Name: Theresa Semler
UChicago Degree: Ph.D. in Comparative Literature
Current Position: Managing Director or CEO of Semler Company
Tell us about your work. What is your current position? What do you do on a daily basis?
I am the Managing Director or CEO of Semler Company, a management consultancy I founded last year. We specialize in strategy execution and transformation consulting with a people focus. Digital transformation is what we do most currently. That includes, for instance, the design of value propositions and business models, definition and execution of (HR) strategy, (digital) product roll outs, definition and implementation processes and workflows, organizational design, change management, communications and leadership positioning and coaching.
We’re also in the process of setting up an academy that focuses on “working in the digital age.” Our goal is to provide a platform where people learn about digital topics and have the space to explore what these topics will change in their own working environment (including job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, etc.).
As a managing director of a small company as of yet, I’m involved in every aspect of the business—from strategic decisions to recruiting or accounting. Naturally, I don’t do everything on my own. Some of the tasks I have outsourced, some of them are digitized, and I also have a fantastic team (partially employed, partially on a freelance basis) who helps me to reach our goals. I’m mainly busy with sales, delivery management, and positioning. That includes a lot of networking and relationship building.
How did you make the transition from doctoral study to your current field?
Even while I was pursuing a PhD, I ran my own training business in the equestrian industry. That involved managing and training top athletes but soon branched out to leadership coaching with horses. Additionally, I have always been interested in change and transformation—my thesis revolves around the notion of “metamorphic being” as a way of life—so moving into communications and change management consulting seemed an almost natural choice.
Luck and opportunity played a part as well. Early on in my transition into consulting, for instance, I met and worked for the then Head of Global Corporate Communications at Bayer Health Care who himself was in the middle of making the move into consulting back then. Working for and with him was extremely valuable, not only because I started my consulting career with projects at the executive level. I also learned an enormous amount in a very short time. I literally did everything—from preparing presentations to cutting music and input late at night after conferences with hundreds of participants to moderating executive off-sites.
And having an idea where I wanted to be and what I needed to see helped as well. It was clear to me early on that if I wanted to be a consultant and a trusted advisor to top management I had to have a) the experience of working large projects at a large, global management consultancy and b) the experience of being a manager and leader at a large global corporation myself. For that reason, I took a job at Capgemini Consulting and then set up and headed the global change management in-house consulting unit at Commerzbank.
What skills that you developed during your doctoral studies have proven valuable in your current role?
I’ve found several skills useful that I developed during my doctoral studies. Three of them stick out for me:
- analytical skills, i.e. being able to structure and master complex content and being able to quickly understand topics and fields that I didn’t know much about before
- understanding how language and communication works, i.e. being able to express content in different ways and languages and address stakeholders in appropriate ways
- having no fear to be challenged, and seeing challenge as an opportunity to learn
What advice do you have for current Ph.D. students looking to launch a career in management or consulting?
Be confident that you learn many things at UChicago that will prove useful in a business career—even if you can’t see them right now.
Make an effort to learn “business language” and try to translate what you’re good at into that language.
Use to your advantage that you may have a different background than most of your colleagues by bringing in different perspectives.