and then definitely do that. Yeah. And I think that even goes beyond just the job, it seems like, um, you know, that’s, that’s a common topic in, in these influencing groups that online that I participate in and a lot of people lately, Uh, Lee, you know, you get to a certain point in success and as, as you help others and others ask you questions, a lot of the simple stuff is what makes a big difference.

So not only if you’re not happy at your job, find a new job, but also if you know, it’s okay to find new friends, it’s okay to, to change anything. I mean, some of us have toxic friends, even family, some of us have toxic jobs and you gotta. Put yourself first before you can take care of all this other stuff.

And it’s not a selfish thing. You got to figure yourself out first before you can make the rest of the world. Right? Yeah. I have a friend who always reminds us that, um, when you get on an airline, they always tell you to put your oxygen mask on first. Right. So, uh, make sure that you take care of yourself and, and, you know, I have some friends I’ve had forever.

Um, I have many friends I’ve made along the way, particularly through, uh, through client work. And, um, I, you know, I’m not the same person that I was 20 years ago. My interests are not the same. My hobbies are not the same. I don’t live in the same place even. So I’m fortunate to have friends all over now because of my travel.

But, um, I think it’s important to, to be curious and to feed your curiosity and to try new things. And that’s going to include meeting new people. Yeah. So you, you just mentioned, you know, I live in the same place anymore. So why don’t you tell our listeners where, where these jobs kind of took you? I mean, did, did you have to relocate for some of these.

I didn’t have to relocate for my work. Um, but I somehow was born with a triple well gene. Um, I was actually born in Atlanta and daddy was at Georgia tech and, um, then we moved to Wyoming and then I grew up in West, Texas out in the oil fields. And I worked in Houston, uh, when I went to Texas, uh, college in Texas, worked in Houston for the better part of 15 years.

Um, and then when I did my walkabout, I moved to New York city to get to someplace completely different. Moved to Sausalito, as I mentioned. Um, and then I met my, we have an airplane. Um, and then I had, um, then I met my now husband. We moved to Vermont, actually, where I lived for 20 years. And I, now I live in South Florida, uh, just North of Palm beach.

And, uh, whereas I tell people I’m most often found a loft on CTC. So I’m a, I am rarely in one place. Yeah, no, it’s good to get out. Um, what, so, uh, are you got future relocations on the horizon or are you kind of sticking it out there? Well, I D I don’t know. It’s certainly we’ll be here for a while. Um, you know, we’re here, my husband was done with winter, and so Vermont turned out not to be the place to be for this part of our life, although it was an amazing, amazing place to live.

Um, and so we’re down here for the, uh, the fishing and the water and the. Sunshine and winter. Um, and I have to be near the airport. I am, and it’s all working right now. Good. Now you had mentioned your parents, your dad worked in the oil field and it’s it’s worth noting offline. I had asked what contributed most to your success on one of the items you had said is that your parents were encouraging and told you you can do anything except work in oil Hill.

That’s it goes back to your earlier statement about don’t do what I did, right? Um, no, and I was, uh, I grew up, as I said, in West Texas in Odessa, Texas, my high school, by the way, was the Friday night lights high school. Right. So it was, there was nothing but oil and football. And I was always told I could do anything I wanted to do.

Um, and I was really math and science. So, you know, I got an engineering degree. Um, and as summer intern job, One of the, I interviewed with a lot of oil companies because I was in Texas and I wanted to go work in the, in the field because if you’re going to be good at something, you need to have sort of boots on the ground to understand, I think the basics of the, of the company, uh, and, uh, my parents, the only thing they ever told me I couldn’t do.

And when I look back on it, it’s probably sort of wise advice that they gave me, um, right. You don’t need an 18 year old young woman, um, out working in the oil field, not in that day and age, I’m not sure it would have been, um, conducive, um, for, for anybody, but it was, um, they steered me in other directions and through being steered in other directions, I got into technology and never looked back.

Good. Yeah. You know, I have, I have extended family that are in the oil fields and, uh, they don’t recommend it nowadays either. Yeah. Daddy, you know, daddy ran daddy how Southern, uh, ran a company and, um, and he, he knew just from being out in the field that. No, it wasn’t the right place for me. And I think he was probably right.

Yeah. So, so what else do you think attributed to your success beyond, um, the support of your parent? Yeah, so amazing parents, hands down, number one. Um, secondly sort of, I had access, so the privilege of access to education and books, um, I was constantly fed books. Um, and so I read all the time. I mean, almost I think to the detriment of.

Of, uh, sports, but I, I just forgot mostly red and so having access and having that supportive of my family. Um, and then there are these couple of clear inflection points in my life. One was this, um, time after compact that we talked about earlier. Um, I also, um, that came as in Buddhist, about 30 years ago.

Which I think has helped me tremendously in terms of my ability to stay present to what’s going on around me. I do a fair amount of coaching work with CEO’s and other seniors, the leaders, and you never know what’s going to come out when the door is closed. Um, and so just being able to be present in the moment what’s going on, um, and to sort of have a bigger view of things and I might otherwise have had.

No, it’s been really important. Um, and I, I think I continue to take time to think, um, I haven’t done it in a way sort of quitting my job and, you know, taking time off for that. Uh, I do meditation retreats a couple of times a year that are silent, where, um, I don’t have new input into my system, into my brain.

Uh, and so I’m able to sort of synthesize and think about things from a bigger picture standpoint. And I think that’s also been a really foundational to the work that I do. You had also mentioned offline, um, something you had just said about thinking bigger. And I had asked what’s something you would tell your younger self or the audience, uh, what, what makes you say that, that you would tell your younger self to think bigger?

Yeah, so, you know, we don’t know what we don’t know. Uh, and so that’s what, that’s what blind spots are. And I think anything you can do to help yourself. Understand what those blind spots are and in particular to understand what’s possible. Right? So if you think of a young girl from West Texas who grew up, you know, basically surrounded by sand and oil and football, um, I had no idea that, that I could travel the world the way that I had.

I had no idea that I could work with the people that I’ve worked with. I had no idea that that. That I, that I could, um, actually be, yeah, my engineering degree that I didn’t know what that was much for about liberal arts. Um, there, there’s just this big world out there that you don’t have that I didn’t have exposure to.

And I think in terms of our individually, really understanding we’re capable full of so much more than we might think we are. Um, either because people don’t have the self confidence to go try new things, um, or they somehow don’t think that their work is valuable enough. And so I think if you can, if you can think bigger, uh, you’ll be able to see your greater value and you’ll be able to contribute in bigger and better ways to the, to, to whatever it is that you’re doing.

W was there a point where you said, wow, and kind of realized where, where your perspective changed, where you, where you realized there was no ceiling. And he went from, from the woman that didn’t realize you could do all those things. And then he said, wow, there’s nothing I can’t do. Was there a specific kind of time you remember where that transition happened?

Yeah. Um, I would, it was certainly after it was certainly, yeah, after compact sort of during compact, when we were, uh, you know, I was, if I look back on it, it’s really amazing, not just what I did, but what the whole team did. Um, but when you’re in it and you sort of see all the problems and my, just the successes that you’re having, it’s hard to.

Hard to understand how that looks from the outside. Um, I think it’s, uh, it’s certainly, um, over a period of years, there wasn’t an aha moment. Um, but just through the steady, uh, seeing the impact of my work, um, on individuals and organizations, uh, and seeing that there’s a pattern of that. Uh, and as a, you know, as an engineer, I’m.

I’m definitely into patterns. Uh, so seeing the CNL, seeing those patterns of success, um, I, I, now I now believe when I go into an organization that I can make a difference. Uh, and by the way, if I don’t believe I can make a difference, I don’t go in. Um, yeah, I, um, taken on two clients over the last 20 years that I wasn’t sure I could make a difference for a variety of reasons.

And, uh, both of those did not turn out. Um, you know, they were unsuccessful. Um, and I, I, I now know sort of trust my trust, my gut about those things. Yeah. I actually just made a post similar to that this morning. That it’s, that it’s okay to say no, you know, obviously it, it sucks to turn now the money and the opportunities, but, uh, like you said, you got to trust your gut and longterm.

It tends to work out in your benefit. If you do. Exactly. So you’re you, wouldn’t you like working with companies where kind of, kind of two things stood out. If I caught it correctly, one is that you like to work with good C level execs and then two is that you like to work at companies that have growth opportunity.

So, um, yeah. Who are you working with these days? You don’t have to name names, but you know what? These are again, you know, what’s going on. Yeah, well, definitely all companies that are growing. I have several clients that are in the inc 500 now, couple in the inc 100. Um, and so there’s a lot of, um, sort of growth on every level.

Um, there’s a lot of, uh, mergers and acquisition work that I’m currently in. Um, my little brother, who’s also in the tech field, although he said. No VP for development for company, different, different part of the world. Um, he referred to a company that he previously worked for. He said we don’t have an M and a department.

We have an M and D department. And I’m like, okay. So you hope to me, what’s M and D stand for, and he said, Oh, we merge and destroy. He said he was a bigger company systematically by all these little companies. And then we just completely destroy all the value that we paid for. And so a lot of my work right now actually is, um, helping in M and a make sure that that value gets delivered.

Uh, because a lot of people get rewarded for making a deal, but not so many people get rewarded for making the deal work. Yeah. So that’s funny, it’s a fair amount of work on making sure that that both from a merger standpoint, but a lot from an acquisition standpoint that that value gets delivered. Um, so I’m primarily working with tech companies.

As I said earlier, I have a couple of clients who are not in that field and that’s all good. Um, but I’m working with, uh, Um, a big roll up, um, about $150 million company now, healthcare space, healthcare tech, uh, I have several, um, smaller, you know, 15 to $50 million tech companies, uh, primarily software, uh, SAS businesses.

They’re just go, go, go. Um, and then, um, a couple of others that are, uh, that are in tech, but not SAS. So here in a minute, as we kind of get closer to wrapping up, I think this will be the last kind of business question I asked you. Um, so explain to our listeners what it’s like to work with you. So when, when these companies get referred to you or are you interested get introduced somebody, you know, where do you start?

Um, obviously the timeframe, timeframe time range will vary based on the project, but you know, what are kind of averages. Yeah. Great question. So I’m going to separate that into two categories. Um, I do, um, a fair amount of coaching that’s one-on-one with CEOs, um, particularly newer CEOs, but I’ve got clients that have been CEOs for decades, uh, that I’ve, that I’ve worked with for a number of years.

Um, and so that actually starts just by first of all, sort of assessing both who the person is, what their goals are, what their strengths are, what their. What their development needs are for the role that they’re in today because, um, these, these senior level jobs require different things. Um, and I can’t remember who said it, I’ve heard it attributed to several people that sort of what got you here.

Won’t keep you here. Right. Um, and either Marshall Goldsmith or Jack Welch or. Maybe they set it at the same time, but what got you here, won’t keep you here. And so that tends to, that tends to be with what happens is that people get into jobs. And, uh, when you get into uncertain situations, you do the things that made you successful in the past.

And they’re not necessarily the right things for the new job. So helping CEOs and senior leaders be successful. Um, so there’s that aspect. Um, Typically with a company, I go in either through a CEO or an SVP of something. Uh, and I work with them on making sure they’re clear about what they’re doing and why, which is strategy work.

And by that, I don’t mean a big binder, like on the shelf behind me, but, but are you really clear about what you’re doing and why? And can everybody in the organization answered that question? Um, so that’s, that’s one. Um, and then, um, secondly, working with the leadership team initially, uh, to make sure that they are aligned and they are working together and pulling in the same direction, um, because it’s, it’s unbelievable to me, how often you go into an organization and that’s not happening.

Everybody is maximizing their function. And nobody is optimizing for them whole. And I think this is where my industrial engineering background stands me in good stead because I’m all about effectiveness and efficiency. And so really, and only now mostly with the human system. So we’d look at tools. We look at processes, but mostly we look at behaviors and how do we get those things in sync and meshed in such a way that the organization moves forward?

Right. Uh, in a way that optimizes, uh, both their short term profits and their longterm viability. Um, and then, uh, I typically work with clients over a period of years until there’s some sort of exit, uh, that occurs whether that’s being bought by another company. In which case I might also help with, uh, uh, the integration work, fair amount of integration work.

Um, but typically it’s an number of years. Okay. Well, w with all these heavy responsibilities, what are you doing? Your downtime? Oh, um, well, we talked about downtime earlier as a concept. That’s a little foreign to me. Yeah. So the, when I’m not doing this kind of work, I’m doing other things. Um, I’m read voraciously, um, and I listen to podcasts.

And so thank you for having such a high power podcast. Cause I, um, those are, uh, are things that I have in my day, every day. Um, I meditate daily as I’ve mentioned earlier. Um, And I do these silent meditation retreats. Um, you know, and I’m in South Florida. So every once in a while I’m able to get on the water and catch a fish or, um, just enjoy the big, beautiful outdoors.

Yeah. I, uh, you know, here, here in Utah or, or it’s actually snowing out the window right now is as we’re talking. So, um, I need my sunshine. I’m a little jealous of the. Before the other thing I’ve been doing when I was not sort of focused on clients were, um, was this period of the last year or so when I was getting my book written, um, which was a new experience for me and a big learning experience.

Um, and I’ll say, and, uh, at the end, very, um, One that I’m happy that I did. Um, but it was a lot of learning about doing that, but it was a sort of a growth goal that I set for myself. Yeah. So as we kinda wrap up, let’s talk about your book. So it’s called no dumbing down and it just came out last month. Uh, tell us about the book and then I actually have some personal questions, uh, about, uh, how you felt about the writing process, because I’m, I’m right behind you on a book.

Great. I’m glad to hear that. And you’ll have to tell me more, um, uh, after we wrap this up, uh, yeah, so this book is called no dumbing down. Um, and I was, uh, a long time sort of figuring out what that title should be. Um, but I it’s one of. My five strategies in the book. So this book is really aimed at senior leaders in an organization, and you might think, well, that’s a pretty limited audience for a book.

Um, but I think it’s most helpful there. It’s definitely useful for other people in the organization to understand what’s most important to see your leaders and as they grow and develop themselves, um, it’s also, um, Aimed at and used by a sort of private equity and VCs, uh, to help them help their CEOs who have roast situations.

But as we think about, um, sort of teamwork as usual in an organization. So, um, one of the things that I’ve discovered in my work is that teams can only function at the lowest level, um, that are the lowest functioning member. Works out. So you people come in to do team, um, and teams are important. It’s important for us to get our work done both individually and working through teams.

Um, but the high flyers often have to do dumbed down to this sort of lowest performing members level. Um, and when that happens in an organization and it’s happening, um, In a way that it’s not caught and dealt with, um, it dumps down the organization. Um, and that’s really one of the things that makes a players leave organizations because they’re not able to work with their full potential.

So there’s, there’s both, uh, what to, what to look for to make sure that’s not going on. Uh, but also the what to do about it. In the book. And then there are a number of other strategies, including some ways to make sure you have time to think, which we talked about a few times earlier today. Um, a strategy for managing growth.

Cause one thing we know about growth is that it just not going to happen in a straight line. It doesn’t for us individually. It certainly does it for organizations. How to, yeah. Sort of put guardrails in place so that you have strategies that you’re able to pull the trigger on when your growth doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Um, and then how to take parts of your organization, have them function more like utilities so that you can spend your time on the parts of the organization that can’t function that way. I think about this sort of like a startup to grown up continuum. We think about that as being sort of one way, right?

We want our companies to go from startup to grownup companies, but grownup companies can get so bound up in process that they’re not able to function well and react to be agile. We talked about merged into story earlier, so they buy a startup company and they think that’s going to make them more agile, but they just get smothered.

Um, and so thinking about this continuum and how to pick the right place on the continuum for the situation that you’re in. Because definitely you need processes even compact. We started as a big company in the formative stages. So we put process in early, but we weren’t bound by the process. So when situations occurred that required a start up response, we were able to do that.

Um, and that’s one of the things that’s in the book. And then lastly, um, I think what happens sometimes when I read a book and I know this is true for my clients as well, or if I go to a conference and go hear an amazing speech and I was like, that was great, but so what I’m, and I don’t think any of the surely have time for a lot of sweat in our lives today.

So the last part of the book is really focused on accountability. How do you hold yourself accountable to doing something different? Um, and how to, how do you help your organization hold itself accountable, uh, to make sure that you are doing the right things differently, uh, in order to make your success?

I think that’s a great way to add that accountability at the end, because I, myself, I I’ve been that person where I read a book and they say, that’s great, but. You know, I don’t feel like I’m gonna take any action on it, right? Yeah. So, so where can listeners find out more about your book? Well, um, no um, is a place to start.

You can also go just to my website, which is KarenWalker.US that’s all traditional spelling. a. And there’s a link there for the book as well. And it’s available on sort of all the Amazon Barnes and noble, uh, places. One might normally find a book. Very cool. Karen Walker, I appreciate your time today.

Yes. Thank you so much. Enjoyed our conversation. Thanks for making it a real dialogue. Yeah. Now, uh, what I don’t tell guests is we end with a random question generator. Oh, I’m ready. Let me crack my knuckles and get ready for that. Your question is, if you knew you couldn’t fail, what’s something new that you would try.

Oh, this is great. You know, I asked my clients this question all the time. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Cause that’s part of the thinking bigger. It’s a great random question for you to ask. Um, so for me, um, the book, the book was my last year as if, if I knew I couldn’t fail because no matter what happened, I was going to learn something.

Um, and so for the year coming up, if I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I try? Um, wow. Um, I have to say it’s taking on a different kind of client. Yeah. I’m taking on a client that, um, taking on clients in different ways. Um, so really thinking about right now, I have, um, uh, sort of, uh, clients that I do individual work with.

And then I have these really high, high growth clients. Um, and so how do I create something that lets me work with people in the middle? Let lets me work with people perhaps through podcast. Um, such as, yeah, I have a podcast, but it’s very different from what you’re doing today. Uh, perhaps through some sort of online courses or what’s a different way for me to read it, um, and, and work with people.

Very cool. Well, as we get off, I said, I want to talk to you about your book and I can probably give you some advice on the course. I just finished a course so we can chat about that offline. Well, Karen Walker, everybody. Thanks again for your time. I enjoyed it. Thanks.


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Business consultant, Karen Walker, joins us today on Learning From Others. She talks about being one of the first employees at an unheard of startup at the time, and that company later became known as Compaq Computers. Fast forward just a short time later and she helped the company grow from no revenue to one billion dollars. She then took that experience to start with her own consulting services as well as writing a new book where she tells entrepreneurs and business owners how you can learn from her decades of experience in working with Fortune 500 and Inc 500 companies. Please welcome Karen Walker.

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