Spend eight years running logistics for the U.S. Navy on a nuclear submarine and you’re likely to develop an eye for efficiency. That’s exactly how WP&C’s Chris Seifert got his start, and he’s been helping companies improve operational processes ever since. After the Navy he worked at Georgia-Pacific and Owens Corning, during which he earned a reputation as someone who could spot inefficiencies and help turn plants around. Seifert saw WP&C as aligned with his entrepreneurial bent and an opportunity to put his industry experience to good use. He joined the firm in 2012 as a consultant and now just three years later has been promoted to Partner. Talk about efficient. Consulting sat down with Seifert to talk about his new role and the importance of operational efficiency.
Consulting: How’d you go from a nuclear submarine to a consulting firm?
Seifert: When I’d gotten off the submarine I was teaching at the Navy Supply Corp School in Athens, Georgia while I finished my MBA. Then I went into industry working for Georgia-Pacific, where I spent a little bit of time in a strategy role at the plywood division level. I eventually ended up running a plant just outside Houston, then another one in Dudley, N.C. Then I was recruited by Owens Corning, and I ran their largest residential fiberglass insulation plant in Dallas. So I managed three different plants in a period of five years and had begun to get a reputation for being good at turning around plants. All three of them were not very well performing when I took them over; Owens-Corning plant had about a 66 percent asset utilization, within a year we were in high 80s, touching low 90s on a regular basis. I was starting to see the writing on the wall that this was going to be my career. About the same time a Navy friend of mine had interviewed with W&P and gave them my name. I had always wanted to do something more entrepreneurial.
Consulting: What attracted you to WP&C?
Seifert: Andrei [Perumal] and Stephen [Wilson] had written a book called Waging War on Complexity Costs and I read the book and their message totally resonated with me because I was living it. I joined firm in 2012 as a consultant, was promoted to case team leader within about a year, then to manager, and partner at the beginning of this year. We’re very open to allowing people to explore their interests and ideas. What I do a lot of work in is management system design and implementation. That was something neither Stephen or Andrei had never really thought about as a service offering. I did a lot of thinking and writing, wrote some articles, published some internal newsletters on our behalf, got some speaking engagements, and through that have built a number of significant clients for us that the focus of the work is management system design, which fits in our complexity perspective that the world is complex and in order to operate in that environment you have to be a lot more disciplined and have a more well-defined management system. Because I was given the freedom to develop that practice and had brought in clients that was the driving force behind my promotion.
Consulting: What are the clients demanding?
Seifert: Core to our perspective is that the world has changed; complexity has exploded in the last decade or so. When you think of the number of things people have to deal with, regulations, new markets, new geographies, product proliferation because of consumer demand. And along with that they’re so much more connected than they were a decade ago. That’s our general message and I find that really resonates with people in large organizations. And we help on two fronts: we help analyze their strategy for whether it’s creating non value-added complexity and if so can we get rid of a big chunk of it. Do you really need to make all the SKUs you make? Do you really need to be in all the markets you’re in? What are the right set of markets? Some complexity is good, some is not. Then on the operations side, it’s how do I operate better in a complex world, how do I be more disciplined in the way I operate.
Consulting: What are some of your goals as Partner?
Seifert: We grew 75 percent year over year last year in revenue and we’d like to do that again. I think that’s a challenge when you’re a smaller firm because you’re growing fast and trying to bring on people but it’s all timing. You can’t just bring somebody in the door and put them on a project, they have to understand your point of view and make sure they have the right skills. It’s challenging, but we want to continue to grow and be thought leaders on complexity. We’ve seen other folks in the marketplace adopting some of our thought, to the point where I’ve actually seen other consultants take pictures from our blog and use them in presentations. It goes to show in this industry that if you’re not constantly innovating in terms of thought and approach and perspective you’re going to fall into the masses very quickly.