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James McLetchie talks mergers at the Krannert Executive Forum

A partner and principal at McKinsey & Company in New York, James McLetchie travels around the world managing mergers. In October, he landed in West Lafayette to speak to undergraduate students as part of the Krannert Executive Forum.

A Purdue graduate with an MBA in Finance and Management Information Systems, McLetchie told Krannert students that most mergers fail due to people or organizational issues, not finances. “Most of what I do incorporates people, if I don’t do that, it’s going to fail almost all the time,” he says.

Human resources, leadership and organizational behavior are all factors in making a merger work, but building a relationship with the client through common values is the glue that holds mergers together.

McLetchie said when he works with a client from a different culture or country he tries to learn something about the culture beforehand.  It is a sign of respect and gives him a conversation starter.

“The more exposure you have to an international culture and international skill set, the better off you will be,” he says. “It’s one global playground and it’s a lot smaller than you think.”

“I travel a lot and I try to interact with people who don’t look or sound like I do. You’ve got to get outside of your comfort zone and travel and interact with people.”

His message to Krannert students was to work hard, play hard and never stop learning. “When you’re an undergrad, there’s a lot of focus on the technical skills. As you move through your career, you’ll find that leadership and personal skills are what you need.”

He told students to never worry that their aspirations are too high. “Your aspirations can never be too high. If you’re thinking like that, you are containing yourself and that’s the wrong mindset to have,” he says. “Growth is a prerequisite for success.”

“If I step back for a minute and look at my career, the one constant is I never settled. When you settle you will become average, and average is irrelevant.”