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Below is a speech I gave to the Kelley School of Business MBA Consulting Academy for their induction ceremony on September 16, 2016. The speech is titled “Discovering Your Purpose.”

Good evening and thank you for being here tonight. It’s always a pleasure returning to campus and spending time with all of you. Thank you to Professor Wisneski for having us here this evening and co-hosting such a wonderful event. EY is so proud to be a part of the Kelley family and are very fortunate to have such a strong relationship with the consulting academy.

First off, I am pleased welcome you to the profession of consulting. I’ve spent my career in professional services and I believe there is no greater purpose than helping companies grow, prosper and change the world. Whether you choose to go into consulting as your career or you use the skills you learn here in another career path, what you learn through this academy will shape how you view the world for the rest of your life. Congratulations on an outstanding decision to join the consulting academy here at Kelley.

My name is Justin Greis and I grew up in the Chicago area. And much like you, I came to Kelley and graduated from the MBA program in 2004. You know, I really loved my time here at school. From Kilroy’s to Nick’s to nickel beer night at the Bluebird, I took advantage of every opportunity. In fact, I loved it so much that, for the better part of a decade, I decided not to “graduate” and have served on the core faculty in the MSIS program here at Kelley. You may even see me running around the halls on Fridays talking about the virtues of IT governance, risk and controls.

At EY I run our Digital Enterprise business where my practice helps companies do business better through the power of technology. I was always fascinated with technology and loved to tinker so it was a natural fit with my passion.

Consulting has always run through my veins… Even as a kid, I loved helping people. I remember helping friends pick out their new dirt bikes at Toys-R-Us. Advising the neighborhood kids on the right way to optimize their video game budgets. And running game theory models on choosing the right baseball card packet to get that illusive 1989 Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie card. You see consulting was always a part of who I am because I love helping people. I was always the type of person who got more pleasure from giving gifts than receiving them and I suspect many of you are like that as well. It wasn’t until later in life that I was able to articulate that helping others, quite simply, was my purpose. And tonight, that is what I’d like to talk to you about: discovering your purpose. When you find your purpose – the very thing that makes you tick – work suddenly doesn’t feel like work at all; it just feels good. Real good.

Tuesday, October 18th is a very important day this year. It is the day my wife and I are expecting our first child. She’s a baby girl and she already has me wrapped around her little finger. My wife, Katharine, complains about rib kicks and punches and I immediately come to the baby’s defense explaining that, “she’s just so excited to see us, she can’t contain her little arms and legs.” Katharine promptly yells at me for already defending “Daddy’s little girl.” What can I say? She’s right…

This past Monday Kathrine and I attended one of many obligatory classes to get ready for the arrival of the baby. Infant CPR, diaper changing, swaddling, feeding, birthing…you know…the usual MBA curriculum… It’s all very new and overwhelming to us. This Monday night session was on pediatric care and consisted of a panel of four pediatricians – all offering their advice for how to raise a healthy baby and maintain your parental sanity during the first few days of sleep-deprived infant care.

I started thinking about pediatricians and doctors in general as I looked at the panel sitting before us. And as I heard them talk, I thought more about about their purpose. Their purpose is to heal people and promote the welfare of their patients. They provide sound advice and use various treatments to keep their patients well, or make them well again. They are trusted advisors who have specialized skills and base their lives and livelihood on helping people.

As I sat and listened to the doctors set our nervous minds at ease, I couldn’t help but think that: we, as consultants, hold the very same responsibility for the health and welfare of our clients and their businesses as doctors do for their patients. The best consultants I work with know this and understand that, like doctors, we too are here to do more than collect fees and make a profit. We are here to help people.

So, why then are there shows like House of Lies that glorify the outrageous lives of so-called management consultants? Well, I guess for the same reason that there are 10 shows about the The Real Housewives of __FILL IN THE BLANK__? Our lives – or at least the perceptions of our lives as consultants – are entertaining!

But I believe the root cause of the misperceptions about consultants stems from something else. It’s because the word “consultant” has been adopted, distorted, and obfuscated in so many ways. Doctors don’t have this problem, but for some reason we do.

For example, I was taking an Uber home from the airport the other day and my driver and I were making our usual small-talk. He asked “if you don’t mind me asking, what do you do, sir?” I told him “I am a consultant.” He looked into the rear-view mirror, smirked and said, “Yeah? Me too. I’m a transportation consultant. Now, what do you really do?” He laughed and told me that everyone who gets into his car is a “consultant.” Now, odds are that if you pick up someone at the airport on a Thursday evening, they are either a consultant or airline crew. But my driver was right. Everyone these days says they are a consultant. But for me, his observation underscored the stark contrast between profession and purpose.

Your profession is what you do. Your purpose is what you believe. And the real trick is to align what you do and what you believe. That is where true happiness lives. And this is the goal in discovering your purpose.

Now, I shared with you earlier purpose is elusive and can be hard to articulate. It takes time to find and sometimes even more time to put into words. When I graduated from my MBA and received my offer with EY I remember marching into my partner’s office (his name is Bill Guska), sitting down at his desk with offer in-hand and demanding EY pay for law school. [Yes, I wanted to be a lawyer at the time.] I’ll never forget what Bill said to me; it will stick with me forever. He said “Justin, if you do well here and prove yourself, we will sponsor you for just about anything, including law school.” My jaw dropped, I couldn’t believe it. I told Bill to count me in and I signed the offer right there and then. Of course I never went to law school. It just wasn’t my calling. And Bill knew that.

Thirteen years later, fast-forward to Bill’s retirement party last year, surrounded by 200 people – family, clients, and friends from across the country. Bill took me aside and told me: “I always believed in you. And I always knew you’d never go to law school. Yes, I would have paid for it, but it just wasn’t your purpose.” And Bill was right. It wasn’t.

Our purpose is characterized by the mark we leave on this world. Whether you’re an individual or a company, everyone has a purpose just waiting to be discovered.

  • Help people network professionally – LinkedIn
  • Making cancer history – MD Anderson
  • Inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time – Starbucks
  • Building a better working world – EY

All of these purpose statements give organizations their “true north.” And in turn, these purpose-driven companies give us, as employees, something special to be a part of.

So how do you find your purpose? Well, like all good consultants, I’ve boiled it down to three pieces of advice for you:

  1. Seek different experiences and trust your inner voice.
  2. Create a personal cause worth believing in.
  3. Align what you do (or what you want to do) with what you believe.

So let’s start with seeking different experiences and trusting your inner voice.

Your MBA is the perfect opportunity to try many different things and experience an aspect of business you never knew you may enjoy. This consulting academy is the perfect example. Get out of your comfort zone and try new things; as many as you can. And don’t worry about grades or even failing. If you’re in marketing, take a project management class. If you’re in finance, take a business law class. The point is: get out of your comfort zone and try something new; you never know what you may like. And by the way, finding dislikes is just as important.

During my undergrad, I actually majored in accounting. Me? Accounting? I was the guy who loved his tax course so much that I had to take it twice! No joke… But failure is just as important as success, if not more. Through trial and error, I started to understand the type of work I wanted to do, what I was good at, and what I wasn’t. But I had to try it and experience it for myself and with every experience, class, extracurricular, or project I learned more and more about what I liked and what I didn’t. These preferences are critical in finding your purpose.

Next, create a personal cause worth believing in.

In school, we’re exceptionally good at diagnostic assessments that tell us our strengths, our communication style, and the type of person we are. Stengths Finder, Myers-Briggs, DISC, the Paul Mok assessment – these are all wonderful tools of self-discovery that tell you the type of skills you are good at. Often we choose jobs based on this information alone. The fallacy here is: you may be good at these things but you may not like them and that’s a dangerous place to be for humans of our ever-growing life expectancy. That’s why this step is so critical: cultivate a personal cause – something that you believe in. What are you passionate about? What could you do all night and never get tired of it? If you could solve any problem in the world, what would it be? What do you love?

For me, I loved solving problems. I loved technology and business. And I loved helping others. Therefore my cause became “eliminating manual processes.” For one of my colleagues it was “Killing Dilbert.” He wanted to make sure employee experiences were meaningful and productive, unlike Dilbert’s comic world. For another colleague it’s “building a trusted computing environment.” He’s a cybersecurity consultant…no surprise there. But all of these causes help us establish a personal mission.

But the last step is, by far, the most critical and also the most overlooked: align what you do (or what you want to do) with what you believe. If you’re analytical and believe that everyone deserves access to clean water, the question becomes: “how can you use your analysis skills to provide clean drinking water around the world?” Finding a profession that allows you to do that is when your purpose is activated. When we align our strengths to causes we don’t care about, it’s a recipe for unhappiness and burn-out. When we use our gifts to to make a meaningful and lasting impact on the world for causes we believe in, happiness, self-fulfillment and success is a certainty.

So, for all of you future consultants of the world, we have the great privilege, like the pediatricians I met on Monday, of looking after the health and welfare of our clients’ businesses. Think about your role in that relationship. Consulting is a broad term, as my uber driver pointed out. The difference between a good consultant and a great consultant rests in our ability to find our purpose and align it to what we do so we can help our clients achieve their purpose.

Thank you again for having us here this evening. Congratulations to all of you and welcome to a life-long career of continuous learning, growth, and success. I’m honored to you call you my fellow consultants and look forward to working together with you to build a better working world.

Thank you.