Sean Lawrie: How to Succeed in the Competitive World of Management Consulting

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What makes Sean Lawrie tick? Is it his genuine interest in the lives of his clients? The competitive drive he developed playing hockey in his native Canada? Or perhaps it’s a combination of both. Sean’s unique blend of collaboration and competitiveness has earned him a reputation as a leading consultant to the energy industry. As a partner at the management-consulting firm of ScottMadden, Sean advises electric utility companies on how to improve their operations while becoming more productive, more responsive to customers and more compliant with an ever-growing thicket of regulations.

Exceptional results

First and foremost, Sean brings a sense of collaboration to his projects. “We work side by side with the client so they won’t need us anymore,” he says. “We make sure they can do the job after we leave.” You won’t hear a lot of consultants talk like that. True, after Sean steps clients through a series of processes, they can do it themselves and will no longer need ScottMadden. But that’s where word-of-mouth, referrals, and of course new projects for past clients come into play. Sean takes pride in not being the kind of consultant who digs in and never leaves. “I like nothing better than to work with a client, come in under budget with exceptional results, and leave with our heads held high,” says Sean. “Other consultants tend to want to hang around. That’s not my style.”

After college, Sean began his career in banking. “I’ve always thrived on competition and winning,” he says. Soon, he went to work for GE and then for the electrical utilities in Canada. Before long, he decided to go to the United States, where he earned an MBA in finance. As fortune would have it, ScottMadden was recruiting on campus. The firm wanted someone with an electrical utilities background, a good connection with people, and the ability to learn quickly. Sean fit the bill. “I started as an associate and worked with electric utilities solving operational, financial, and strategy-related problems.”

As simple as a smile

Collaboration and competitiveness: quite a pairing. But there’s something else that factors into Sean’s success with clients—genuine friendliness. “I don’t know where it came from—my grandfather, my dad, or my mom,” says Sean. “It’s sense of living by the golden rule, smiling, being happy every day. There’s bad stuff that happens all the time, but if you carry yourself with a level of confidence… It’s a simple thing to smile at people in the hallways, but it works.”

More specifically, Sean points to three practices that have helped him to succeed in the competitive world of management consulting:

  • Protemoi lists. From legendary trainer Mo Bunnell, Sean picked up the simple discipline of maintaining what Mo calls a “protemoi list.” Mo coined the term, based on an ancient Greek word meaning “first among equals.” A protemoi list comprises your entire professional contact base—not only clients and prospects, but contacts such as people you’ve met at conferences. Sean’s list has about 500 names – “people I have worked with on a project or those I met at a conference.” He force ranks them every quarter. “My ‘A’ clients I’m in touch with all the time; at least quarterly I send an article with value.” Sean doesn’t email his 100 or so A-list clients these articles. Instead, he prints them out and sends them in the mail with a handwritten note. “Everyone on my list gets an email link to a publication ScottMadden puts out about energy. The ‘A’ and ‘B’ group gets a holiday card.” He says he dedicates three days a month for business development. Plus, he schedules “drop-by days,” where he visits with his A-list clients. “We talk about life, about things outside of work,” says Sean. “I let them know they are special and top of mind. And I do care. Eventually they might be buyers or not, but I may need to lean on them.”
  • People power. On those drop-by visits, “I never ask people about work, but about their vacations or their families,” says Sean. “No one wants to talk about work; they want to talk about outside of work.” And while working on projects, Sean takes an out-of-the-box approach as well. “I like to do things one-on-one outside of meetings, so that the meetings are simple.” Sean will talk with everyone involved before the meeting. He addresses their issues and gets their buy-in, and then they have the meeting, after which they feel as though something actually got accomplished. “I like to come out of that meeting with a real solution,” he says.
  • Preparation. This approach requires some upfront preparation. Sean uses a sales meeting tool he learned from Mo Bunnell to develop good questions to ask his clients. Asking questions such as, “What do you think is the best way to do this?” signals to clients that the ultimate solution resides with them – and Sean’s just there to guide them through. Preparation is the key. “Be confident and be prepared for any interaction,” Sean advises. “If you’re not confident, how do you expect someone else to be confident in you?” Sean likes to put himself in his clients’ shoes and begin to see the questions they’ll have. “You have to be prepared to answer,” he says. “They obviously called you because they had some kind of worry. You need to be prepared for that.”

Most memorable project

Some years ago, Sean worked with a mid-level manager named Pierre who was generally negative about having consultants assisting his company. Put in charge of restructuring the organization and his group’s workload, “Pierre needed to see the whole picture,” says Sean. “I was a new associate. We worked side by side for months. I’m sure he wanted to kill me some days for the questions I asked him.” But as time went on, Pierre gained confidence in Sean, whose discipline, professionalism, and friendliness broke through the hard exterior.

Ultimately, it was Pierre who presented to management, not Sean. “All the recommendations were approved,” says Sean. “He was promoted two positions above to plant manager. That promotion meant more to me than my own promotion later that year.” While he hasn’t worked with Pierre since that project, according to Sean, “he has been a great source of recommendations for future opportunities.”

Sustainability means different things to different people. For utilities, it’s about clean technologies and how to sustain their business models with the integration of a portfolio of safe, reliable sources of generation—all while creating value for consumers, regulators and other stakeholders. To Sean Lawrie, it means that too. But there’s more. It also means exceeding your competition and performing so well—with a smile on your face—that clients can’t stop talking about you.

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