Gary E. Holdren Featured

8:00pm EDT July 28, 2006
 Inspired by his father, who built a business out of the back of a station wagon, Gary E. Holdren always wanted to be an entrepreneur. And in a strange stroke of luck, he got that opportunity when he was left jobless after the implosion of Arthur Andersen in 2002. Many of his colleagues — unemployed and reluctant to work for the competition — suggested that they form a new consulting company, with Holdren as CEO, and Huron Consulting Group was born. The financial and operational consulting company has been growing rapidly ever since, with 2005 revenue of $200 million and staff levels 31 percent higher over the previous year. Smart Business spoke with Holdren about the importance of establishing solid relationships and finding loyal employees when growing a business.

Create a notable culture.
I believe that our most significant accomplishments aren’t measured in percentages or documented on spreadsheets. From my perspective, our greatest achievements are the culture we have created at Huron and the depth of our relationships with our clients.

Huron’s future growth plan is based on a simple formula: Continue building a company comprised of people who are energized by our culture, and support them as they build legendary client relationships that transcend any one engagement or issue.

Build relationships.
Relationships start a lot of ways. Relationships start from people who have been friends, from people who have been prior clients.

They can start from a work relationship. They can start from a social relationship. They can start from a community relationship.

So what I can encourage all of our young people to do is to be actively involved in their community. Be on charities and get to know people. Be actively involved in schools and, at the same time, professional organizations. Be members of golf clubs, do things for fun.

Get people to know you, get people to like you, get people to trust you.

Expand on work relationships.
Do client entertainment. Entertain clients and potential clients at a ball game. Take them to play golf, take them to the opera, have them to your home for dinner, go on a trip with them.

I was just on a fishing trip with three CEOs. People buy work from people they trust. You can’t have a trusting relationship unless you get to know someone.

Surround yourself with the best.
My success is all based on people I surround myself with. It’s the result of direction.

It is the result of some leadership by myself, but it’s also the result of just surrounding yourself with the best possible people that you can surround yourself with in every aspect of the company, whether it be serving clients, whether it be my assistant who answers my phone or the accounting department or HR. You just can’t have success without having good, competent people in every job of the company.

We have been able to sustain our incredible growth by having an unbelievable corporate staff to support our consultants. We don’t try to do anything on the skinny. Surround yourself with the best people, build great infrastructures, always deliver high value to clients, and just go as fast as you can.

Find team players.
We’ve got several different businesses now that serve different clients, so we need to see what the business needs are of the various practices. Our people that we hire ... have to be outgoing.

We look for people with a math background. We look to see if they can be a part of a team and work in a team environment. Brain power clearly is one of the key ingredients, but if you have brains and you have nothing else, then that does not mean much.

Integrate employees.
Each team has different ways in which they will incorporate their team members under their team and into their practice. At the same time, Huron will have overall training that will tell them about our corporate culture, our corporate policies and what we expect out of them.

Then as they move through their years at Huron, they will get all different levels of training — internal and external training — to help them succeed in the marketplace.

Motivate your employees.
We provide the best training options to employees by combining interactive and traditional approaches to deepen skill and develop leadership abilities.

We also provide reimbursement for professional society memberships, support certifications and licensure renewal, tuition reimbursement options, work-life benefits and various other rewards for our people. Our superior work-life programs — such as a liberal vacation policy, travel benefits, flex-time work schedules, bonus and stock purchase programs — are above market, and we strive to offer competitive salaries.

That’s a win-win for our employees and for Huron.

Respect your employees.
First and foremost, you have to treat your people with respect. People want to work for a place where they are treated with respect (and where) they think they are given challenging opportunities that will help them learn and grow, and that they are adequately compensated for their efforts.

If you don’t do that, then you won’t have a very loyal work force.

Stick by your principles.
You need to know where you want to go. You need to know what your visions are, and you need to make sure that you have principles. If you know what you want to do and it’s principle-based and you stick with that, then over time, that will be fulfilling in a sustainable environment.

If you don’t have principles, I’m not sure you have a sustainable company. You have to stick with them in good times and bad times.

HOW TO REACH: Huron Consulting Group,