L.E.K.’s Career Services spoke with Riley Catlin, Strategy and Operations Lead at Google. Riley was with L.E.K. for over eight years, and left as a Manager in 2018. We spoke to Riley about his current role and the impact L.E.K. has had on his career.
“Leading with empathy is something I remember developing at L.E.K. and an important skill that still serves me today.” — Riley Catlin ’18
Please describe your current role.
I work in Google’s Global Business Organization, which focuses on commercial and revenue-generating products and initiatives across the company. My department is Revenue Strategy and Operations, where I’ve worked as a Strategy and Operations Program Lead for almost three years. While I was staffed on tech cases here and there at L.E.K., before coming to Google, I didn’t have any formal tech experience. The way I pivoted into the industry was by marketing my general skillset as an all-purpose problem solver and stakeholder manager rather than focusing on my specific experience in a certain industry while in consulting.
What does a typical day look like for you? What are some differences from what you remember as a typical day at L.E.K.?
I would describe my day-to-day as much more predictable than at L.E.K. Half of the day is typically spent in meetings with my immediate or partner teams, where we discuss that day’s or week’s most pressing issues and dive into classic problem-solving sessions. The other half is usually spent executing my own specific role and responsibilities. As an example, I might have a piece of analysis or slides to add into a deck for a VP as part of a quarterly business review. My role differs significantly in terms of cyclicality as well. While there might be a three-to-four-week cycle on a diligence project at L.E.K., at Google there are much longer cycles (i.e., quarterly), so you have a better sense of what the next three months might look like in terms of scope and intensity, giving you the space to plan ahead.
Right now, I’m focusing on the rollout of an automation initiative for the Google Ads platform. At its most basic level, advertisers bid on placement of ads on Google, and it’s engineered to be useful to both small businesses and large multinational corporations and marketing agencies. Thus, there are a lot of levers you can pull, and my team is working on automating some of the most impactful levers to best serve our advertisers and thoughtfully grow their business. What we are looking at is putting some of the more regular, repeatable activities and settings on autopilot by using AI and machine learning to make ad campaign optimizations on behalf of the advertiser, ultimately driving better performance and saving time and money.
What is one of your favorite parts of your current role?
When I applied to Google, I applied to an evergreen strategy role on the career website, and I didn’t actually know that I’d be put on the team I am on now. I’m working on automation, which is a megatrend in so many industries right now, and being able to be a part of that trend in the context of Google has been really exciting!
Understandably, some might feel intimidated by the concept of automation, but we’ve been able to demonstrate, on the whole, that it adds incremental impact in digital advertising. Our team is constantly having to make this argument to win over our internal stakeholders and external advertisers. And the pitch is essentially that if we let the machines take care of simpler tasks, it allows us to focus on more productive activities. An analogy we use often is the ATM — people were nervous that there would be no need for bank tellers anymore when the ATM was first introduced, but there are actually still a lot of higher-value activities that humans perform at a typical financial institution. Similarly, the advent of the internet was expected to bring about mass unemployment due to gained efficiencies, but that simply did not happen — in fact, it had the reverse effect.
Being able to walk people through that logic and get stakeholders to feel comfortable with it has been rewarding. In order for them to “see the light” when it comes to automation, we need to support our position with data and analytics, and that is a skill I brought with me from L.E.K. — convincing through the power of data.
What were the biggest adjustments when you left L.E.K.?
Google has a fast-paced work environment, but not as fast as L.E.K., and it took a few months for me to feel comfortable taking my foot off the gas pedal a little bit. When I didn’t get an analysis the same day, or even the next day, I had to remind myself that not everyone is working for me or on the same project. There are many competing priorities for the business, and I had to learn to be patient. When relying on stakeholders outside of your immediate organization, it’s okay that it takes time. L.E.K. was my first job, so I had only ever worked with other consultants, and now there is only one other ex-consultant on my immediate team of 10, so I learned there are many more diverse working styles out there.
What are the top two or three skills you gained at L.E.K. that you think have been most helpful in your current role?
No question — it would have to be the data-and-analytics-based approach to solving problems. I can now fully appreciate that that skillset is developed over time, going back to the early days as an A1. Even in the interview booth, you are developing your instincts on how to ask people the right questions to get the best information possible, and that skillset builds to the next level and the next. I was able to develop this pedigree while at L.E.K., and now I use it every day and in every meeting.
Another major skill is stakeholder management. In a case at L.E.K., you are managing yourself, your manager, teammates and, as you move up, a partner or several partners, not to mention external stakeholders on the client side. In consulting, you are doing this minute to minute, downward, upward and sideways. Google is such a large, multi-layered, matrixed company that my immediate stakeholder network includes 50+ different people around the globe, and I spend a lot of my bandwidth thinking about them, how I can make them successful and vice versa. The phrase “it takes a village” holds very true here in terms of achieving goals, and I would not be able to manage this complex process without my experience at L.E.K.
What advice would you provide to someone at L.E.K. today in terms of how to maximize their time and experience at the firm? What advice would you give your L.E.K. self, knowing what you know now?
I would say don’t give up any opportunity to learn from the people around you. What I mean by that is, I know we have formal mentors and buddies, but I gained most experience and benefit from the personal relationships I formed on my own. I don’t know that everyone sees that opportunity or feels comfortable leveraging these relationships, but I found one of the best assets I had was the people around me and learning the most I could from them, both in terms of work and personally.
How has your role changed over the past year because of the pandemic? Are there any specific skills you gained at L.E.K. that have helped you navigate these changes?
Of course. Last March, everything shifted to a virtual work environment, and something I believe came with me from L.E.K. is being sure to be empathetic to the person on the other side of the video chat. I remember trying to understand what was most important to the client and what they needed to get from a particular piece of analysis or final presentation call, and this type of thinking is especially helpful now. Leading with empathy is something I remember developing at L.E.K. and an important skill that still serves me today.