Becoming a Leader at a Major Consulting Firm

James M Horris
James M Horris

James spent 5 years in the US Army Infantry, serving honorably in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was wounded in action. After his termination of service (2010), he attended Towson University where he graduated with a BS in Political Science. During his time in academia, James excelled and set himself apart by securing an international business internship with a major Australian wholesaler, where he operated across the continent, as well as in New Zealand and China. In his final semester, he also secured a publication in the peer-reviewed Towson Journal of International Affairs. Since his graduation, James has been a part of several start-ups, including a security consultation firm, a pharmaceutical company, and a Virginia based cyber-security firm. He is currently a 2nd-year MBA candidate at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.

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At the beginning of December, select Carey Business School students had the opportunity to attend an exciting networking and leadership luncheon. Those who attended came from diverse backgrounds, and their respective tracks of study were equally diverse. The greatest common factor between them was that they wanted to meet, listen to, and discuss leadership and management with Ted Sniffin. Ted is an alumnus of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and currently serves as an Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton. The Carey students who attended the lunch were excited to hear firsthand knowledge and lessons learned from a senior executive at one of America’s largest, oldest, and most preeminent consulting firms.

As he tells it, the “headline” of his story is that he went from associate to partner in nine years. But as Ted warned, a headline doesn’t tell the whole story. Here are a few lessons learned from the conversation with Ted:

THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORSHIP

The remarkable part of Ted’s tenure at Booz Allen is not only that he witnessed so many crucial moments in the company’s recent history, but that he was in a leadership position for them, and that he maintained his position throughout. What he presented was a backdrop of events and circumstances that led him to various junctures, and how he handled them. There was a surprising and intriguing amount of humility in Ted’s presence. His emphasis was not how he handled these crucial moments, but why he did so. He did not conduct himself as a VIP or a celebrity, but as a willing mentor for eager students. Mentors advise and consult those that would learn from them. Ted did exactly that for the students at the lunch.

HAVE UNCOMPROMISING INTEGRITY

Ted has seen a lot of internal and external strategic changes and consequential events while at Booz Allen. These include a corporate reorganization, a major private equity investment in the firm, an IPO, the impacts of insider and outsider threats, surges and downtowns in the market, and the firm’s fundamental pivot in their capability offerings with the introduction of their innovation agenda. With very real humility and grace, he explained that your corporate and personal values become guideposts as you navigate challenges and unexpected developments. Among these specific values was “uncompromising integrity.” Ted reminded us that it’s the most difficult situations that are defining moments for leaders; however, it’s not the events that define individuals or organizations, it’s your values and the decisions you make that define you as you navigate the ups and downs of your career path.

BE STRATEGIC AND DON’T SETTLE

Toward the end of the lunch, Ted gave two pieces of career advice: “Take a strategic view of your career,” and “Don’t down-brand.” By this he meant that Carey students, as future business leaders, should make career decisions with a long-term view in mind, focusing on steps that build your career path. We should employ our strategic capacities in the rough outline of our future, and act accordingly. Next, he advised that as you look at your career choices and potential employers, always focus on a role and an employer that are additive to your career, track record, and personal brand. Don’t make short-term decisions that seem positive in the moment, but ultimately dilute your longer-term personal brand.

All told, the meeting with Ted Sniffin was a great success filled with valuable insights from an industry veteran who used to be in our shoes.

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