From Chicago, IL, Hiller Associates’ Managing Partner; Eric Hiller shares his experience as a consultant and corporate executive. He specializes in operational and process improvements, while also gives insight to software and hardware product management.
Eric Arno Hiller worked as an engagement manager and senior expert at McKinsey & Company, where he delivered half a billion dollars in savings to his clients. Before his time at McKinsey, Mr. Hiller was the founder of a consulting firm that was serving Fortune 500 companies.
Holding an MBA from Harvard Business School and a master’s in engineering from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Eric Hiller has always had a passion for business and creating opportunities for his clients over the years.
His business website can be found at www.hillerassociates.com
What do you love most about the industry you are in?
I truly believe that manufacturing is the key to sustaining the economic strength of a nation, along with mining and agriculture. My work involves areas such as products and manufacturing. It is well known that jobs in this space, on average, provide much higher salaries and much better benefits than jobs in the service area. Unfortunately, high tech jobs, while they are often lucrative for people, are not able to employ that much of the population. I am grateful and am excited to work in a field where I feel I can help grow opportunities for my fellow citizens through the work I am doing.
What keeps you motivated?
In the business world, it is my clients, my colleagues, the people that I manage and provide for, and the bosses I work for that keep me motivated.
Personally, I am motivated by my faith as Christianity defined by the doctrines taught in the Bible. I am committed to my duties and love as a husband and a father. I want to be the best provider and protector of my family, the best citizen of my nation, and to serve those placed in my sphere of influence as best I can.
How do you motivate others?
People want to believe in something and work towards a greater goal they are trying to accomplish, even if that greater goal is to make profit for the company they work for.
Before that, I think it is important to establish trust with the individuals that you work with and that you work for. They must know that you will be transparent, trustworthy and be fair in all your dealings.
Once you establish trust with people, then you can enroll them in the greater goals bigger than themselves. Also, it is important to help them understand that you care about them in an individualistic sense. They must understand that you want to see that they are well compensated, so they can take care of themselves and the people for whom they have responsibility. It’s important to show that you care about their careers and their development and sometimes even their own personal problems beyond whatever corporate goal that you share on a specific project.
When people trust you personally and know you care about them, then they are motivated and hopefully, become a lot more loyal, as well.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I believe that with inspiration can come from a lot of things, including one’s duty.
Initially, inspiration is that spark that helps motivate you and may give you hope when you are down to move things forward. However, I think you need something deeper than just inspiration. You need a sense of duty, because that is a deeper well that can keep you going tenaciously when things are going really badly and you see no end in sight in your roles in business or personal life.
As far as what motivates me or what gives me my duty, perhaps it is unpopular or trite to say, but the Bible tells me what my duties are, in the vocations in which I find myself: for example a father, a husband, a citizen of a nation, an employee, an employer or boss, a friend, a leader.
It’s easy to lose site of duty and vocation in our day-to-day lives. One of the things that does motivate me sometimes is reflecting on that the Roman Centurion in Capernaum says to Christ. “The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
This is a guy who really understands duty and sacrifice. He not only understands what it is in himself, but what his duties are to lead others and help them.
I think people lose sight of what their duties are and then slowly losing their inspiration. When I look at my wife, my son, my parents, my friends, my fellow citizens, and my coworkers, I have a better understanding of what my duty is and what I need to do, which is my inspiration.
Beyond the Bible, I think in classic literature can inspire one by showing what duty and sacrifice are and praising and glorifying them. Whether you are reading the Odyssey, The Song of Roland, Beowulf, Dracula, or even something much more contemporary like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, you can learn from even fiction the nobility of duty and let that inspire you.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
This is a very difficult thing to do. It’s very hard especially when you’re in a demanding profession, such as consulting or at the higher levels of a company, to separate the demands of the company from the demands of the more important things, such as your family. It’s extremely hard to do in practice. I think you have to try to set boundaries and even if you fail at keeping them, continuously try to remind yourself to start afresh every day.
Thankfully, being a professional affords some flexibility and freedom that allow you to do some things during the day to help your personal life, but at the end of the day, I still think it’s helpful to “turn it off,” even if that’s hard to do at times.
What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?
I often tend to it be intuitive about what the right answer is, because I am good at pattern recognition. However, I try to be careful to investigate my hypothesis and back it up with facts and data. If you can both engage people’s passion with the vision, and also show them that the vision has a plausible plan for success, you will get a lot more buy-in as a leader.
I am a very systematic thinker, so I often will “see” not only how to solve a narrow problem but how the whole system should be designed, or how a new idea would fit into an existing system. To me that is natural, but I have noticed it is not to everyone. I find that if you can communicate how the new change can fit in the entire system, people are often much more comfortable and excited by it. That also has been helpful to my work in leadership. Most people find change scary, so if you can help them understand how your plan fits into their current life, they are often much relaxed and willing to give your plan a try.
Furthermore, a lot of times companies have very visionary leaders, and they can be very inspiring, but when they actually go to deliver something, it seems like chaos to other people that have to deliver on the vision. I think having a systematic plan that people can follow and has milestones along the way where people can feel they’ve accomplished something is really very helpful. One of the reasons I have been told people like working with me is that I typically have a very orderly way about approaching a problem. I communicate very openly why we are doing things and when they do not work as well.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
When I came out of Harvard Business School, it was a very bad time for recruiting. It was 2003, right after the Internet bubble had burst and taken down most of the economy with it. It was at this time, that I decided to start a business with my former graduate advisor based on some of the research I had done years ago in my engineering masters at the University of Illinois.
Starting a business from nothing is very difficult. Also, a lot of it has more to do with sheer will and tenacity, and a lot of dumb luck, more than it does with great brilliance or “innovation”. The company likely could have gone nowhere. It was through continuous perseverance and leveraging what small network I had made up until that point in my life, and just sharing the vision over and over. We were eventually able to get funded by Bain Capital and Sigma Partners (major venture capitalists in the Boston area) for millions of dollars. That was fortunate for us, and by no means certain.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
In my personal life, I would say my greatest accomplishment would be marrying a girl who I trust, who loves me, and is aligned with the Lutheran faith, and producing a son with her.
In my professional career, it would be being the Founder, CEO, and product visionary for almost a decade at the top product cost management software firm in the world. In addition to my previous research, I am proud to have started the field of practical Feature-based CAD-to-Cost product cost management.
Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
I am a devout and active Missouri Synod Lutheran, and my Faith in Christ Jesus from the time my parents raised me has been a great source of strength in my life and one by which I continue to be fed.
I have recently married my first wife and have my first son now. These are very important things in my life. Beyond my family, and probably because I was single for such a long time and grew up an only child, the friendships that I make are very important to me. I try to invest a lot of time and effort to maintain those friendships and strengthen them, even as my friends and I get married. I believe charity starts at home, so my focus is on those that God puts in my local circle of influence.