Chloe (left) and Elizabeth at CRA’s San Francisco office.
We encourage consultants to take an opportunity to connect with one another. In this interview, Consulting Associate Chloe Kim gains insight on professional and personal development from Vice President Elizabeth Rountree. Both Chloe and Elizabeth are members of the Life Sciences practice based in San Francisco.
Q: Elizabeth, thank you for taking the time to join me today. I’m interested in your experience of growing into a leader in the industry and being a vice president at CRA. My first question is what is the best way to effectively manage up and down?
A: I think there are a couple of things. I feel like when we’re managing up or down, no one wants to be surprised. It’s important to be proactive with information and make sure that everyone has the details they need to be effective in their role. Sometimes you need to take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. Are there some things they’re going to want to know? What should you tell them in advance about this?
In addition, when people are early in their careers they may not recognize they need to manage up. It is important to discover that a working style that works well for one person doesn’t work for others. One of our clients has this test they refer to as insights colors. The test ends up revealing whether your communication style is primarily green, blue, red, or yellow. After taking the test, employees will often display their result in their office. For example, if you walk into my office and see the blue insights color displayed, then you know that you will need to provide me with facts and details first before I will be ready to talk about strategic implications. Different people have different needs and you need to become aware of these differences to be effective.
Q: What do you think is different about dealing with challenges as a junior team member versus a senior team member?
A: Challenges could be different for someone earlier on in their career versus later. For example, we have a deliverable due next week to a client. So the challenge to a junior team member may be that they don’t have the feedback they need from their project lead to finalize the report. From the perspective of the project lead, the junior team member has not completed all the required elements of the report and so the report is not yet ready to be reviewed. So, what do we do? This example ties into the importance of our culture of mentorship. The junior person put their heart and soul into a specific project and believes the report is ready, but they don’t know what they don’t know. The project lead has a different perspective because they have extensive experience and understand what the client needs. CRA is committed to being client-focused, and the best way to do is for senior team members to be highly involved in client projects and to teach and mentor junior staff so they can learn and grow and deliver high quality work.
Q: Did you have mentors throughout your career? How did you build a relationship with them?
A: I was incredibly lucky because Rob Sederman, [Vice President in Life Sciences] has been my mentor for a long time now. We started working together in 1999, and it’s interesting because it seems random at first. I met Rob when I was just a summer intern. I was at business school and interested in healthcare consulting. Rob was part of the interview process and I thought he was smart. When the opportunity arose to work with him, he was willing to take the time for me to learn from and collaborate with him. Having Rob turn into a mentor wasn’t intentional or strategic. It was organic. Looking back on it, I feel really fortunate that he was willing to put up with me.
I do think it’s a good idea to work with a variety of people when you’re starting off. There is a chemistry element to it. Some senior people you work with will be logical, smart, and nice to work with. With others, you may not have that same connection or perhaps you don’t sense they want to invest their time in you.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you have learned from a past or current mentor?
A: One thing I’ve learned from Rob is that he takes the time to think about how to make an impact. He is very thoughtful; his way of thinking goes, “in order to get to X, I need to do A, B, and C, and influence person A and B.” He is more big-picture and thinks about what it takes to move an organization. I think he is really good at that, and that is one thing I learned from him because I’m not innately good at that.
Q: If you could give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
A: There is this saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you shouldn’t be surprised if you do not get there.” This isn’t to say you should plan your career to the nth degree because it doesn’t always work out as planned. But having goals is important. Creating a plan and executing it means you’re learning and growing and creating new opportunities.
Q: How do you maintain balance between your professional and personal life?
A: I don’t feel like I’ve quite gotten there yet. I don’t work where I live. Every week I’m gone. I’m home on the weekends. I really try to not work on the weekends because that is the only time I have with my family. I don’t see them during the week. That’s how I’ve set it up. I don’t feel it’s ideal but it’s acceptable, and you always just have to go with what works for you.
Q: What has been your greatest life lesson so far? Do you have a motto?
A: Life is short. We spend a lot of time at work. My life lesson is that it’s important to be passionate and get satisfaction out of work, otherwise why do it? We’re all so fortunate to have had a great educational background, have so many opportunities open to us, and be able to put food on the table. We’re so lucky. So it’s all about recognizing that and being passionate.
Q: What is one thing that makes you excited to wake up in the morning?
A: I want to work for an organization that’s trying to be the best it can be. We are not trying to be like some other firm – we’re just trying to be the best version of ourselves. To me, it is rewarding that I can contribute to CRA as an organization but also know that the work we’re doing is making a difference for our clients. We’re helping our clients bring new products to the market and in turn these products are changing lives. I’m directly involved in bring new products to market that will extend the lives of metastatic cancer patients, improve quality of life in Huntington’s Disease, provide better disease control in Multiple Sclerosis, and help people retain their independence and dignity in Alzheimer’s disease—that, to me, is motivating.