Get to know your Chicago, Illinois & Grand Rapids, Michigan City Forums Chair - Chris Scherer!

Get to know your Chicago, Illinois & Grand Rapids, Michigan City Forums Chair - Chris Scherer!

Looking back really helps to gain perspective. In writing this, it occurred to me that my unique experiences prepared me for where I am today: helping leaders (1st and 2nd in command) get control of their business and, ultimately, life.

Once upon a time, I was one of the few native Tucsonans. While in college, I took my bicycle and my cowboy boots (my wife would later remind me) to study in Seville, Spain. Little did I know, I would meet the woman who changed my life for the better. At that point, I had already worked nearly five years with the owner of several industrial diamond tool factories. I worked every break and summer at one of the factories. We opened one outside of Dallas-Fort Worth and traveled up and down the US/Mexico border drumming up business. I was up to be a part owner and General Manager, but it was not meant to be. The world was simply too big and interesting.

 After studying in Spain, traveling extensively, and knowing I would marry Traci, everything changed. I graduated, moved to Michigan, got married, all during one of the weakest economies in years. One thing that did not change was the bike. I continued bike commuting year-round in Grand Rapids. We ended up relocating back to Tucson for a job that (very fortunately) did not work out. I was studying French and Portuguese at the time and decided to get my Spanish degree.

My perspective changed dramatically for degree #2. I was always a good student, but this time was not only easy, but I absolutely loved everything I was learning. How could I not continue? I applied to graduate school at Thunderbird. In that program, I was one of two lucky people accepted into a dual-degree program at ESADE in Barcelona. I have no idea how many applied. Might have been two.

My luck continued. I landed an internship with Kraft General Foods International, which had just acquired the largest producer of processed cheese in Spain (Industrial Quesera Menorquina)…on the island of Menorca…in the Mediterranean…starting in May.

 

That pretty much sealed it. This move, we took two mountain bikes, a road bike, our cat, and our dog. It’s also where my boss (picture Bluto / Brutus) showed me that one could have a glass (or two) of vino tinto with lunch (along that boardwalk in Mahón) and finish with espresso and liqueur. I’m still a lightweight, but there’s always room for improvement. I don’t miss the smoke-filled offices that came with Philip Morris in Spain.

We moved to Barcelona in September. Well, actually, we stayed on Las Ramblas and piled all of our stuff up three flights of stairs while we found a place in Castelldefels.

Barcelona city aeral view from the mountain, Spain

Oddly, we just discovered this is where the number one chef in the world got his culinary training. It wasn’t too far from here that we met some friends who were cycling around Western and Eastern Europe on $25/day. I had wanderlust.

After grad school, we returned to Grand Rapids and found a job with Arthur Andersen Business Consulting in Chicago. That was the beginning of my consulting career and the first ‘real’ year-round bike commute (20 miles one way in February qualifies). I actually wound up working with much of the same team 13 years later at AArete. When Andersen fell apart, a few dozen partners created Huron Consulting, where they continued the practice, then later spun off AArete in 2008.

I left Andersen to work at Baxter International in their Corporate Audit program, which was highly regarded. I was drawn to this and the chance to travel throughout Latin America. The experience of diving into very sophisticated operations and sizeable Balance Sheets was amazing. I can barely count the bucket-list-worthy personal experiences: five weeks in Rome and seeing the Pope in St. Peter’s Square over Easter; watching the Arenal volcano (Costa Rica) erupt at night from half a mile away. Reality check? Discovering my younger Audit Manager became CFO of a $14 billion company.

In 1998, my wife’s company merged, and we relocated to Princeton, NJ. Schering-Plough was at the top of its game and became my opportunity to explore the Income Statement (P&L). I continued to support a mix of diverse international business units with their operational issues, budgets, monthly/annual close, and planning. Most notable memory: being in Venezuela when Hugo Chávez won his first presidential election – we got out. Biggest scares: having a General Manager pull a gun out of his desk drawer (Lima); hearing of bystanders being shot in traffic on the trip from airport to hotel (Sao Paulo); leadership team barely missing a hotel bomb, despite a robust security detail (Lima). Eye opener? Watching the company crumble…after I left.

The McGraw-Hill Companies pretty much cemented my career in the transformation space. Andersen and Enron created the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which required I make sense of hundreds of processes across dozens of departments over 700 Finance and Human Resource professionals. Sounds boring, but boy does it help one’s understanding of business. I worked across functions, technologies, and borders to identify operational improvements, implement solutions, and mitigate risk, all with very broad and deep experts in so many domains.

After 125 years in business, the companies that became The McGraw-Hill Companies split under much shareholder pressure and I was long gone. As the split happened, one of my former bosses virtuously survived the ‘fortune’ of orchestrating a massive outsourcing and ERP Go Live simultaneously. The saving grace? The resulting (much smaller) company, S&P Global, Inc., is very solid and profitable.

While there, one of my most proud volunteer achievements was to start a local non-profit (wwbpa.org) intent on building a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly community. Our Township became the first in NJ to receive the League of American Bicyclist’s Bicycle Friendly Community Award. Again, surrounded by another incredibly solid Board of Directors and community volunteers who continue to do wonders.

I saw four companies fall apart: Arthur Andersen, Baxter, Schering-Plough and The McGraw-Hill Companies. The last three survived and two of them made dramatic recoveries. The lesson: there’s a reason behind much of what I was doing.

Before McGraw-Hill split, I returned to my roots and joined AArete as the 11th employee. In nearly seven years, I traveled four days a week, and led multiple teams in various cost reduction, compliance and process improvement efforts, saving over $110 million. When I left, we had nearly 130 employees with similar financial results.

 

So, here I am. A generalist with lots of hands-on experience across nearly every function (Compliance, Finance, HR, IT, Legal, Operations) in some incredible companies. I’ve had the pleasure of working with very talented and high-achieving people, without whom none of the success would have been possible. I love this work – helping CEOs and COOs – because, now, I truly aim to help others achieve their dreams. How better to do that than to leverage the power of peers?

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