Mike Burwell

Be a good listener, and build your network.


Mike Burwell is the Chief Financial Officer of Willis Towers Watson.

Before joining Willis Towers Watson, Mike spent 31 years at Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP (PwC). During his time there, he served 11 years in the assurance practice working on business advisory services. In 1997, he was elected partner and moved into PwC’s Detroit transaction business. Mike was asked to take over leadership of PwC’s central U.S. transaction business following his success in Detroit. In 2009, he was appointed Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer across PwC’s U.S. business. In 2012, he became the Vice Chairman Global and U.S. Transformation where he helped to build and expand PwC’s internal shared services.

Mike has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Michigan State University and is a certified public accountant. In 2010, he was named Michigan State University’s Alumnus of the year.

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

A typical day for me starts at 5am, I always make my bed even when I am traveling. It makes me feel like I have accomplished something. I then really like to try and get to my Peloton bike either at home or where I can find one. While riding, I try to think about what I need get accomplished by the end of the day. It keeps me on task and at the beginning of the month I reflect on the month, and at the beginning of the week and so on.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Many times people in our organization have great ideas, so I look to try and make sure they get the proper light and evaluation or see the light of day so they do not stay buried. The next Uber and Airbnb idea and talent exists within our organization, how can I make sure we bring it to life. These digital ninjas are the secret weapons.

What’s one trend that excites you?

InsureTech, the ideas that are surfacing really interesting starting in the B to C marketplace. We have been observing these through our Plug and Play relationship. We see very interesting connections and changes.

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

My mindset is one how do we do more with less; so I believe technology makes great people even more productive. So I constantly share with others one app that helps me more productive and then ask others what app helps you? It is just a small way of increasing my individual productivity.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Collaboration does not equal consensus; you will get lowest common denominator if you must have consensus every time, be careful trying to make everyone happy…..although it is always nice if you can.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Micro-communities will continue to grow and the technology to support them will be key. I believe the platform will continue to evolve because like-minded people want to connect and advertisers want to reach them. Watch this space!

What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Be a good listener, and build your network. Everyone has something interesting about them, the question is do you have time to invest to really know what it is? So, I really try to be in the moment when communicating with others and engaging to understand them.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Be positive, be relentless, everyone will tell you why it will not work. I would always celebrate wins with the team and assess why we won and why we lost….we can always get better. As an example, simply ask what one thing could we have done better?

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

I was “leading the effort” on a new technology, we were several million into it and I stopped it. This was very unpopular decision, but the market had evolved and we were not going to be market leading. The best decision was to stop it. Of course, by many it was viewed as a failure. I have used it as an example-fail fast and a learning example. I think you always have to keep a keen eye on the marketplace for potential disruption. So, we could have spent millions more to become me too, I think I made the right decision.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I spent $100 on a cord organizer for my briefcase; honestly I travel the world and to have all my cords in my bag organized has been very helpful.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I have many, but I find flip board very useful because it brings me content on a real time basis for me to browse.

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

Soft Selling in a Hard World” by Jerry Vass, this book will help you understand what it takes to be successful.

What is your favorite quote?

“There is only one place to look for leadership and that is in the mirror” – my daughter

Key learnings:

  • The next Uber and Airbnb talent exists in your organization; make sure your unlock these digital ninjas
  • Collaboration does not always equal consensus; although that is always nice to have
  • Micro-communities will continue to expand and grow in the future
  • There is only one place to look for leadership-in the mirror


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