So, Matt, what do you do?
I have worked as a business consultant now for more than a decade – during which time I have helped over 70 clients and interacted with hundreds more businesses and leaders facing challenges and pursuing their goals.
There are four intersecting themes I see in my work, over and over again:
- A leader or organization facing something really big or complex seeks help breaking the “big” or “complex” down into doable chunks.
- A leader or organization faces unknown roadblocks ahead, or know they have a problem but cannot pinpoint it. They need help gaining clarity and adaptability by forming a strategy to deal with the symptoms of these complex issues.
- A leader or an organization seeks help meeting a challenge they weren’t prepared for, which requires creating a process, utilizing new and existing resources, and uncovering capacity they didn’t know they already had.
- A leader or an organization seeks help to take corrective action, discover opportunities, and transform their system in respect to their culture, operations, strategy, business model, or the enterprise itself.
So how did I get here?
People often ask me, “How did you become a consultant?” or “What degree did you get to become a consultant?”
The fact is that this is a second-order career: these themes are skills that come from across disciplines and areas of study, so they are not easily formed by a specific degree program, certification, or standard career path.
I’ve always been an observer of systems. Whether it was in elementary and middle school, being on the receiving end of systemic bullying, and being able to see the attitudes and mindsets that reinforced a “boys will be boys” mindset; or in high school as I loved math, languages, history, and science – because I saw how things fit together; to theology, where I focused on the organizational systems of churches known as ecclesiology; to preaching, where I would help people put together what they believed with what they did; or the organizations I have worked in my jobs and in my career: I always had an eye for the system below the surface to try to improve it some way or another.
Despite the many twists and turns of job roles and career, helping people discover, relate to, and improve their organizational systems has always been the main thing I have focused on whatever the particular job has been. So, when consulting came along, it just made sense, and felt like the fit I had been looking for, for a long time. So, without further ado, here’s how I got to where I am today.
The Build Up
I entered the University of Illinois as a first-year student expecting to study Electrical Engineering. But after about a semester and a half, I realized that I didn’t love it, and felt the pull toward studying History and the Classics. Armed with a double-major in Ancient/Medieval History and Greek and Latin classical languages, I started a Master’s of Divinity at Northern Seminary, with the intent to become a church pastor.
I supported myself during this seven years of higher education and two degrees by working as a computer systems administrator for University High School, usually coming in on breaks and weekends throughout that time.
Upon graduation, I moved 500 miles from home to northeast Ohio and started my first post-student job: a solo pastor of a small congregation, where I was ordained in 2006, a credential I still hold to this day (it doesn’t expire).
The Crisis Point
The accumulated challenges of leading a local church congregation with a long history of decline in an economically challenged community hit a crisis point between 2008 and 2010 as the Great Recession took hold and amplified what was already there. The church became fundamentally insolvent; my house lost 40% of its value. In short, they couldn’t pay me; I couldn’t move.
Out of this, two interwoven opportunities emerged: consulting work with the state-level denomination, and consulting work with through a firm I got to know as they worked with the denomination – and then joined.
The First Firm
I joined the firm as an independent consultant in 2010 and worked with over 50 clients during the time I was there. I received invaluable mentoring and coaching during that time and spent the last couple of years working from within the Partner structure of the firm. We were able to relocate back to Champaign-Urbana five years in, and continued my practice back in my home town. Nevertheless, eventually questions of fit and culture became too much, and in late Winter 2019, it was time to go.
L M Thomas Group
My wife, Lisa, and I launched L M Thomas Group in the Spring of 2019 knowing that small- to medium-sized businesses, nonprofits, and churches faced five major frustrations we could solve:
- Firefighting – always moving from crisis to crisis, reacting to what was in front of them, and losing sight of strategy and sustainability.
- Information – despite having better access to information than any previous generation, getting the right information in the right form, to the right people, in consistent and reliable ways, is a challenge for most small- to medium-sized businesses.
- Process – process failures lose business, and most businesses learn to live with regular and significant process failures. We know that we can help people be more satisfied with their work for the same amount of effort by helping there.
- Complexity – we live in a world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This is where leaders make their most significant decisions, and often feel the fifth frustration along the way.
- Alone – whether a solo leader, or as a team of leaders in a system, isolation is real, and the “5 quick steps to success” won’t solve it. We know leaders need people to come alongside them to deal with the general complexity of running an enterprise.
And so here we are – in the present, having helped clients, built relationships, and impacted communities. And we intend to be here for years to come, Lord willing.