Author: Patryk Nosalik, PMP
Resilience + Sustainability = Uncompromising Energy (if you don’t have enough, try this!) – an interview with Michka Guerrier
Killer athlete, Career superstar and Business owner is not enough – Aspiring mountain guide and father and so much more – how does he do it and how can you do so too? Yep, unbelievable it will never work (stop reading here) yet… in fact so possible. I interviewed Michka Guerrier whom I met in the preparation of the next live event in Geneva – because he will be presenting there. We’ll even cover why this is relevant to project managers!
Patryk Nosalik, PMP (PN): At PMI we’re thrilled to have PwC as a sponsor, and you have a senior role in PwC as Director - Risk Consulting Leader Western Switzerland and Finance Transformation and it appears from Linkedin that you just rose up the ranks, and also from France to England to Switzerland. How did that happen?
Michka Geurrier (MG): I started as a semi-professional tennis player but even playing high ranking players in Germany did not pay the bills so well, so having some Masters degrees I applied to PwC, got hired there, got training, so you could say starting there was a bit random, but I got the taste of it, had opportunity to go to UK that I wanted to do after studying there previously, worked also in France setting up practices, and brought those experiences back to Switzerland.
PN: Success literature is full of goal setting, clear focus, but it doesn’t sound like you did that – is goal setting theory wrong?
MG: No, I did not set a goal for the position as such, but I was passionate in what I did.
MG: The goal setting was to enjoy it, to be interesting, to do things new, so there were more goals about the HOW rather than the WHAT. In fact, the big goal on the WHAT was to contribute to transforming PwC and further companies, change the way we work with clients, being the change you want to see, this was increasingly important. This led to creating a company focussed on human development and growth - High Realities. The WHAT is positive impact globally, on companies, people, institutions.
PN: The Big 4 have traditionally been associated with excellence in audit and advisory, yet also at a cost of high working hours for the employees. How do you manage to fit in sports to an elite level, and your company as well? And have balance for your private life. Many people are swamped with the day job, the commute and family life. How do you handle the workload?
MG: Setting boundaries from day one, to have time for everything I deemed important. Even in dire times, such as the 2007-8 Lehman Brothers crisis in London: I worked being productive and delivering quality work in an effective and efficient manner to be able to pursue other interests. Scarcity of time forces us to not procrastinate, not fading away, thriving despite adversity, not fighting against PwC hours but to make it meaningful. So there was no sacrifice to get there. Just focus on the sustainable, catch your breath every day, every month, every year. Furthermore High Realities works together with PwC, where I learned not just to delegate but to collaborate. I.e. empowering people. In High Realities I knew the people there for a long time, I knew they were brilliant sports people, but they didn’t know the company environment, so I empowered them to build their own bridges to the corporate world.
PN: And now on top of all this, you do some of what they used to call “keep fit”. But not just one sport. Many. And many of those, to a very high level. Not just tennis, but semi-professional competition. Not just running, but hugely long ultramarathons e.g. the Eiger Ultra Trail - E101 which you did in July 2013, where you covered 101 km / 6700 m height in 16h31m55s and came in 29th out of 257. To a lot of people, achieving just one of these would be half a lifetime’s dedication. Why do you think it is relevant if one isn’t so sporty?
MG: It’s not about making people pro boxers but to increase people’s knowledge of themselves and the others around them, their own mind, learning to play the instrument that is the human, to cause reflection for concrete growth, real growth, i.e not high potential (“I could be”) but high reality.
PN: The sports-to-corporate analogy has been done by many athletes, we’ve seen not one mountain on corporate advertising material about reaching heights, etc - how is this still relevant?
MG: We’ve done the research, there was no company that combines in a realistic manner the learning, from for example cave divers working with UNESCO for 10 hours a day exploring in Mexico, boxing world champions, a stressful high performance daily thing AND corporate / Big 4 companies deep experience.
PN: Is there a particular relevance of elite sports to data-driven services for financial process optimisation?
MG: Many trainings for managers miss something. I did tennis in youth, then in England Thai boxing & free grappling (Brazilian Jujitsu), I’m now training to become a professional mountain guide. What is important is how to take care of the body, spirits, how to take care of recovery, how to work with emotions, how to face and overcome adversity. (So it is not just the sports achievement effort). For example, there is aggressiveness in Thai boxing (impact with elbows, knees) but corporate life also can be aggressive, destructive, and eat people from inside. Athletes think office work is cosy, going for coffees ... but there are many threats in corporate life. Is drinking wine your way of winding down? Or is there another way? Do you always see yourself at the top and think you always need to be at 100%? Or can you be more strategic and let go, allow yourself to be vulnerable, switch off, be 50% of what you can be so that tomorrow you are back to your full self. It’s about making companies more intelligent in the way they work with their people. All my learnings and conditioning from the world of sports are the reason why I have had a successful career at PwC, they are not a side story, but the driving engine.
PN: Is putting pressure on people as a way to get the best out of people, a good thing?
MG: I can’t answer that in a simple way, e.g. in Thai boxing there is a huge pressure in the ring and outside it, but you’ll meet some of the most rounded and peaceful people. Intelligent doesn’t mean no pressure, it means how does one manage it. Some pressure is necessary to the growth process.
PN: So do you help prevent Burnout?
MG: Just not burning out is not sustainable. Resilience is the capacity to bounce back and grow, to thrive! You need to connect to the meaning. What makes you resonate. Don’t plan to do x push-ups a day. Resilience comes from that which gives you energy in life.
PN: Easy to say but I’m 49, married, have young children, recovering from capsulitis, yet I’d like to be a better mountaineer – how is it possible for me to connect to what resonates with me?
MG: Realise the urgency, where you are in life, if not now, then when? Work in this direction. Set the goal that is attractive, truly exciting – not lukewarm. See how much time you have. Mobilise the inner fighter. It’s not going to be easy, and there will be negotiation, with clients, employer, your partner, kids. It's not about being absolutely rigid, this is what ’Patryk is’ but the realisation that there is the life equation where if ‘Patryk’ is not represented then it is not a life at full potential. Make it exciting and identify steps, even if those are little – think Kaizen approach: little steps in the adequate direction rather than revolutions. The body and the mind will react positively. The alternative is getting bogged down, being busy, but fading out. The less you connect to the things important to you the more you fade away...
PN: So how is all this relevant to project managers?
MG: Within my PwC career I led many projects. One particularly striking one was gathering a lot of knowledge on how to analyse processes. I created a vision for the product and for connecting with the right people, just as I did with sports people, here with data experts. It took a few years, it was not a big bang but a Kaizen approach, continuously doing something, and we developed a draft tool. Then it turned out PwC needed to be more convincing to be credible in risk optimisation and I saw that the tool we had could be an amazing response to that, so I followed the vision. In total for 8 years. It took a lot of talking to a lot of stakeholders, including all the way up to PwC Europe, gaining funding of several million to develop the solution. There was a lot of adversity as other countries were developing their own solution. So the direct application to leading projects is maintaining the belief. Systematically connecting and reconnecting the challenges and pain in the process. There are detractors as you do something new. Identify the pushback. For example if you want to lead people but avoid the hassle of difficult conversations, is it the right thing for you? If, however, you learn to embrace the hassle, that it is not a hurdle, it is in fact the way. Do you want that? If yes, then you are already working on the right mindset to be a great leader.
PN: 8 years, is it really a project in terms of a temporary finite time/resource/scope endeavour?
MG: Yes, it was a project from when it was funded. For the vision to materialise it was 3 years, then 2 years to develop the tool. We now have multiple projects with a large array of renowned Swiss and global companies and the tool keeps growing through this. In terms of resources, it was 20 people working in agile scrum methodology, to lead all the streams. I was the Product Owner. I won the funds for it.
PN: Projects should prove positive ROI or payback, what was it here?
MG: The solution is deployed on a commercial basis in many top Swiss champion companies, I even sent my last proposal yesterday (22nd March). It has generated a few million over the years and provides a steady pipeline of client projects. But on top of the bottom line there was what it did for people. That it was an amazing learning experience for so many people. Many colleagues come back to me saying this was very rewarding and the most interesting thing they worked on at PwC.
PN – So I’m buzzing with positive energy after just this interview, but how do I maintain the energy, the flow, how to work on the mindset, you know, I’m thinking of people who might come to the event, what will they get out of it?
MG: The work on the mindset can be super challenging even if painful but you can come back smiling. Mike Tyson’s coach once said the best fighter is the happy fighter. In other words, if you’ve experienced something here, it already exists. Define what makes you buzz and you can make it happen. For example, now your idea / project is in your head so it exists a little bit. Put it down on paper, it exists some more. Share it and discuss it with people - it now exists even more. The more you put it out there, the more it exists. Put it out there. High Realities started from a telephone chat 7 years ago, the PwC tool I developed started with an idea to automate what was in our brains. Articulate it, define it, and then implement and defend! We will go through concrete methods to revisit our mindset and create realistic plans so our projects are exciting, ambitious and give us a smile even in the midst of adversity!
PN: This was awesome, thank you for the opportunity to speak and can’t wait to see you again and live.
MG: Thank you good luck with the arm and see you soon!
- You too come to see Michka at PwC Geneva on 27th April 2023 – register here whilst there are still places.
P.S. PN: We have limited places – only 50 – how can we dissuade some that shouldn’t come?
(I didn’t get round to asking that question – but if you’ve gotten this far, it won’t apply to you!)