Debunking the Stereotypes of Ambitious Women, with Nancy Tseng
Episode 77: Debunking the Stereotypes of Ambitious Women, with Nancy Tseng
Nancy Tseng, West Coast Mergers and Acquisition Leader at West Monroe Partners, has been surrounded by ambitious people from a young age. Having been exposed to the hard work and perseverance of her mother and grandparents, she’s taken that ambition and created her own illustrious career. After making connections and networking at Stanford, she was exposed to the world of engineering. In this week’s podcast, Nancy talks about the importance of networking, the need for more women in management consulting and the women who impacted her life and career.
00:00 S1: Welcome to the Ellevate podcast: Conversations with women changing the face of business. And now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.
00:13 S1: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, here with my co-host, Maricella Herrera. Hi, Maricella.
00:21 S2: Hey, Kristy. How's it going?
00:24 S1: It's a great day, actually. I have someone special who's gonna be joining us on the podcast today. Little Morgan, who's four, and is joining me in the office because it is always important to show your kids what you do everyday. And I know she's one day gonna be kicking butts and taking names and doing some great things, so I'm gonna start early getting her excited about that.
00:47 S2: I think she already is.
00:49 S1: Yes, she is. Morgan, are you excited to be on the podcast today?
00:54 S3: Yeah. But can you move so I can see this? [laughter]
00:57 S1: She's watching her tablet. I wanna just ask you a quick question, okay?
01:01 S3: What?
01:02 S1: What do you like about coming to Mommy's office?
01:06 S3: I like snacks and seltzer.
01:09 S1: Oh you like the snacks and seltzer?
01:11 S3: Mm-hmm.
01:11 S1: Do you like coming to the office?
01:14 S3: Yeah.
01:15 S1: What does Mommy do everyday?
01:19 S3: Your work.
01:20 S1: I do. What do I do for my job?
01:25 S3: You do this.
01:29 S1: Oh, so I talk on the podcast all day?
01:33 S3: Yeah.
01:33 S1: Okay. Well, I wish that's what I did everyday 'cause it's fun. That's one of my favorite parts of my job. Will you come back again soon?
01:41 S3: Why?
01:42 S1: 'Cause I like having you here.
01:45 S3: Okay. Just let me...
01:46 S1: Okay who's your female role model?
01:49 S3: Mommy.
01:50 S1: Mommy? Oh well, thank you. That's sweet of you to say. Okay, you wanna go back to your spot or you're gonna stay here? Okay. So Morgan is our special podcast guest today, lots of fun.
02:03 S2: She is such a great little addition to the team when she's in the office.
02:08 S1: I know, it's either Duffy the Dog or Morgan. [laughter] I don't know, they're equal footing for me, but both good. And if you, our lovely podcast listeners, don't follow us on Instagram, you should. I hope that you do because we always have fun pictures of what's happening inside the Ellevate offices, including our special guests, like Morgan, Duffy the Dog, as well as many of our podcast guests. And you get to see pictures and videos live as we're taping. So it's a fun feed. I like our Instagram feed.
02:40 S2: I do too, it's fun. It's good to see tons of encouragement, tons of positivity, and amazing people on there.
02:50 S1: Yes, absolutely. So Maricella, you've been really busy this month.
02:55 S2: I have.
02:55 S1: And can you share why you're so busy this month?
03:00 S2: We've been doing tons and tons and tons of stuff. And one of the big things that we're doing is, it's September, it's one of our biggest months every year because we're getting back from the summer and it's a great time to regroup and think about what's going on in your career. So we've been doing that at Ellevate, seeing what we're gonna do next, but we're also running a great promo from membership. It is a great time for people to join the network, find a community, find your squad of these people who can support you to get to where you wanna go and do it faster and smarter. If you join in September, use the promo "your squad" and you get 20% off of Ellevate membership.
03:39 S1: Excellent. Yes. And we hope you'll join the Ellevate community. We have over 500 events a year. We're rolling out some fantastic new products as well as a great community centered around education, support, and accomplishments. And so we're really looking to close the gender achievement gaps in business through that power of networking and community. And before we get to our fantastic guest today, part of what makes our community so great is their thoughts and opinions, and we love sharing every week on the podcast the insights from our community around your burning questions. What is the insight for this week?
04:20 S2: Since we've been talking a lot about female role models, and in your conversations with Nancy Tseng, who's our guest today, I know this came up. We asked our community what is the most important quality in a female role model. 28% said authenticity, 25% said integrity, 16% said courage and fearlessness, 12% said resilience, 7% said it's about being able to identify with the individual, 4% said hard work and commitment to reach their goals, and 3% said poise and charisma. The funny thing is that only 2% said it was ambition, and 2% said it was being successful. It's more about the actual qualities of that person versus where they get.
05:12 S1: It's interesting because I think ambition is such an important quality to have, and yet, and particularly with women, it is considered a negative.
05:24 S2: It is.
05:26 S1: And it's coming out, how I read that data is that women perceive other women that are ambitious as less of a role model or less inspiring.
05:38 S2: Yeah, I get...
05:39 S1: But I do think we're inspired by women who've accomplished great things and broken down barriers and who are resilient and all the other things. I don't know, I may be over thinking that a bit but...
05:56 S2: No, I get where you're coming from. There's a lot of research that shows that, women who are ambitious or "bossy" are labeled very negative instead of being positive. I do think it's very interesting that the number one is authenticity. Because I do think that that ties very much into how much we value honesty and truthfulness. So authenticity and integrity are the number one and two responses to the survey.
06:26 S1: So I have to say that Nancy, our guest today, is my female role model. And not only is she authentic, And you'll all hear her very shortly, but she's ambitious. She's just doing amazing things at West Monroe. She's an M&A practice consultant, and she's just shared so many insights about what that means. And she just shared some great personal stories with us as well. And she's certainly a role model to me, and I think, to many of you once you hear this podcast. So I will not delay it any longer. Let's get to my conversation with Nancy.
07:10 S2: Great.
07:12 S1: We love to start interviews with a quick background on you. So if you wouldn't mind just telling us a little bit about yourself.
07:23 S4: Sure. I've been in management consulting for nearly two decades. And, as you may be aware, I grew up with then two of the largest global consulting firms. And had the privilege over the past year to join West Monroe Partners, which is a progressive Chicago based management firm, focused on technology based consulting as their leader and their growth engine to expand the M&A practice on the West Coast. Over the course of my career, I've had the chance to witness the ebbs and flows of the business. So during the good times, I was involved in major deals, both from private equity as well as with strategic buyers. And during the downtime was involved in helping companies look for new ways to cut costs and grow in tough times. And given my tenure in a management consulting business, I've seen the role of the consultant evolve and much of it is due the digitalization of content.
08:14 S4: And when I first started, I saw a lot of the partners and consulting firms almost like professors. They were holders of knowledge, tactical knowledge that C-Suite would apply into their strategy into the operations. But now, with the digitalization of content and so much insight being openly shared, the role of the management consultant may be seen as involved more into a partner and a coach for the C-Suites and their teams during mission critical junctures. When I first started, the career was more of hands off theory, recommendations on paper. I think nowadays you can look at the MBBs, the big four and the boutiques, we all get our hands dirty. And we work side by side with our clients to get the job done. And I think it's been an exciting evolution. It'd be interesting to see what the next construction point will be for our profession.
09:13 S1: Thank you. And thank you very much for sharing some of those insights on what the consulting industry is and the role, because I think many of the people listening to the podcast don't always know. And being able to understand what management consulting or what that entails could be a catalyst for someone looking to get into that field. So you have an engineering degree, is that correct?
09:39 S4: I do. I had the privilege to go to Stanford and it was one of the best experiences in my life. And I wanna touch upon the comment that you talked about earlier about not everyone being aware of management consulting. I had no idea what a management consultant was, what an investment bank was, what a venture capitalist was or did, until I got to college. Part of that is a lot of what I think you and your network talk about, is access to the right people, your network, being in the right place and meeting the right people to have access to opportunities. And growing up, I had the opportunity to grow up both in a less affluent community and also very affluent community. But in neither communities did I have the mentors or the influencers in my life. And at that time, not as broad of a set of forums, like Ellevate, to educate me on what was out there. And so my college experience really opened up the doors in a couple of ways. One, is access to this network, that we just talked about. Two, it really redefined what great was for me in terms of the caliber of people that were out there, that I would want to surround around myself with going forward in my career.
10:56 S4: And then really, lastly, helping me feel comfortable to take risks. I think everyone's aware. I think Silicon Valley is just one of the best places, to drive growth. A part of that growth engine has really been grounded in the ability to feel comfortable to fail, and more importantly, to learn from those failures, right? And so it was a culmination of all those different experiences that when I did exit college and when I was reviewing all of my different offers, I moved forward with management consulting. And specifically, with the firm in a particular role that allowed me to do a bit of everything, from management consulting to evaluating technologies, emerging technologies of startup companies who were looking for funding, as well as get a flavor of the investment banking side from a tech banking side. So it was not new to me, went to school, opened up my eyes, met amazing people, and was privileged to have the different opportunities to take on.
12:00 S4: And My first job out of college was one of those rare opportunities where I had an opportunity to evaluate startups to help them with funding, and at the same time also work with major companies as they were evaluating targets for acquisition. That being said, as we're all aware, there was the downturn during the early 2000s, and funding dried up, and we quickly re-pivoted our capabilities on how to help companies to survive during the downturn. And it was anywhere from transparency into performance measures and aligning strategy to measures, all the way through outsourcing. And so when the economy did pick back up, I remembered the positive experience I had early in my career and I wanted to go back into doing more deals, whether it'd be diligence, or helping companies actually come together once the deal was agreed to. And so then had a chance to be involved in several transformational deals, which basically is a fancy word just saying companies when they're trying to re-pivot their business strategy or acquire a life sized company. It's basically a life event for the company. And those are the ones that I think are typically the most interesting. Primarily because of the impact. Secondly, because those types of transactions, really... It really allows the leadership team and the board to reassess and reevaluate and also an opportunity to reset what the company is all about.
13:38 S1: You just shared with us some great insights to just what management consulting is and how you look at deals and all the various processes around the deal. And I wanted to take it back a little bit 'cause I love storytelling and I love examples. I think that that's a great way to really connect the lessons with the real world. So I know you've recently written about the Amazon and Whole Foods acquisition and the implications that that could have, and what that could mean to technology innovation and how the various assets and resources of both organizations can then come together to create something bigger and better. And I just found that to be so insightful and it really drove home all that goes into finding that perfect marriage or that right match. So I would love to hear if you could share a little bit of what you wrote about in that piece.
14:43 S4: Sure. And I do wanna credit the journalist in that interview. She was also a New Yorker and my observations at the outside end. I think everyone, rightfully so, has been very excited about the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods for a number of reasons. The primary one being that the deal really flipped retail on it head, because I think up till then the trend had been the large brick and mortar retailers buying the smaller online presence. So I think of Walmart with Bonobos, Jet.com also arrived this past year. And so when Amazon made this play, it just flipped the tables completely. And I think it was a very smart and strategic move. The success of that will depend on how they best use the two companies' assets. And I think we talked about that earlier in our conversation and that certain companies when they buy a target, they automatically onboard them, onboard the target to the acquirers, strategy, processes, culture, etcetera. And in certain instances, there might be value there. But for most the part, at least for the bigger deals, say like the Amazon, the Whole Foods, or in situations with mergers in equals, those deals, I think, are truly only successful if you really look at and respect what you've bought. With Whole Foods, it's the urban placement.
16:13 S4: It's their distinct community by which they've been able to cultivate that is willing to pay a premium price for providing transparency into the origins of food. It's that community experience where you're talking to the cashier and they greet you by name. I can go on and on. They bought a premium offering in premium placed locations that given Amazon's breadth of product offerings and stronger technology capabilities, specifically around data and management of their supply chain, that I see it being very disruptive and very exciting in terms of how you and I get access to products. And I'm not just talking about food, I'm talking about whether it's the Fire or another Alexa, it's exciting. And so I really look forward to how Amazon evolves the Whole Food retail footprint, but I'd also be interested in seeing how Whole Foods, if at all, may impact some of Amazon's thinking and culture. I won't go into details of that, but I think those who have read about the two companies will know that there are definitely some differences, not just at the CEO level, but at the employee level, on what drives and defines success and what drives and defines culture at the two companies.
17:45 S1: And I love that you hit on culture because that's a big part. It's easier to... Somewhat "easier to look at, maybe, customer or supply chain, technology, product, but really getting under the hood and thinking about the culture and what's driving the businesses is less of an exact science, and it's an important indicator or influencer of how successful a partnership like that can be.
18:14 S4: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it goes down to the culture, and also goes down to the people. Again, when people think of MNA I think we talked about that earlier, there's typically a focus around what are the dollars and cents, and that absolutely makes sense. However, when you're in the trenches, which you are during an integration or during a major separation, none of this happens without the employee base, without the right leaders in place. And it's particularly tough to lead in context of a transition like this, because more often than not, there's a lot of uncertainty about each individual's job, whether they have a job or not, what their next job will look like, will they like the new company that they're in process of creating, right? And so there's a lot of uncertainty. And I think working in context of these types of transformational deals, it's a great breeding ground for future leaders. Whether it's to continue to do large deals or if it's to groom future leaders of the new corporation.
19:16 S4: And it's because that they have to make decisions in context of... In absence, not in context, sorry, in absence of absolute information, they have to lead people who are oftentimes unsure what their future role in the organization is. And it's typically a very new role. And so they are stretching themselves and trying new things out themselves. So they're learning as they're trying to guide new people. Because of all those challenges everything comes through that experience stronger and having learned to how to negotiate divergent views, divergent cultures, divergent ways of doing things and to be able to bring the two companies or your two teams together in the middle, that type of experience and that type of success will, I think, bringing individuals a very long way.
20:04 S4: And it's one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about bringing more women into this line of work, because I don't see enough women, I think, in M&A and you could talk about that from a banking perspective, you could talk about it from a private equity perspective. And I don't think I need to tell you the numbers, but they're pretty abysmal, in the single digits in terms of percentages, right? Management consulting, I would say that we're probably relatively better, but there's definitely a lot of room for improvement, especially still at the senior levels, right?
20:39 S4: And I know all companies are going back and forth, "Do we have a diversity inclusion initiative, do we not?" And I could see all sides of the argument. But the point still remains is that we're no where near where we need to be in the professional services business around M&A. I could even take this further into the board levels, where a lot of the other countries in Europe are much more proactive in targeting women at the board level, and I think that's a totally [chuckle] different conversation that we could have.
21:16 S1: Well, and that's in part been driven by legislation, correct? Where it's the 30%?
21:21 S4: That's right. And France is, I think, I don't have the exact numbers, but they have their 2020 goals and they are well underway of reaching that from last I talked to some of my colleagues out there. And so I know we're going in a lot of different directions but you can also see, I think, because of the different points I've brought up, when you think of M&A, I'm bringing all these different aspects up in that there's very rare a job or a role or a career where you have the opportunity to have touchpoints to the corporate directors, you have touchpoints to the C-suite, you have touchpoints into middle management, you have touchpoints into the employees, the partners, the customers. You see all angles of the business and how it's governed, and it's pretty amazing to do it once, but to do that back to back throughout your career, I can't think of anything else better to do for a profession.
22:18 S1: What's your favorite part of the deal or of the process?
22:24 S4: I'd have to say... Well, I think the obvious one is when you actually can "flip the switch" and it's day one, the legal day one. Because you do a little mini separation, because up until day one everything is planning. You can't actually execute a lot of the work, especially in context of integration. And so there's a large level of excitement that's built up and around day one to see through the success of that milestone. So that would be one point of the deal process that I really enjoy. The other, from a milestone perspective, I would say is the accomplishment of the first 100 days. And you hear that in context of a strategy setting, you hear that in context of starting your job. The idea is no different in context of an M&A, where after the champagne bottles are popped around day one, there's still a ton of work that needs to be done in short order. And so that flurry, the excitement, that focus of energy, the momentum that work gets done between day one and day 100, in what I've seen, in my experience is unparalleled because there's just this urgency and excitement. And yeah, I think it's just an adrenaline rush.
23:37 S4: And then also it's where the two teams really start to get to know each other, because up until then, there still was, and especially if you're working on the commercial side of the business, maybe competitively sensitive information, product lines, whatnot, you couldn't truly share. But after day one, you're officially part of the same family and if done right, you're truly collaborating and working together. And so for me it's day one, and then the first 100 days thereafter. That's really where the energy is. It really comes out.
24:07 S1: Thank you. So last question which is I think an easier one, but who inspires you? Who's your female role model?
24:18 S4: I do wanna give a quick plug to Sally because when I was... And I hope Sally takes this the right way. I remember seeing her on the covers of Fortune and Forbes and I always said, "That's amazing and I hope to somehow, some way [chuckle] aspire to proximate her success." And I'm not just saying that, you could check my files. I've probably saved some of those magazine covers. The second is much more personal, and you probably hear this a lot and I think I trust everyone is very sincere. So I come from a family of immigrants. When I was growing up my mother had to work a full-time job, having to raise me on my own after having divorced my biological father. And while she was away, my grandparents raised me and they instilled in me values, work ethic, through their own actions. And so they had given up a very comfortable retirement in Taiwan to move over to take care of me, and in the process sold a lot of their own assets. And while some of that was able to sustain us, there was still a good part that they had to do on their own, in a new country, in a new community, not knowing the language to develop ways to make a living. And my grandmother, being scrappy and entrepreneurial and not knowing it, she went to her strengths. And in her generation, the strengths of women were domestic. And she made a business out of some of the things that she could do well and she brought in business...
25:54 S4: She had her own seamstress business, and she had her own food business. And my grandfather was supportive and part of both of those businesses. And that helped keep our family afloat, and then also helped me move from a community where everyone's families were working two to three jobs to make ends meet, to a community where, I remember my classmates were talking about million dollar real estate deals that their parents did during recess. It was a pretty big transition in the middle of my fifth grade, and I still remember it distinctly. And they did it, not because of luck. They made their own luck. So they looked at what they could do, what they could do in the community they were in, and they hustled and they worked hard. I still remember they would put me to bed at 10:00 PM and I would wake up because they were cooking. You could smell the kitchen. And they were working well past midnight. They were still up at 2:00 AM mostly 'cause a lot of things that they cooked took many, many hours. And so a lot of my work ethic came from watching them when I was young, and so... Give me a moment, sorry.
27:14 S4: That was a little unplanned. But, yeah, a lot of my work ethic and people who work with me know no one will ever outwork me, and I learned that watching my grandparents grow up. And I know I wouldn't be where I am today if they weren't by my side. And I also would have to give credit to my mother because she did it all somewhat alone. And I'm lucky to have her in my life still today. And so when you ask who inspires me and who's part of me, I think of two very strong women who raised me. And I think many people ask, "How do you have the confidence? How do you have the conviction?" It's because I saw two women out of their element do it and be okay and be successful in their own right. And the least that I can do in terms of the opportunities I've been given is to do them proud and to do the next generation of people who look like me or have similar backgrounds like me proud. So it might not be your typical story of a celebrity or someone you see in the news, but it's real and it's personal and this is being recorded, maybe, hopefully, one day they'll hear it so...
28:31 S1: Thank you for sharing that story. It really touches me very deeply and it's important that we share stories like this. I don't think we oftentimes have the forum or the opportunity to talk about this, but it's really about knowing it's each of us that is inspiring others, that's having an impact on others, and how do we keep that going? And just by working hard and being innovative and having conviction and believing in what you do, all of these things are inspiration to others. And I am certain that you've made your grandparents and your mother proud. So thank you for sharing your story with us and spending some time with us today on The Ellevate Podcast.
29:20 S4: No, I appreciate that. And yeah, thank you.
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