Taking Ownership: Lauren Herring
“My mother is this dynamic, larger-than-life entrepreneur that was so tenacious in building a successful business. And I wanted to not necessarily live my life under that microscope.”
How does a young leader, fresh off earning her MBA, approach the need for institutional change in an organization she didn’t start—while the founder is offstage, in the wings, in retirement?
When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, Lauren Herring jumped in to help with projects and lead the global expansion for IMPACT Group—the firm her mother had launched in 1988.
In 2007, Herring led the work of incorporating an acquisition target of the company, an outplacement firm that doubled the company’s size. Two years later, she took over as the company’s CEO—right after the economic downturn.
But in her company’s line of work at that time, economic downturns are mother’s milk. With its focus at the time on employee relocation and outplacement services, IMPACT Group’s business was countercyclical: Bad economic times were good for business. The company had its best year ever in 2008.
And that is the crux of our story. As Herring put it, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were slow recovery years. The firm needed to restructure its lines of business to moderate the hot-and-cold nature of its business cycle.
The outplacement business was countercyclical and generally meant bad news for clients, which was good news for her business in a bad economy—like, during a pandemic. Meanwhile, IMPACT Group’s relocation services served a niche within a niche, focusing largely on the needs of the spouse in the relocation. It wasn’t enough to even out the rise and fall of revenue as economic cycles came and went.
IMPACT Group had some experience and modest success with leadership coaching, and that was the area where Herring saw an opportunity to build. But it wasn’t smooth sailing.
“Going into this transition, I thought we had great clients and partners, and we went into this with more hubris than is appropriate,” she said. “I thought this would be a snap. I realized it would be a difficult journey.”
She realized she had more of a sales job than she anticipated to persuade potential clients she had the expertise for the job. Even more, she learned she had to bring her people into the process, help them understand how to build client relationships, rather than sell transactionally.
“For the leadership, people do want that,” she said. “But I didn't understand the shift required over a number of years to confidently go to our clients and say we're really good at this.”
This podcast is a production of Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School. Contributors include:
- Katie Wools, Cathy Myrick, Judy Milanovits and Lesley Liesman, creative assistance
- Jill Young Miller, fact checking and creative assistance
- Hayden Molinarolo, original music and sound design
- Mike Martin Media, editing
- Sophia Passantino, social media
- Lexie O'Brien and Erik Buschardt, website support
- Paula Crews, creative vision and strategic support
Special thanks to Ray Irving and his team at WashU Olin’s Center for Digital Education, including our audio engineer, Austin Alred.
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Download the podcast transcript (PDF)