People and change are two topics Karen Vander Linde is very well versed in. As the global leader of Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’ practice of the same name, she addresses human capital challenges daily.
“We help them make change stick, we help them maximize the impact of their talent, we help them create sustainable people operations, and then finally we help them achieve market-driven organizational structures.” Vander Linde, who has been with PwC for 16 years, looks forward to these types of challenges every day. “I love forming strategy. I love getting people energized behind the strategy. I consider myself [someone who can] design, develop and disappear. And then leave everything in capable hands behind to take it on.”
But Vander Linde’s experience with people and change extends beyond the PwC client roster. She has studied and lived in different parts of the world, which has given her the perspective she brings to her clients. “I’ve always had the wanderlust and the interest to be abroad and work with others from different parts of the world. I think that has really prepared me for the global world,” she says.
She shares this love of travel with her family as well. She, her husband and their four children, who range in age from 17 to 29, enjoy high-energy excursions, such as touring the Amazon and climbing Machu Picchu. “Sometimes I’m scoping out the sites on my business trips for where we’re going to go next.”
Vander Linde also comes to the consulting world with a background in teaching in one of Chicago’s tougher neighborhoods. Was consulting a stretch? Certainly not, says Vander Linde, who says she thinks the experience has made her a better leader.
“The reality is that if you’re a good teacher, it’s not very different,” she says. “I had to be very clear of what my message was, but also very respectful of what they were bringing to the table. So it’s very much where you help others learn through themselves rather than being the one who’s always conveying all the knowledge. And that’s a good part of what consulting is about.”
Even though change has always been a part of Vander Linde’s life, she says the C-suite is just now starting to understand how important understanding the transition process is. “I think probably one of the most exciting things,” she says, “is that people is now a big area of focus at the C-suite level. Clients are now seeing the people side as being significant.”
Consultancies themselves need to do a better of job of seeing the people side as significant, though, she says, explaining that while an observer may find plenty of women at a firm, they are usually in entry-level positions. Vander Linde, a self-described “late bloomer” who made partner in 1997 while balancing the challenges of motherhood, champions the role of women in the industry, and encourages them to be themselves—not who their male counterparts expect them to be. “I don’t have to be one of the guys,” she says. “I don’t have to do what the guys do. And I’m not going to be making my arrangements and my relationships on the golf course; that’s not who I am.”