Never Hire a Consultant to Give an Answer: An Interview with Pat Donovan

I’ve known and respected Pat Donovan, CEO of Bremer Bank, for many years – ‘socially’ as they say.  Out my office window I look across a couple of city blocks to the Bremer sign atop their corporate office tower.  One day, seeing that sign, I decided to reach out and ask Pat if he would agree to a visit.  Graciously, he said yes.

He said to me when we sat down together, “I will never hire a consultant to give me or my team an answer.” I must admit, it was music to my ears.  In our organization, if we hear a prospect trying to ‘buy’ an answer, it is a great indication that we are not the right firm for them.pat donovan
Over the course of my career – first on the business executive side of the desk and now as a consultant – I have seen way too many examples of business ‘leaders’ handing over their power to an outside person, often a consultant.  When you buy an answer, there is no internal ownership and with no ownership, no effectiveness – even if the ‘answer’ was a good one.  That was exactly Pat’s point and the departure for our fast paced discussion of leadership responsibilities, particularly when you’re at the helm of an organization facing both stresses and opportunities that require change.
Pat’s career blossomed inside the Wells Fargo system.  He said when he moved to Bremer, now a decade ago, many assumed that it would mean they would follow in Wells’ path.  From Pat’s perspective, that was a poor assumption – just another way of borrowing an answer from someone else.  He said he finds himself reminding people at Bremer that “We have to find our own path. We have better opportunities than to be a me-too version of some other company.”
So how do you help develop a team that finds and owns their own answers?  Pat had many thoughts about that. Here are a few where his passion really shined:
  • Trust and trust some more.
  • Verify results – and help people understand what it means to own their decisions and results.
  • Find the collaborators in the organization and support them.
  • Don’t settle: “Who wants to be 55% or C+?!”
  • Outside perspectives are important.  Just don’t let them overwhelm your ownership responsibilities.
  • Be clear about what you want and don’t try for unanimous decisions.  Sometimes you have to make a call.

At the close of our conversation, I asked him what he’d like for his legacy when the day comes that he retires (a few years off).  As he answered, his passion for their organization, possibilities, and how they will win filled the room.  I won’t share their plans, but I will share this:  I have no doubt that he and his team own their strategy and will accomplish the bold vision they know is within reach.
I knew before I reached out to him that I like this man.

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.