Slalom’s secret to success: Only taking clients that match its company culture

Jeff Van Wie, general manager of the New Jersey market for Slalom Consulting, laughs about the reputation the consultancy sector has: “All work, no play.”

Burnout is a line on the job description.

That’s not the case at Slalom, Van Wie said, and the global company has the Best Places to Work honors to prove it.

Van Wie, who came to Slalom in 2011, shortly after more than two decades with a traditional firm, said he feels the company’s culture is its differentiator.

By culture, he means this: Slalom is not afraid to turn down business if it doesn’t match the company’s mission of providing top service in first-class fashion.

“That’s how we approach our work,” he said. “We are really transparent with our clients about what it takes to get things done. I think that they appreciate that in us. 

“And we will walk away from opportunities if we know it’s not going to work.”

Come again?

“We’ve done this several times, just in the New Jersey market in the last three years,” Van Wie said. “If you want to implement something within a three-month period and we know what it takes to do that — and we know it takes longer than that — then we abstain from it. 

“We’re not going to sign our people up for that. We believe what will happen is this: The client will be dissatisfied with what we deliver, and our people are going to get burned out — everybody loses. 

“So, our approach is just to be very transparent, very honest. We tell our clients: This is what we think we can do, and this is why. If we land the account and they take our advice, we tend to see wins.”

The firm has been seeing plenty of wins.

Earlier this month, Slalom not only was named to Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work — for the 8th consecutive year — but also placed No. 12 overall. Last fall, another ranking had Slalom among the Top 10 places to work if you’re a woman.

Jeff Van Wie.

Van Wie points out this work-life balance has not negatively impacted the bottom line or company growth. In fact, he thinks it has helped it.

When he started at Slalom, he was the fourth employee for the company in what was the firm’s 10th office overall.

“We were at about 1,500 employees, maybe $150 million in revenue,” he said. “Now, we’re a $3 billion company in 45 markets. It’s very different.”

But is it?

Van Wie said the firm’s expansion has followed company culture lines.

“We build that into each of our individual markets,” he said. “We build it into our global organizations. When we started the London office, we said: ‘Here’s the cookbook. Here’s the type of people you’re looking for. Here’s how they need to culturally fit to match with us.’”

That has helped the company on a global scale as it ensures all the offices can work together, Van Wie said.

Office culture is key — and not for old-school reasons.

Slalom isn’t about to mandate employees return to the office on a full-time basis — something they didn’t do pre-pandemic.

But, Van Wie said the company feels it’s important that its employees live in the areas it serves. This isn’t a consultancy that has its employees live out of a suitcase.

That’s why Van Wie was so thrilled to be able to open the firm’s office in New Brunswick earlier this month — a ribbon-cutting that was pandemic-delayed.

“We think our advantage is that we show up, Monday to Friday,” Van Wie said. “If you’re signing up for a project with us in the state of New Jersey, 90% of the people on the project are going to be folks that live in the great state of New Jersey.

“They’re citizens, they’re taxpayers — they want to do the project and they want it to be successful because it helps them, since they are neighbors.”

And, apparently, very happy employees.