Tanguy Catlin, MBA '04
Christopher Reichert, MOT '04, talks with Tanguy Catlin, MBA '04, about family life at Sloan. They also discuss Tanguy's work with major financial institutions as he leads McKinsey Digital 20/20 diagnostic solutions, helping companies rapidly gauge and strengthen their digital capabilities to improve financial performance.
Christopher Reichert: Welcome to Sloanies Talking with Sloanies, a candid conversation with alumni and faculty about the MIT Sloan experience and how it influences what they're doing today. So, what does it mean to be a Sloanie? Over the course of this podcast, you'll hear from guests who are making a difference in their community, including our own very important one here at Sloan. I'm your host, Christopher Reichert.
Christopher Reichert: So welcome, Tanguy to the second in our series. Tell us who you are, where you work, about the last few years.
Tanguy Catlin: Wonderful. Well, I’m a partner at McKinsey & Company. My office location is Boston, though I spend quite a fair amount of time covering different geographies. I have a few responsibilities at McKinsey. I run our insurance practice in North America. I run all of our activities around design, digital, and analytics in the Northeast of the US, where we have multiple centers, and I also run a piece of software that many of our clients are using.
Christopher Reichert: Interesting. So I see that you have a few achievements on your resume, some of which are the scholar. You are now a member of the MIT Sloan Alumni Board. Tell me about your scholarship; was that part of Sloan, after Sloan?
Tanguy Catlin: So I received a serious scholarship while I was at Sloan. I think it was the first or second year of that program. I received a phone call asking me to go see the Dean in the morning. I was wondering what I had done to get into trouble so early in my tenure, and I got the privilege to hear that I was a recipient of the award and that part of my tuition would be covered by it, which was just a wonderful experience. And since then I've been actively involved with the Siebel scholar community. We get together once a year for the conference that Tom is organizing, and we have some dinners, and it's very humbling to see who is part of that community.
Christopher Reichert: Interesting, and tell me about the time before Sloan and what led to Sloan.
Tanguy Catlin: I was born in France. I grew up in Belgium. In the education system in Belgium, you go to schools based on their ranking. I was fortunate enough to go to one of the better schools, but it turns out to be a school of engineering, and I didn't know at the time whether I wanted to be an engineer. So I graduated many years later with a master’s degree in Material Science and realized that was probably not what I wanted to do as a profession. I joined Procter & Gamble for a number of years where I initially ran part of the engineering operation and I had a defining moment where in one of my plants, I had two fatalities in a year. I realized I was cutting corners and decided I would never be on the cost side of the balance sheet. And I started a long process of rehabilitation, which included trying to better my education in the areas of business. So after a few years at P&G, I applied to MIT Sloan, came here, I had an offer at Harvard and MIT, attended both Admit Weekends with my wife and the evidence came that MIT Sloan was the community I wanted to be part of. And then, while at Sloan, the defining moment was my wife and I welcomed our twins. But they were born extremely prematurely so they had all sorts of medical issues, and I experienced the incredibly caring community of the school for two years while they helped us out. But it also shadowed some of my dreams of being an entrepreneur coming out of MIT Sloan. I needed to find health insurance and that's how I became a consultant and joined McKinsey.
Christopher Reichert: Interesting, and what was it about Sloan, compared to the other schools that accepted you, that tipped Sloan for you?
Tanguy Catlin: I think at the time, and I will tell you looking back, it was really the community. I was coming from a small country, being an engineer, coming to the US, it was an overwhelming experience and being part of a group of people who really, I felt, had a similar background, similar passions, similar values, was probably the number one. I had met in Belgium, a number of Sloan alumni who I felt were just genuinely the most giving people I knew.
I think the second element was it was the business school of the best engineering school in the world, and I was an engineer. So there was a level of comfort knowing that I knew the environment of engineering school, and I also wanted to find ways to explore opportunities to be an entrepreneur, linking to the broader MIT network. I think looking back what I didn't know, but really I'm glad I went to Sloan, was the notion of hands on learning. I realized that doing cases in class is fine, but that's not the way I learn. I learn by getting my hands dirty and I remember going for a couple of weeks to New Zealand helping IPO a company and doing those kinds of things. The environment that Sloan provides is just so unique and I think superior for my own development.
Christopher Reichert: And so for your entrepreneurial desires, because you had twins and you needed health insurance and whatnot, how do you exercise that spark now in the work that you do?
Tanguy Catlin: You might remember, I said for instance, I run a software. McKinsey is not known for software. I was probably one of the first guys to come up with the idea that we could be running software a few years ago, and I have a team of developers, 40 of them in India. That's an example, and I love that. It's a small portion of what I'm responsible for, but that gives me a disproportionate share of joy. I oversee all of our digital analytics and design activities. So we've done some acquisitions as a firm. We've acquired Veryday, We've acquired LUNAR, we've acquired QuantumBlack, and you acquire startups to some extent and you become part of their fabric. So that gives me enormous joy. And then many of my Sloan friends have become entrepreneurs and are asking for my support and advice, whether it's monetary or intellectual contributions. So that's my way of fulfilling it. I hope that the future part of my journey will allow me to fulfill it even more so.
Christopher Reichert: And your work on the alumni board, how did you come to the position and how do you feel that that plays a part in your thinking, in your aspirations or inspirations?
Tanguy Catlin: The school has really meant so much to me. Remember I was a material scientist in Belgium, and where I have landed today is because of the school, so I have enormous gratitude. And I remember the traumatic experience, we have kids who were born and were not supposed to be alive. They are really miracles. They've spent years in a hospital, and the level of support we got from the school is incredible.
I remember not having to cook for months. We would go home at night and there would be a plate and people helping us out. So I've never left the school. I've always felt very connected to the school. At McKinsey for instance, I was in charge of all the recruiting at the school, and in charge of the relationship we have with the MIT Sloan Management Review, in terms of publication and collaboration, so I've always been part of the fabric of the school, never left. However, about two and a half years ago I was approached asking whether I would want to join more formally the board, and I met with a number of alumni who were on the board, Natalia as an example, and I was deeply inspired by what the Dean was trying to establish through that role and decided to join, and I've been beyond pleased with the experience and the impact.
Christopher Reichert: When did you join McKinsey? Was that right out of Sloan?
Tanguy Catlin: Yeah, I joined as a summer associate in 2003.
Christopher Reichert: And now you're a senior partner?
Tanguy Catlin: I am, yes.
Christopher Reichert: Tell us about that journey, because not many people get the senior partner.
Tanguy Catlin: There are a few of us. So I joined as a summer associate and then I rejoined as an associate when I graduated in 2004, and I had an interesting experience. The first few years I was really local because I had to take care of my kids in a very small office at the time, the Boston office, and it forced me to focus early on, on a few clients in a similar sector, which led me to leading the insurance practice of McKinsey now. Very early on, more than most of my peers, I specialized.
The second thing that I think differentiated me when I joined McKinsey at the time was that I had studied System Dynamics at Sloan. I had been teaching assistant to Peter Senge who was the author of “The Fifth Discipline” and this notion of, “How do you think about large scale impact, and how you organize and engineer it from the core?” This was the type of big, big thinking that I was exposed to that I tried to emulate and bring to the firm. I think that's what created my brand in the firm, was this notion of understanding network impact.
So after six, seven years, the kids started doing better. My daughter was no longer fed through a tube, I was elected partner and all of a sudden it became, what's out there beyond Boston? And so the next five years has been really the entrepreneurship in launching the software, expanding my roles and responsibilities, traveling the world. And five years later I was elected Senior Partner and now it's a combination of client entrepreneurship, my role is to introduce new clients, but also really people development. When you are in the role that I am in, it's all about how you create opportunities for the next generation. So I spend an insane amount of time with young people who are much smarter than I am and that keeps me grounded and I love it.
Christopher Reichert: Tell me about the role your partner played and a bit about the personal resilience that it takes to have children in the condition that they were in and also having an increasingly demanding role at a firm known for its rigor.
Tanguy Catlin: So you're right, the real hero in our life is my wife, Charlotte. I met her when I was 16. The first day I met her, I told her I would marry her. She got scared, it took me two years to get my first date, but I've always known that she was an exceptional person. The notion of leaving her family in Belgium to go study in the US was a big decision, and I wanted it to be hers. So we came to the Admit Weekend and she chose MIT and she chose very wisely. As I mentioned, the community was superb.
The school did something remarkable. She was a psychologist focusing on patients, kids with cancer, terminal cancer. And for a number of reasons she could not maintain that level of employment in the US, so the school gave her a job while I worked at MIT, initially in the Admissions Office, after that, in managing the intellectual property of MIT in international schools. And that all stopped when our kids were born, four months premature.
The second part was being a mom, being a spouse and being in the community, she became friends with so many partners. We were living in Eastgate and that's where that community came forward for us and she remains, I think probably better networked than I am because of that affiliation. Obviously with kids being sick for long, she decided not to return to work. There was just impracticality, so she was there to support my professional journey. She has now returned to work as a French teacher, and when we talk about the school quite often, we really feel that it has defined us and made us better people. I think we appreciated the need to welcome help when we needed it. We appreciated the fact that people from all horizons, diversities have amazing values and so I just think that we became simpler, humbler people and that our love for each other grew from that type of experience, so I think she loves the school as much, if not more, than I do.
Christopher Reichert: That's wonderful. You talked about system dynamics as an interesting topic that you discovered and have developed. Are there any other professors besides Peter Senge that you've kept in touch with or memories that you have of topics or classes that you took that have stuck with you through the years?
Tanguy Catlin: While I was a student, the accounting class was the most dreadful for me. So that's what I remember as a student. If I look back, the classes that have had the most impact, one was a class called Industrial Economics, and the premise of that class is to say, “What matters is the industry in which you compete.” If it's an attractive industry, you can be average and do very well. If it's a shitty industry, even if you're the best, it will suck. And there is so much truth to that. I practice that every day.
The second one was a class about HR. You go to business school and you don't think about it, but eventually when you run large organizations, it's HR and it's technology. So thinking really thoughtfully about developing congruent systems that help people perform at their best and be motivated, I think was an invaluable experience.
And then the third one was G-Lab. I had the opportunity to go spend a couple of weeks in New Zealand, help the company go IPO, and again, that was an incredible experience. One week into the engagement, the project realized that the books of the company were corrupt, and so we had to face the CEO and tell him that he just could not go public. And I don't think there are many places where you can have that type of experience that young, and they shaped me.
Christopher Reichert: So you're now heading up the digital strategy practice and property and casualty insurance practice. Tell me a bit about the other one, the digital quotient initiative. You talked about the digital and HR and how that really enables and empowers people.
Tanguy Catlin: Back in the day, seven, eight years ago, the firm realized that digital was transforming the nature of competition and we needed to have an offering. So some of us started developing some engagement models and after one or two years, we ask ourselves, "Are we making a difference? Are we will really, really changing the trajectory of class?" And we just couldn't answer that question, and one of my colleagues said, "Well, does it make sense to help certain companies transform themselves digitally or is it too late? Think about if you compete against an Amazon.” I didn't know the answer to that question, and it really started haunting me. And so we decided to do some research and think, could we predict whether the company's likely to thrive in the digital area or not?
We spent two years interviewing all the digitally successful companies, they tend to be digital natives, and asking them, "Why do you think you're on top?" And it was a humbling experience because I would have expected folks to talk about technology, etc. and they were talking about strategy and culture and over and over and over again, the answer was the same. So we decided to codify that answer in terms of the number of simple management practice. The question was, “Was that recipe applicable to non-digital natives?” And so we undertook a very long experiment of teaching certain companies to adopt those management practices and seeing whether their performance was changing, and we can now demonstrate the correlation between certain management practices and total return to show order and growth. And so this digital quotient has become a tool that actually is quite recognized. The MIT Sloan HBR Holders folks have written about it as something that allows you to diagnose where you are and prioritize interventions that will allow you to compete more effectively in the digital age.
Christopher Reichert: So I assume that takes a certain insight for a company to understand where they are on the S-Curve, I think it was, where you leap across to the next. And how do you bring companies along that don't understand where they are, and is that part of the services that McKinsey would provide to help elucidate leadership on their potential for success or not?
Tanguy Catlin: Yes, it's a brilliant question. What you are asking is how do you address the unconsciously unskilled executive? It's a tough one because they need to be willing to learn. One of the things that I found pretty powerful is just getting on the plane with them and going to visit startups and have young kids tell them why they think they can disrupt their industries and show them what they're able to do with bubble gum and tape.
Christopher Reichert: Scare them in a sense.
Tanguy Catlin: It scares them. But then you need to be able to bring it together. As a large organization, you have a brand, you have customers, you have many assets and you have a lot to lose. As a startup, you have nothing and you have a lot to gain, and therefore the way you play your strategies are fundamentally different. So the first thing is open the eyes and create some level of discomfort. But then after that you need to give them the courage to act and that requires different approaches.
Christopher Reichert: Interesting. Do you have any thoughts on a do-over at Sloan if you think back? What would you do differently?
Tanguy Catlin: So I will tell you, when I grew up, I read a book called “Love Story,” and it's about this guy at Harvard who falls in love with this girl and she has cancer and he doesn't treat her the right way. That was my first love story book and I decided to go to Harvard to go on the rink and to save the girl. So my very first day at Sloan, the guy sitting next to me was a French guy. We met and it turns out that he was the captain of a French hockey team and I decided that I would learn to play hockey, not at Harvard, but at MIT. And so for two years, I practiced. At the end of the second year, I begged him to take me on his team to play the Harvard MIT game, I was utterly unqualified, but I was also pretty persuasive and said, "Give me five seconds on the rink." I went on the rink, I got checked, and I broke three ribs. And so if I had a do-over, I would be a lot more humble.
Christopher Reichert: So in our last couple of minutes, do you have any parting advice or thoughts for prospective students or for anyone listening?
Tanguy Catlin: I would have three if you allow me. The first one is it will be the most defining moment of your life. You're going to learn more about yourself than through other experiments in a safe environment and you're going to raise your ambition and aspiration. So it's the best investment you can make in yourself.
The second one is you're going to create a community that will carry you for years and years. It's hard to describe, but MIT Sloan is really this special gem where people care about each other, and I would say that even today it's probably my most valuable network.
And then the third parting thought is when you are there, you need to be willing to experiment. The mistake I think people make is they go to Sloan and say, "I know exactly what I'll do coming out of school." And I think they minimize their exposure to different ways of thinking, different ways of working, and therefore they don't learn as much as they can about themselves. So go do it—get to know the people, they're awesome—and experiment. Let the school shape you versus trying to use the school to shape where you are going.
Christopher Reichert: Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Tanguy Catlin for your time today and with Sloanies Talking with Sloanies.
Tanguy Catlin: Thank you. Happy holidays.
Christopher Reichert: And to you too.
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