Life at ZS

Top 25 consultant winner Kurt Kessler takes calculated risks

By ZS Author

June 13, 2019 | Article | 4-minute read

Top 25 consultant winner Kurt Kessler takes calculated risks

When Principal Kurt Kessler (Zurich) came to ZS in 2001, our firm was primarily known for our expertise tackling tough sales problems. Upon joining, Kurt saw an opportunity for ZSers to make an even greater impact.


“I thought, if I could help build marketing capabilities at a firm that’s already established in sales, it would create a killer value proposition to take to clients,” said Kurt.


In partnership with a strong team of ZSers, Kurt helped build a bridge between sales and marketing, leveraging analytics to drive marketing strategy into sales execution. What started as a small market research capability evolved into an expansive international marketing practice that now comprises half of ZS’s business.


In addition to the contributions Kurt has made to expand ZS’s scope of work as a firm, he has also dedicated himself to engaging with clients throughout his career – listening to them, understanding their priorities and solving problems with them. After helping establish ZS’s marketing offering in the U.S., Kurt relocated to Zurich to focus on building the marketing business in Europe.


Kurt’s tremendous career has helped him land a coveted spot on Consulting magazine’s 2019 Top 25 Consultants list in the Excellence in Leadership category. Published annually, this prestigious list celebrates consultants who are making the greatest impact on the industry.


“I am deeply honored to be acknowledged alongside so many talented and accomplished peers,” said Kurt. “Helping ZS build its marketing practice is something I will always be proud of, and this award is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the many committed ZSers who helped make that dream a reality.”


What three characteristics are most important in a leader?

Listening, learning and taking calculated risks, which are traits that I see time and time again held by our ZS leaders.


I don’t know how anyone can lead without listening to the smart people around them. Genuinely listening requires you to have patience, suspend your personal agenda and be open to new perspectives – and learn from what people tell you. You should always try to learn something new, not only from the people around you, but also by seeking out industry news to stay in touch with trends and engaging in a dialogue about them.


But ultimately, you’re not truly leading unless you take a few calculated risks. If you waited for everyone to agree on something, you’d probably never get anything done. At some point, you need to be confident in the amount of listening and learning you’ve done to move forward with a course of action. Rally a few people around your cause and use them as a sounding board. If you’re completely wrong at that point, you’ll probably have a hard time getting people to support you and you’ll save yourself some embarrassment, but most of the time this has worked well for me.


What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

Before I came to ZS, I was trying to drive a firm-wide change at my previous company in the way we priced our work. I wanted to account for how our peoples’ time factored into our costs so I tried to make everyone in the company complete timesheets. Long story short, everyone hated me for it and the project failed miserably. I was pushing something forward without really listening to my colleagues, learning what is important to them and using that to guide my approach moving forward. It was a tough, yet valuable, learning experience.


What advice would you give to ZSers who aspire to be on the Top 25 Consultants list one day?

Make sure you’re always learning and growing. If you embrace the need the constantly evolve and change through what I call “directed evolution” – always keeping a goal that you’re working toward in mind – that’s how you’re going to have the impact you want. Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to train my replacement. It’s easy to get comfortable with a role you developed, but if you’re not careful, comfort can turn into complacency. If you are always training your replacement, it creates both pressure and opportunity to take on new challenges and grow. When I follow this advice, I never worry about finding my next opportunity.


Life at ZS

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