ICF Olson: The Interviews

I sit down with Victoria Phillips, COO, to find out how she, well, operates.

Today I'm joined by Victoria Phillips, ICF Olson's Chief Operating Officer, who joined the collective just 3 months ago.  Victoria had spent the better portion of her career at Razorfish before joining us, which we'll get into below.  As a Northwestern grad and Chicagoland resident, Victoria stays close to her roots in her new role, not accounting for the monthly travel to the collective's other outposts in Virginia, Canada, and Minneapolis.

Hi, Victoria!  So, you’ve just recently joined ICF Olson, how have the first few months been?

It’s been about 3 months now. It’s been terrific, across every single division.  People are eager to jump in, which is great, but it’s been a whirlwind.  In the first 4 weeks, I visited 5 offices and did 65 one-on-one meetings. There are so many people to know and I work across the collective, more so than most other new hires. I really have to - and want to - learn about everyone in the business.  It’s been great to see how common we are in many ways, the common threads that tie us together, along with the uniqueness of each group.  I’m here to tie the collective together and spread those great qualities from each group.

What led you to ultimately choose ICF Olson as your next step?

It was a long journey. It started out as having conversations for a while before the heat turned up and I was meeting with different division leaders. It started getting more and more real and I got excited about the idea.  I’d been at Razorfish for the last 17 years, starting as a project manager, working my way up, and not especially looking to leave.  I wanted to make sure what I left for was something really special, and through this process I realized this is really special.  This is a ‘big company’ in that there are 900 people across the collective, but there a lot of things that are an opportunity to figure out from scratch.  From time entry, to business development, to how we serve our clients and come up with integrated solutions for them that bring in multiple parts of the collective - to give them something bigger and better than they even dreamed of.  

This position is a mix of operations that are established and opportunity to make the sum of the parts greater than they are on their own. 

Can you tell me about your background?  How did you get into operations?

I moved through the ranks at Razorfish as a project manager (PM), onto larger projects, larger accounts, then I got exposed to the internal workings of business.  It wasn't that big of a leap; project managers are very tied to the financials of projects and resourcing…they’re plugged in.  I just got more involved in the flip side of that.  I started getting on committees to help develop the tools and initiatives for better tracking and insight.  I then eventually took on a dual role of Director of Operations and Director of Project Management, which was the beginning of the shift.  I empowered my PM team to be self-sufficient and then focused more on the internal aspects. The shift was barely a shift.

Victoria Phillips

What are your goals for your role and your department?

Nothing is written down just yet, I’m still fact-finding right now, and learning, but the biggest thing there is, is the importance of project management and operations laying the foundation for the organization to grow.  That means things, processes, tools, and reports.  Our goal is to grow across the collective.  Our goal is to keep doing work in our specialties, but finding situations where we can serve a client even better by bringing in another part of the collective to give a more well-rounded solution or integrated solution.  We have to have a foundation that facilitates that kind of expansion and growth.  

We need to have specialists and generalists on a balanced PM team.  Another key goal is client operations and making sure we have clear rules of the road for tracking our margins, escalation points for approvals, and internal guidelines for teams. It’s never going to be a neat little box, but minimizing exceptions and outliers so everyone knows what to expect in any situation.  

You work with all groups within ICF Olson, but are there any areas that you’d like to work with more, or see yourself working with predominantly?

I will be loving all of our divisions equally and might focus on a location that needs attention at the time.  But my goals apply to all divisions.  One area that is new and unexpected that I’m getting involved in more is ICF, with their business development efforts and their clients, to see where there might be connection points between us, ICF Olson and ICF.  That’s an interesting and unique twist on the role.  They have some really neat work going on and I think our people would be psyched to learn about it

A title like COO makes me inclined to think you’re very organized.  True?

Yes, I am.  Everyone I know would probably say yes I am.  Rachel Firestine, Louise’s assistant, who is deeply, deeply organized, said she was shocked when she saw my calendar.  It runs my life.  I have my personal and private life organized with detailed lists.  I have everything scheduled.  For me, it's a pressure- if it's on my calendar, I must do it. I live and die by what is in my calendar.  Some people might have a dinner or something, I have tasks in my calendar.

Where do you go to keep current on trends & strategies for work?

One great thing about being in the digital industry for nearly 20 years is that I’ve made a lot of connections with a lot really smart people that know different things about different topics, and in talking with them regularly, I learn something all the time. I learn the most from my Linkedin feed and my Facebook feed.  It seems silly, but it’s something I can look at every day and my connections are work people mostly - obviously, I have my sister Kathy in AZ, too! ( Hi Kathy!) - but they are colleagues, and that fills my feed with articles, new products, campaign changes, or new thoughts about project management. 

My husband is in product innovation and part of his job is to know everything about trends and what’s coming, so daily he is talking my ear off about things that he’s read and heard. So, I pick it up from there, too.  It's a broad spectrum.

Well, you didn't move far, office-wise, but you’re in our Chicago office on Wacker Drive- what’s your favorite way to take advantage of the city?

Yes, The Razorfish office is just across the river from the ICF Olson office!  Now that the weather is getting nicer, I love checking out the new-ish river walk here, it’s been under construction forever and in the summer, it's amazing to get lunch and sit on the steps and hang out.  Another great thing you can do down there is rent a boat on your own.  You don’t need a captain.  It's an electric boat, it’s the Prius- wait, the Tesla of boats!  They hold 8-10 people, covered or not, and you can bring out food and drinks and you can cruise all around the river.  It’s super fun, I highly recommend it.  They make you watch a 7-minute training video and sign a waiver that says, ‘don’t wreck the boat.'  You can rent it for a couple hours at a time. It’s a great view of the city. 

What’s been your favorite show/podcast/book/movie recently?

Very recently- I don’t have time- but I’ve been storing and downloading Scandal- I’m almost embarrassed to admit this- and watching it late at night or on flights.  It’s fun, it’s murder, it’s adultery, it’s politics, it’s loosely ripped from the headlines.  It’s not the most intellectually stimulating show, but an enjoyable break. I also like podcasts when I’m running or in the car, mostly around professional or personal development.

Scandal is Shonda Rimes, right?

Yes, and fun fact: Shonda went to my high school.  I also went to high school with Jeff Molsen, one of our technical specialists here, from the same graduating class!  We dug into this over a recent happy hour.  He has a great memory and it’s a small world.