At a Glance
Patrick J. McKenna, Principal, McKenna Associates Inc.
Focus Areas: Leadership, Management, Innovation, Legal & IP
Thinkers360 In-Depth Profile & Portfolio: Patrick McKenna
Latest Content: “Strategy Innovation: Getting To The Future FIRST”
Thinkers360 Leaderboard: Top 50 Global Thought Leaders and Influencers on Innovation.
Thought Leader Interview
Thinkers360 interviews profile prominent members of the Thinkers360 community who embody the power of ideas in their work. In this edition, we speak with Patrick McKenna, Principal, McKenna Associates Inc. An internationally recognized author, lecturer, strategist and seasoned advisor to the leaders of premier professional firms, Patrick has had the honor of working with at least one of the largest firms in over a dozen different countries. He was recently featured in the Thinkers360 Top 50 Global Thought Leaders and Influencers on Innovation.
Thinkers360: Tell us a bit about your background
PM: I spent a number of years as the GM of the Alberta Office of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and then as a VP and Director of a pioneering and publicly traded company in the Cable Television and Telecommunications industry, before accidentally falling into consulting. By way of a mutual friend I was introduced to the CEO of a Public Relations firm in need of a financial turn-around. My intervention and that experience immersed me into the world of professional service firms; which I found both relatively unexplored, by virtue of available academic research; and fascinating by reason of the intellect of the people who occupy various professional roles.
Shortly thereafter I founded, what was in Canada, probably the first consulting firms to focus on the needs of professional service firms. That company eventually grew into a dozen partners on the ground in 6 countries, primarily serving major law firms on leadership and strategy issues. After about 20 years I left the firm to explore some new areas and opportunities that would have presented a conflict had I stayed, and that ultimately resulted in my being the subject of a Harvard Law School Case Study entitled, Innovations In Legal Consulting (2011).
Two of the innovations that I have been associates with include being instrumental in introducing the first global (InnovAction) awards initiative in 2003, in conjunction with the College of Law Practice Management; and launching the first and only program (entitled First 100 Days) to orientate and train large firm leaders on how to handle their transition into firm leadership responsibilities, usually held at the University of Chicago where over 80 firm leaders have graduated.
I have also lectured on professional service firm management and strategy for the Canadian, American and International Bar Associations; the Canadian Tax Foundation, the International Union of Lawyers, the Institute For Law Firm Management, The Institute For International Research, the Society for Marketing Professional Services, The Managing Partner’s Forum, Centaur Conferences Europe and the Financial Times Of London. My speaking engagements have taken me to London, Geneva, Vienna, Munich, Marrakech, Istanbul, Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto for professional conferences and seminars. And thus far my consulting work has taken me to 47 different countries and had me serving some of the largest international firms in law, but also in accounting and consulting.
Thinkers360: What are your current responsibilities and what’s a typical day look like?
PM: I am honored to serve clients ranging from specialized boutiques to firms of over 2000 professionals. All matters undertaken are afforded my direct personal attention and so a fair portion of my typical day is spent interacting with my clients.
Working on my own now, rather than in a firm with organizational responsibilities allows for far more time devoted to writing; which I love to do. Over the years I’ve authored or coauthored 11 books, the most notable being First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals, (The Free Press) which topped business bestseller lists in the US, Canada and Australia, was translated into nine languages; is currently in its seventh printing; and received a best business books of 2002 award. I have also contributed chapters to some 38 other texts, mostly international publications, some for academic settings; have published articles appearing in over 50 leading professional journals, newsletters, and online sources; and my work has been featured in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Business Week, The Globe and Mail, The Economist, Investor’s Business Daily and The Financial Times.
Thinkers360: What’s the favorite part of your current role?
PM: My experience includes proudly serving as a non-executive director (NED) or advisory board member with a variety of professional service firms and incorporated companies. I currently serve on a number of advisory boards including Intraspexion Inc. (AI legal tech); LBW Broadcasting (international media); True Balance Longevity Institute (health care); and am a BrainTrust Member of Quantumrun, a global research and futurists group.
To the best of my knowledge I am the only non-lawyer, non-American to have served (for over 3 years) on the Board of a Global 100 law firm, which concluded in 2019 and so I’m now actively looking for another firm who might be interested in introducing what I call “cognitive diversity” to their Board.
Thinkers360: How do you utilize Thinkers360?
PM: I have a new word that I share whenever I’m speaking at conferences – “Infobesity.” It is meant to help my audience try to conceptualize that we now live in a time where we all suffer from an information epidemic, wherein we are exposed to the digital equivalent of well over 176 newspapers worth of data . . . daily! So, one of the areas where I spend a lot of time is in monitoring and analyzing trends. I have become fascinated with what I call “lucrative micro-niche areas of opportunity.”
Today, professional firms are facing a structural and marketing challenge, that I have come to label, “Tech-Driven Hybrids.” These are practices that are not simply conventional in that they require a level of expertise that goes beyond any one vertical (e.g. may require regulatory plus tax, plus IP) and they are practices that extend beyond impacting just one industry in that their effect will likely be felt in a good number of different industries. Among these various hybrids are micro-niches in areas like AI, blockchain, 3D printing, quantum computing, robotics, bigdata, synthetic biology, material science, wearables, platform businesses, predictive analytics and so forth. These are areas that I have been writing about and avidly studying to understand the implications for tomorrow’s professional. I am grateful to have Thinkers360 provide me access to the kinds of thinkers, luminaries and writers that contribute to and help crystalize my thinking on these subjects.
Editor’s Note: See Patrick’s Thinkers360 In-Depth Profile & Portfolio.
Thinkers360: How do you like to work with brands who wish to engage you as a thought leader?
PM: I think my greatest contribution comes by way of serving as a sparing partner and sounding board to firm leaders. I believe I contribute and help by asking the right questions, confronting orthodoxies, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit, building strategy alignment and enhancing firm profitability. My ultimate aim is to instigate innovation, provide independent strategic insight drawn from my years of experience, and support effective governance.
Thinkers360: What are your current interest areas with regard to purpose-driven causes?
PM: When I think of purpose driven causes, it is hard not to rank climate change among the top. And in that area, I am especially optimistic about innovative solutions in offsetting carbon emissions, having a measurable impact on climate change. For example, some Canadian science and engineering grads are proposing to plant a billion trees by 2028 using drones. The project is dubbed Flash Forest and combines the use of drones with specially-designed pods and an accelerated seed germination process. According to Flash Forest, its technology can plant trees 10 times faster than a single worker and at a cost that is 80 percent cheaper than traditional tree planting methods. And that is just one of a number of similar initiatives underway.
Editor’s Note: See Thinkers360’s Recently Announced #TechForGood 5K Challenge
Another topic that always has my attention is the state of the economy. Sadly, my observation is that there is almost no wiliness to face the rising problem of debt – and the elephant in the room: the rapidly expanding federal debt. Each annual deficit raises the total debt and forces the Treasury to issue more debt, in hopes someone will buy it. The US government ran a $343 billion deficit in the first two months of fiscal 2020 (October and November) and the 12-month budget deficit again surpassed $1 trillion. Federal spending rose 7% from a year earlier while tax receipts grew only 3%. Meanwhile, both parties in Congress are committed to more spending. No matter who is in the White House, they will encourage the Federal Reserve to engage in more quantitative easing so the deficit spending can continue and even grow. A serious monetary crisis isn’t simply coming. We are already in the early stages of it.
Thinkers360: What’s your main advice for upcoming thought leaders?
PM: I believe it stars with finding your passion. Determine what your particular area of expertise is and what your ideal audience values – and then bring the two together. You need to create meaningful content to reach that audience. And by meaningful, I believe that the best content is “prescriptive.” In other words, I always try to write articles, books and papers that serve to download everything I know about a particular subject and prescribe a way in which you can use my knowledge to your best advantage. No fluff, No BS. You need to feel strongly enough about a substantive subject that you are ready to evangelize about it.
And drop any self-promotion! Focus on bringing real value to your audience by educating them, being insightful, sharing new ideas, and being perceived as helpful. I always endeavored to try to speak or write about a topic that has not really been covered in much detail or contribute something on some topic that has not already been saturated.
I have always been impressed by and thought that the very best marketer that I ever witnessed was none other than the guy who started the rock band, The Grateful Dead. And some of you may remember the late Jerry Garcia. What stands out in my mind is him once being quoted as saying, “It ain’t good enough to be the best of the best. I want to be the only cat who does what I do!” Amen.
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