Ambrose Conroy – Founder of Seraph

[quote style=”boxed”]The ability to create momentum and provide clear direction to a project team is vital. I believe this boils down to leadership and team accountability.[/quote]

Ambrose Conroy is the founder of Seraph, as well as a member of its executive team. Seraph works with clients to turn around, relocate, or restructure their business operations. Seraph consultants bring experience in exploiting emerging markets, turning around troubled operations, and developing products. Ambrose is an expert management consultant who has worked with leading international companies in the automotive, aerospace, energy infrastructure, and medical sectors.

Where did the idea for Seraph come from?

I realized that clients often wanted more than just strategic guidance; they wanted a team that would lead the delivery of the results. Seraph brings experienced management consultants together with some of the best managers who have successfully made the jump from their industries to consulting. We have the strategic and analytical skills required to understand where a business needs to go and which levers to pull, as well as the capabilities to get our clients there quickly. This works well in full-blown turnaround and restructuring engagements, where the very survival of the business is at stake, as well as in more traditional performance improvement and footprint strategy projects. What I enjoy about Seraph most is that we are able to pick and choose the clients we work with and the projects we take.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

One of the great things about Seraph is that I do not have a “typical day,” although I do have some standard work.

My day starts around 5 a.m. with email and calls to catch up on activities in the London office and with our European engagements. I grab a cup of coffee and figure out how to get the most out of the day and make it fun. Most days, I either head off to work on a client engagement or I begin a series of calls with our engagement teams.

On client sites, I start off by taking a walk to see who’s in and take the pulse of the organization. There’s a lot you can learn just by walking around. Seeing who arrives early is always helpful to me. My walks help me see and understand the client culture.

Lunch is often a meeting, after which I spend an hour or two returning phone calls and following up on tasks. I will forget to eat lunch if I don’t have a meeting scheduled, so my teams try to make sure there’s a reason for me to sit down, either with them or a client.

I try to protect most afternoons for one-on-one discussions and critical project workshops. Days on client sites run long and either end with a team dinner or a mad dash to the airport to catch my flight to the next meeting.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have been very fortunate to learn from some great leaders over the years that nothing good happens without a plan. One of the partners I worked for early in my career said momentum is critical; once you achieve it, changing direction can be done easily.

Idea realization requires energy, perseverance, and often a belief that the impossible is achievable. Discipline, hard work, leadership, and a “force of will” are required to make things happen.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I love new technology, and the idea of having Internet-connected devices really excites me. I got Internet-controlled light switches, a NEST thermostat, and even an electric car as they were released.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

The ability to create momentum and provide clear direction to a project team is vital. I believe this boils down to leadership and team accountability.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My first job was at a store that sold bulk goods by the pound. They created a culture that turned all the employees against each other; there was no trust. This was a minimum-wage job, and they put every new hire through a lie detector test before an offer was made. I left after a couple of months.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have chosen different partners for my first company. In my career, everything has clearly built upon itself, and I am very content with where I am. However, I am very careful about the team with whom I work.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Try to figure out what would be “fun” to do today. I love my job 60 percent of the time, like it 20 percent of the time, and consider it “work” 20 percent of the time. My wife constantly reminds me that if it were always fun, it wouldn’t be called work. At the beginning of each day, I figure out what’s going to make the day more enjoyable and put the “work” tasks in between the best activities as rewards.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

One of the best restaurant managers I worked with had a philosophy: If you take care of the front of the house, the customers will take care of the rest. Putting the customer first is always the right thing for a business to do, and sometimes in consulting, putting the customer’s need first can be very painful for the customer. Knowing when to challenge the customer — and when to let him drag his feet — is an art form I will always be perfecting.

By watching out for my clients’ long-term profitability and doing the right things for them, I’ve had the privilege of working with many of the same clients over and over.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

At a previous company I founded, I chose some partners who did not share my values. I shut the company down, despite its profitability, and started a similar company, being careful to bring in the right partners and team.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I want to see fast charging stations for EVs in urban areas. Tesla has a great model with large batteries for distance driving and a Supercharger network for road trips, but they’re not planning to put Superchargers into cities.

I see a real market for electric filling stations in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, DC, where parking is at a premium and people want electric cars. Bringing high-powered “DC” charging stations into major metropolitan areas could yield great returns; the potential for large profit exists. I encourage someone to take advantage of this idea.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

I really like to cook and find it relaxing. Most holidays in my house, and often when we have friends over for a dinner party, you will find me in the kitchen.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use Expensify for our expense reporting. I’ve always hated to do expenses, but this tool not only makes reports easy, but it also helps keep them accurate. I cannot recommend this product enough; it really is a game changer.

LinkedIn is great for keeping track of the people I meet on projects.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’d recommend “True Professionalism.” This is a book that helps people understand how to be successful on an individual level at work. When I was finishing my formal consulting training, we were all given a copy of the book; to this day, I give all my new hires a copy.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

• Jack Welsh, who I met several times on a golf course and at parties, told me the work I was doing at a consulting firm was a waste of time. He made it clear that the point of business was to make money, and these companies that had no plans to make money would go away.

• Charlie Trotter, who passed away last year, was a major influence on how I approach customer service and set standards of excellence. I had the privilege of eating at Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago four times, including once at the kitchen table. He set expectations that everyone around him would be better than the best, and the books he wrote on excellence explored principles that are applicable across industries.

• Elon Musk is an amazing entrepreneur who reshaped many of the things that impact people’s daily lives. Through PayPal, he built a foundation to make it easier to pay for things. Tesla is revolutionizing transportation, and while the cars are still at a price point that keep them out of reach for most people, the technology is incredible. SpaceX has successfully put rockets into space and delivered goods to the international space station, and Solar City is working to make solar more accessible to the average American.


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