Carlson School

5 Things I've Learned: Bob Duffy

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Bob Duffy has had a unique and varied career in the four decades since he graduated from the Carlson School. On one hand, he’s worked with hundreds of firms as a management consultant, helping executives with everything from corporate restructuring to post-merger/acquisition integration, organizational strategy, business model alignment, and more. At the same time, however, he’s also one of those increasingly rare people who can say they’ve spent nearly their entire career with a single company. In Duffy’s case, it’s A.T. Kearney, an $850 million global consulting business, where he heads up the firm’s health care consulting practice. He also serves on numerous boards, including the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Bay Area Council, and the Carlson School’s Board of Advisors. He and his wife, Judith, live in San Francisco.


He recently sat down with us to share a few key lessons he’s learned in his career.

1. Great client work.

It’s all about exceeding client expectations. No matter what you do in business, if you do that, the rest will take care of itself. I initially learned this from my dad, who is now 95. He had a grocery store called Duffy Brothers in Rosemount, Minn., and made a good living based on superb customer satisfaction. He told me the customer is always right—even when they’re wrong.

2. Dependability.

As you begin your career, it’s crucial to achieve results and establish a solid track record. You do that in part by being known as dependable. If you say you’re going to do something, people need to know that they can take it to the bank.

3. Maintain relationships.

I wish I’d learned this even earlier in my career. For all the folks who’ve recently graduated from the Carlson School, their friends and fellow alumni will one day be senior executives in major corporations. It’s important to maintain those relationships over the course of your career. If you do that, life will be a lot easier.

4. Develop a personal business plan. 
Companies have business plans, but people often don’t take the time to develop plans for their personal and career development. Doing so can help you avoid mistakes and accelerate your progress. When I graduated from the Carlson School, I wanted to join a major corporation with a solid training and development program, so I worked at Honeywell in Minneapolis for five years. Once I joined A.T. Kearney, I intentionally sought out assignments such as working in London and Toronto that provided me with great experience.

5. Have fun.

This is another one I learned from my dad: Balancing fun with serious work is very important. I had an assistant who used to tell people in the office when I had my red light on, green light on, or my yellow light on. The red and yellow lights meant that I was addressing the above four points. When my green light was on, it meant that I was relaxed and we all should have some fun.