The American Dream: From Tilburg to New York
Kars Stal works for The Hackett Group, a NASDAQ listed company in Global Strategic Business Advisory. The Hackett Group is world leader in this chain.
In 2003-2004 Kars was a board member of TOP-DOWN (now Asset | Strategy & Logistics). How does a man who grew up in Limburg, end up in the United States, becoming one of the youngest directors for one of the biggest companies of its specific field?
Kars is 33 years old and studied Business Administration and the master Logistics and Operational management in Tilburg. He did that from 2000 until 2010. You might think Kars was a lazy student, but the opposite is true (mostly). As of 2002 Kars was an active member for TOP-DOWN and became treasurer of the board of TOP-DOWN for a year in 2003-2004. In 2004-2005 he was also active as president of TiGeAk, which is the representative board of student associations across the University. As of mid 2007 Kars began working full time, which delayed his last task, finalization of his master thesis, for several years.
After his studies, Kars started working for Archstone Consulting (which was acquired by The Hackett Group end of 2009), where he met his wife which was working as an Expat in the Netherlands. Now they live together now in the US. So, how did all of this happen?
From master student to director of a NASDAQ listed company?
As a preparation to his master thesis Kars started looking for an internship, but actually got a full time job with Archstone. He found his job via another former board member of TOP-DOWN, whom he met via the audit committee. As part of accepting this job it was agreed that he would have time to complete his master thesis. However, he realized very quickly that being part of a consulting firm and working full-time was not the best combination to also finish his thesis. He did however learn a lot of practical skills. He started working for the European part of Archstone (later the Hackett group). Here he developed himself from Consultant to Manager over a period of 4 years. In 2010 Kars was managing a global outsourcing effort of EPM systems for a well-known coffee brand in the US and as part of that had a change to finally finish his thesis (focused on outsourcing challenges to India from a cultural and institutional perspective). 2010 was a busy year as he also met his wife that year. She worked as an expat in the Netherlands when they met, but could not get used to the weather… In the beginning of 2012 she went back to the US and Kars got offered an intercompany transfer and joined her. They have been living in Columbus, Ohio since. Since joining the US practice Kars worked as an EPM manager, and since a couple months, Kars became one of the youngest directors of the Hackett group. An unbelievable career path already!
Kars as director
I asked Kars about his work, and he explained what his working week looked like. The answer was that it really depends on the week. Last week he flew to Chicago for an Oracle conference. In the evening he took a plane to New York, where he worked on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on his client work. On Friday, Kars flew to San Francisco, for a Hackett Summit and flew back to Columbus on Friday evening with a red eye, so on Saturday and Sunday he has time for his family.
When I asked Kars about the company culture and the American working ethos in general, I got the following answer: ‘The American culture does differ from the Dutch (or European culture), there are also people working here all week long (including the weekend), but this isn’t necessary. In the beginning, I was very clear to my colleague/managers. I value my weekend, so I can spend time with my family. And everyone respects that as long as you define your boundaries. Be aware that you have to deliver good work of course (but that is always the case).’
Don’t you think your colleagues think this is strange, or could it be a problem? ‘I don’t think it was or will be a problem, because if it was a problem they didn’t make me director of this company so soon.’ ‘You have to define your boundaries early on. They know I work really hard during the work days, but weekend days are sacred (not saying there are no exceptions just before go-live of a big project). I also manage my time very proactively and ensure that items get done on time instead of waiting till the last minute.’
Working life versus Student life
Do you miss the student life? ‘No I don’t miss the student life. It was a wonderful period, don’t get me wrong, but after a while it is time for a next step’. ‘The student life is a great time for having fun, for learning a lot, and of course also for building your network’. You will never have this much freedom on how to define your time as when being a student. Spend that time wise, develop yourself, but most importantly also have fun!
What will be your best tip to the students?
My tip will be the following: your student time is a great time where you meet many people and this will be the basis of your network, so start building your network during your studies. You can use this network in your later career to get an internship or a job, but also to become aware of opportunities for sales (probably more specific to going into consultancy). Also, become active during your studies. This can be your study association, but also a sports association. But most important, enjoy your student life!