Trish Birch wanted to be a doctor as a child. Born in Kenya, she grew up in Africa – where her British father was a businessman. During a summer break from her British boarding school, Trish returned to Africa for a visit. Her father, knowing she had her mind set on becoming a physician, arranged for her to observe surgeries at a local hospital. Her career dream, however, was cut short by that visit. “After seeing blood, guts and gore,” she says, “I knew medicine was not for me.”
Trish shifted gears and decided to major in Finance when she attended Boston University as an undergraduate. Her professional experience has spanned healthcare, business and technology and has taken twists and turns with diverse roles at several companies. Her current role as SVP & Global Practice Leader, Healthcare Consulting at Cognizant, is a culmination of all her professional interests. Throughout her career, she has been able to pivot and reinvent herself, a skill she acquired by moving cultures frequently and learning to adapt at a young age.
Consulting: A great profession for people who get bored easily
Trish describes her work at Cognizant – a leading global IT services firm – as “a service oriented, project based approach to solving business problems.” In simplest terms, “consulting firms solve specific problems for their clients – technology or business challenges, for example,” she says. Consulting is not a structured environment; it is a profession that offers variety, includes frequent travel, and provides opportunities for people to reinvent themselves and broaden their skills via new projects. As Trish says, “it is a great profession for people who get bored easily.”
STEPS TO RISE »
Early years: Playing to her strengths
Originally wanting to study medicine, Trish switched to Finance while an undergrad at Boston University when she realized being a doctor was not for her.
First job: Getting on the tech bandwagon
In the early days of Tech, she took a position at Electronic Data Systems, which set the foundation for her career.
Pivotal role: From manager to CIO
Going from a consulting manager role to become CIO at a healthcare system was a giant leap for Trish, but her tenacity made her successful.
Leadership: A culmination of all her experience
As SVP and Global Practice Leader of Healthcare Consulting at Cognizant, Trish’s current role is a culmination of all her professional experiences.
On a daily basis, Trish likes to spend at least half her time with clients. The rest of the time she focuses on her teams and keeping them right-skilled to sell services into the marketplace. “We need to drive revenue so we have to be out in the market selling and thinking about how to respond to client needs,” she explains.
Career path: From coding to consulting to corporate, and back to consulting
Trish has not always been a consultant. After getting a degree in Finance from Boston University, she wondered if she had “missed the boat” by not studying Information Technology since it seemed to be the way of the future. “I happened to open the newspaper,” she explains. “Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in Dallas was offering college graduates an opportunity to interview for a position in its Systems Engineering Development Program.”
Although Trish says, “EDS had an excellent program and it set the foundation for my career,” she did not want to be purely technical for the rest of her life, but wanted more interaction with people. “I had always wanted to do consulting so I joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), and I was there 11 years,” she explains. While progressing through various levels at Andersen, Trish got married, moved from Dallas to Jacksonville, FL and started a family. She soon realized she could no longer travel as she had previously if she was going to be fair to her family, and while her only local Jacksonville client – a regional hospital system – had offered her several different roles, none of them were what she wanted.
She then received some life-changing advice from her father: “Just tell them what you want.” She went back to her client at the hospital system, and said, “I’ll come if I can be the Chief Information Officer,” and her client responded, “Give me the weekend.” He called her the following Monday and said, “It’s a done deal.” At the hospital system for seven years, Trish says, “Over time I became responsible for about a third of the organization – including clinical ancillaries and capital and strategic planning – and I learned how to communicate and work with a board.” She also had to promote a vision and get fellow employees and the medical staff to support that vision, skills that were invaluable when she returned to consulting later.
While working full-time at the health care system in Jacksonville, Trish got her MBA at Jacksonville University. Of that experience, Trish says, “Structured learning is always valuable. The MBA is a credential, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten some of the jobs I have had without it.”
“Structured learning is always valuable. The MBA is a credential, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten some of the jobs I have had without it.”
As her children grew, she missed the excitement and variety of consulting and went back to Andersen Consulting, and later joined Deloitte Consulting as a direct admit partner. Interested in getting public company experience, she worked for a couple of smaller boutique firms before joining Cognizant in 2010.
Rise to the top: Leveraging pivotal moments
Trish’s path to leadership rests on two pivotal career moments. One was when she became CIO at the healthcare system. “I had been a manager at Andersen Consulting so I had to step it up when I became CIO. I had to figure it out,” she says. Another was when she became a “direct-admit” partner at Deloitte, which brought a different set of responsibilities as a new stakeholder in the firm. Both transitions required tenacity and, while Trish could have perceived these transitions as daunting, she leveraged her previous experiences to develop her leadership skills and reach the levels of success she enjoys today.
Her tenure at Cognizant is the culmination of 30 years of professional experience, always with a focus on technology and health care. Cognizant hired Trish to build a global health care consulting practice, and it has experienced strong growth under her leadership. She now has responsibility for the largest consulting practice in Cognizant.
Career advice: Always have a plan
When asked what lessons have been most valuable to her throughout her career, Trish offers these tips:
- Be clear about your priorities and what you want.
- Stick to your ground rules, and people will know what to expect from you.
- If you’re given an opportunity that is not what you want, try to turn it into something you do want.
- It is essential to treat people well – don’t take credit for someone else’s work, for example. Integrity is very important.
- As my father said, “Always have a plan.”
If Trish’s career is a result of following this advice, it is wise guidance indeed.