William Achtmeyer

Founder & Senior Managing Director, The Parthenon Group

Be humble enough to change course.

As the chairman and managing partner of The Parthenon Group consulting firm, Bill Achtmeyer T’81 has worked with hundreds of senior executives at Fortune 500 companies. A former chairman of Tuck’s board of overseers and a director of Briggs & Stratton Corp., Achtmeyer shares five pieces of advice for managing a large organization effectively.

1. Have a clear sense of what you want to be. If someone asks what your organization’s reason for being is, you have to have a short, pithy answer. If you’re Disney, it might be “creating magic.” If you’re Goldman Sachs Group, it might be “the best global financial adviser.” If you have this, make sure you constantly reinforce it. If the idea is simple and becomes ingrained in the firm, it can be really powerful.

2. Keep a Kitchen Cabinet. At any point in time, you need to have three to five people you can really trust and go to in order to get an unvarnished view of the world. These can be both people on your management team or outside advisers, including board members or lawyers. You can’t rely too heavily on a single person because sometimes he or she just won’t be available.

3. Live by the values you and the firm espouse. Hypocrisy rankles. Whatever your firm’s stated values are, make sure you adhere to them personally and professionally. If you emphasize meritocracy but only promote favorites, that’s not going to ring true in the organization. If you say you’re entrepreneurial but you rarely take suggestions or only take them from a select few, that’s not consistent.

4. If you don’t revel in the job, get out. The pressures of being a top executive are enormous, so if you don’t love the responsibility, do something else. If you’re there just for the bonuses or the private plane or whatever perks come with the job, if you carry the burden too heavily or are beginning to lose interest but want to maintain power, it’s not going to work out over the long term.

5. Be humble enough to change course. The pace of change in today’s business world is so rapid and the amount of information available is so great that you’re constantly having to reevaluate things about your company. Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group Ltd., and Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express Co., are both examples of people who’ve been able to adapt established companies to keep up with the times. 

Continue Reading

Related Stories

Charles F. Preusse II

A partner at Ridgeway Partners, Charles Preusse, II T’95 is a matchmaker of strategic talent.

Read More

Peter Raskind

After guiding National City Corp through the financial crisis, Peter Raskind D’78, T’79 found civic engagement in confronting two of Cleveland's public crises—for the sum total of $2.

Read More

Christoph Böhmer

Christoph Böhmer T’96 is helping lead a 500-strong volunteer effort to resettle Afghan, Iranian, and Syrian refugees in Germany.

Read More

Lauren Krostue

Lauren Krostue T’10 tried working in other industries, but something about the hospitality world kept drawing her back.

Read More

Suzanne Schaefer

After Tuck, Suzanne Schaefer T’02 went into management consulting, figuring that eventually she might connect with a particular industry—to her surprise, she instead felt a strong pull toward recruiting and talent development.

Read More

Jayne Hrdlicka

At Tuck, Jayne Hrdlicka T'88 learned to think deeply and challenge convention—skills she draws on today as CEO of the Jetstar Group of airlines.

Read More

Shawna Huffman Owen

If you think the Web made travel agents obsolete, Shawna Huffman Owen T’98 has news for you.

Read More

Kathryn Baker

Kathryn Baker T'93 is a true expert on boards of directors. She has served on more than 20 of them over the last 16 years, ranging from oil and gas companies to Norway’s Central Bank to Tuck’s own European Advisory Board.

Read More

Carolyn McGuire

Over twenty years ago, Carolyn McGuire T’83 helped form Community Consulting Teams of Boston. It’s still going strong today—and facilitating a lot of good work.

Read More

Victoria Levy

T'98 Victoria Levy’s post-Tuck career took off with The Monitor Group, an iconic strategic consulting firm where she became a partner by age 33. Now, the firm has been acquired by Deloitte and Levy is guiding the integration of the two practices.

Read More

Michelle Mooradian

Fluent in four languages and passionate about entrepreneurship, Michelle Mooradian D’95, T’04 went from her post-Tuck consulting job at Opera Solutions to spend almost five years working for McKinsey’s Rio de Janeiro office.

Read More

Kate Grussing

After positions of increasing seniority at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, and JPMorgan, Kate Grussing T’91 decided she wanted to transform her career by helping others transform theirs.

Read More

Amy Feind Reeves

A consultant turned job coach, Amy Reeves T'92, was able to research, model, and project the successful future of her business using the skills she acquired at Tuck.

Read More

Francis Barel

In much of the Middle East and North Africa, cash is still king. PayPal’s Francis Barel T’05 wants to change that, and open people’s lives to the world along the way.

Read More

Deepa Prahalad

A new book on design strategy by Deepa Prahalad T'00, daughter of management guru C.K. Prahalad, was rated by Fast Company as one of the 13 best design books of the year.

Read More