Ben works in HR/OD at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge company dedicated to the simple goal of trying to cure cancer… no big deal! Ben’s on his second career, having spent his first in business/strategy consulting, mostly with Bain & Co and Monitor Group, which basically just means he relies on MS Excel to solve virtually any problem he faces. If he’s not coaching or working with colleagues on their approach to leadership, he’s helping teams create effective dynamics or planning a recognition program to motivate employees. And sometimes, he’s chasing his wife around the ice hockey rink in his weekly pick-up game, or playing tennis, squash, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, or anything else to expend his nervous energy!
10.5 QUESTIONS WITH Ben Olds
1. The elevator just closed and you’ve got 30 seconds to pitch the random reader on whom you are and why they should read your rants. Go..
Every day that goes by is an opportunity to improve—if we don’t improve, we’re falling behind (and quite frankly wasting our time). So I’m obsessed with thinking about new and better ways to improve leadership, professional development, and talent management. I think about it in meetings, at the gym, on the weekends, while waiting in line, while talking to someone boring, etc. Do you? If so, you might find my rants provocative (did you see what I said about cheerleading as a sport?). Also, I don’t have a typical HR background, having come up through the business/strategy consulting ranks, so I look through a different lens than a traditional HR guy.
2. Now for the mundane – break down your location, title, company/firm and what you do for a living.
I help lead the HR function at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA. We’re trying to cure cancer – no pressure or anything! We don’t have titles, one of the many things we’re doing a bit differently to try to encourage innovation and collaboration. Personally, I spend about 50% of my time on leadership development, 25% of my time managing the team, 25% of my time on traditional HRBP work, and 100% of my time being a smart ass.
3. One more question that everyone expects. What’s the reason you’re in this game? (Why do you do what you do?)
I once made a list of things I loved about business consulting. Then I made another (much shorter) list of the things I was naturally good at. Revenue growth and M&A strategies weren’t on either list. What was? Helping people get better at what they did, and find more motivation to do it. I love it, and now I try to have that impact on the entire company.
4. If you’ve ever been to a professional baseball game, you know batters from the home team get to pick their own theme music as they walk from the dugout to the plate. If we ever have a FOT convention, what theme music will you come out to
pump the crowd up and why?
Easy – Kid Rock’s “Cowboy”. It’s quick, energetic, and most people roll their eyes at its attempts at humor.
5. Let’s stick with the baseball theme. If you’ve ever been to a pro game, you also know that the visitor doesn’t get to pick their own music. The home team picks that for them, and it’s usually less than stellar as a means of attempting to crush them. If you could pick theme music for your arch-rival to walk into a conference room to, what would it be and why?
Right Said Fred – “I’m Too Sexy.” Nothing more embarrassing than getting caught telling people how great you are!
6. Finish the following sentence – “When I’m interviewing, I can tell within one minute that this thing isn’t going to work out because _________…”
Well, I can’t tell anything within one minute. I’m not that good. But if I had to answer the sentence, I’d say because “the candidate isn’t willing to be vulnerable and admit to needing to grow.”
7. Name the actor/actress that will portray you in the movie about you. Why the heck is that a fit?
I wouldn’t even want to watch a movie about me. But the actor would probably have to be Elijah Wood. Little guy who makes you laugh. Or if Elijah is already taken, then Chris Hemsworth, just because he and I look so much alike.
8. List three of your favorite books to pander to the educated segment of our readership…
If you’re looking for personal favorite books, I’d say Catcher in the Rye, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones. If the question is about professional books, I’d say Difficult Conversations, Teaming, and Game of Thrones
9. List three of your favorite movies to connect with the segment of our readership that doesn’t like to read…
Shawshank Redemption, Top Gun, and 12 Angry Men
10. Let’s reach out to what remains of our readership. Who’s your favorite Old-School Rapper and why?
Will Smith – songs weren’t about who had a bigger gun and used it more frequently. Lighter side of rap.
10.5. My first car was a… and here’s how it defined who I am….
Ford Tempo – did the job, lots of fun to ride, but you never wanted your friends to find out you rode it.