The 2016 Women Leaders in Consulting: Kris Pederson

Consulting Women's Leadership Awards 2016

Kris Pederson Americas Strategy & Customer Leader, EY 

Lifetime Achievement Award

For many women consultants, having a child often marks the end of a consulting career. But for EY’s Kris Pederson, the recipient of this year’s Women Leaders in Consulting: Lifetime Achievement Award, the exact opposite was true. The birth of her daughter was more of a beginning for Pederson.

And while she’s certainly accomplished a great many things in her career, ask Pederson to name her greatest accomplishment and she’ll say, without hesitation, being a mom to Jordan, her 13-year-old daughter.

“Seeing her evolve into an amazing strong, confident, kind young woman is my ultimate achievement. When she came into my life it also changed me,” Pederson says. “And helped me discover my true purpose: building a more balanced working world.”

Before her, Pederson says she was a true workaholic, married to the job, focused on it exclusively but when her daughter came along, she reevaluated her life and started to see things differently. “I developed great empathy for other working parents who were also trying to find balance.  For me, balance had always been about diversity, about promoting women into the professional workforce and mentoring them to achieve their potential. But now, with Jordan, I have a new respect for the concept of ‘balance’—of looking at my career as a long-term journey, and making choices and setting boundaries so I can prosper as a whole person.”

Indeed, Pederson has spent much of her more than 25-year career transforming industry practices through a relentless focus on purpose. It was her work in this area that brought her to EY to lead development of the firm’s Purpose-led Transformation practice.

Today, Pederson currently leads both EY’s Strategy and Customer practices within EY Advisory overseeing a team of more than 900 partners and practitioners. Since she took leadership of EY Americas’ Strategy practice in 2014, the business has increased more than 600 percent in both revenue and headcount.

But ultimately, her legacy will be changing an industry, not just a business. But it almost wasn’t to be.

Pederson says her dream was to become a doctor and was a pre-med student in college, but she says studying the hard sciences, like Organic Chemistry, was not her calling. Instead, what she really loved was the patient-doctor interaction, as well as her business courses. “So, I decided I’d shift and become a ‘business’ doctor instead and started crafting a career to do just that,” she says. “I think ‘business doctor’ is a great analogy for management consulting.”

And indeed, Pederson has been a bit of a “business doctor” throughout her career. In seeking solutions to problems, she always starts with why—what engages people, what captures their hearts and minds, what motivates companies to greatness. Her ability to see both sides of any relationship, unlocking its power, has made her invaluable—to colleagues and clients alike.

“Project-based work is such a treat. It’s always different, and keeps me very leading-edge in my business thinking. I get to work with absolutely the smartest people on the planet, lots of different clients and people, and then move to the next thing,” she says. “And, the travel, though daunting, is such a gift. When I think of all the places I’ve been and the cultures I’ve worked in, it’s one of the real pleasures of this profession.”

Pederson is an expert in large-scale transformation with broad skillsets. Her career in consulting includes: strategy consulting, executive leadership/alignment, organizational change, organization design, value realization/financial engineering, and process/technology-driven transformation.  Her industry focuses include: high technology, consumer products, life sciences/pharmaceutical, retail, banking, automotive, and telecommunications. Her consulting focuses include: purpose-led transformation, strategy consulting, organization design, change management, executive alignment, value realization and process redesign.

Ask her what advice she’d give to a female consultant just beginning her career and she’ll use her own career path as a guide.

“It’s a controversial thought, but I often tell women that, if they can wait to have a family, they should,” she says. “I had our daughter Jordan when I was 39. I was already a partner in the firm. This made it much easier to ask for what I needed and create a path for ongoing success as a working-mother consultant.”

In true consultant form, Pederson says she remembers creating a “New Baby” chart plan and sharing it with her boss when she learned she was pregnant. It included the time before the baby, what she could /couldn’t do, and her six-month plan post-birth.

“I was confident and brash about what I needed to do, and he cracked up, saying, ‘of course Pederson has a baby game plan.’  And he helped me execute it and take it to the next level,” she says. “By waiting to have Jordan, I was able to develop great credibility at the firm and people knew I would deliver. I often help young mothers work through their earlier family choices—and it is doable, of course—but I think it is much harder.”

As far as being a Lifetime award recipient, Pederson says that, while it’s a great honor, it should be reserved for people over 80 years old and “honestly, I’m feeling a bit ancient!”

However, Pederson says it has caused her to reflect on her working life and realize that she’s been in this business for more than 25 years. “I originally thought I would do this for three to five years, like all the other young consultants coming out of Harvard Business School, and then I’d find something less taxing and move on,” she says. “And here I am, 25 years later, still in it. There aren’t many women that have made this their life’s profession and I’m proud to be one of them that has.”

Consulting: What’s the best advice (consulting or otherwise) you’ve ever received?

Pederson: “I am blessed to have an amazing mentor and role model in Peggy Vaughan, who was one of the most senior consulting partners at PwC/IBM.  She once said to me, ‘success in this profession is about confidence and exposure’ and she gave me both.  She modeled how to keep calm and carry on in any situation. She never raised her voice, never lost her cool, and was always incredibly polished in every situation because of her amazing preparation. Under her wing, I gained exposure at levels way beyond my experience. She had me present to the PwC board when I had created a new approach, and organized site visits so I could practice presenting to senior partners. She found success in my success, and promoted my case for partner early in my career. I have tried to “pay it forward” and support promising women at all levels, just like Peggy did for me.”