Women in Leadership Profiles

Kearney consulting partner transforms clients – and Black colleagues’ careers

Tiffany Hickerson studied engineering as an undergrad, but she longed to apply her analytical skills to solve business problems. Her fate was sealed after a chance meeting with a partner at Kearney, whose description of the varied nature of consulting work hooked Tiffany. In 14 years at Kearney, she has led large scale transformations across many industries, including health, chemical, and consumer/retail clients. Equally meaningful to her career success is her leadership role with Black@Kearney, an affinity group for Black employees. As only the second Black female to be elected partner at the firm, Tiffany is committed to pay it forward, as so many did before her.

Current role: Driving value while constantly learning

In simple terms, what do you do? What is the main goal of your role?
Kearney is a management consulting firm. In my role as a partner in the strategic operations practice, I focus most of my time on procurement transformation. We help clients optimize costs with their suppliers while driving the most value for the company and their stakeholders – without sacrificing quality.

Another component of my client work is to help organizations design the right organizational structure to become leaders in the procurement space and differentiate themselves. This can include delivering innovation via technology or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors like supplier diversity and sustainability.

How is the work of procurement different than it was a few years ago or even pre-COVID?
A few years ago, cost reduction was the priority for most companies. Now the topics of ESG and diversity have become part of boardroom discussions. Our clients are looking to procurement to help drive their diversity efforts because the social impact of diverse suppliers energizes our clients and their employees. People like to see companies walking the walk.

Our clients are looking to procurement to help drive their diversity efforts because the social impact of diverse suppliers energizes our clients and their employees.

What drew you to consulting, and what is your favorite part of your job?
In business school, I worked at the graduate career center, and one day I struck up a conversation with a Kearney partner named Marc Hochman. I was inquisitive about his role, and he told me about his work in procurement and driving value for clients. I thought it was really interesting.

He said something that stuck with me, and it’s why I am still here:  no two clients or two projects are the same. Every time I start a project to help a client solve a challenge, it feels like I am starting a new job. He also said to me,

Your brain is a sponge, and by working with different clients and industries, you will be constantly learning.


What characteristics does someone need to be successful in a role like yours?
Teamwork, problem solving, analytical mindset, curiosity

What is most challenging?
There is an energy that comes from working in teams, and with COVID and so many working from home, making personal connections is harder now.

Career path: Take some risks; it may change your trajectory.

What is it about Kearney specifically that makes it a satisfying place to have a career?
For me, it is the people. In this job you work long hours with your team, and if you don’t enjoy the people you work with, it impacts your ability to do the work. My friends in the firm support and encourage me, and I work with some of the brightest people who inspire me.

What did you learn in previous roles at Ogilvy & Mather and Morgan Stanley that have helped you in your current position?
Both Morgan Stanley and Ogilvy & Mather gave me opportunities to solve challenges, see how companies make business decisions, and work in different industries and with different teams.

Looking back on your career, has there been a pivotal moment or decision that took your career in a new direction that you wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to do if you hadn’t said “yes?”?
Working in advertising and financial services before grad school, had I not taken the leap of faith to go back to business school, I wouldn’t have ended up in consulting. Going back to get an MBA gave me access and understanding of something that I didn’t know I was passionate about. It was also scary because I had an established life before I went, but it completely changed the trajectory of my life and work.

Had I not taken the leap of faith to go back to business school, I wouldn’t have ended up in consulting.


Is there anything you would do differently on your career journey? What do you think young professionals can learn from your path so far?
I would’ve taken more risks – I was so risk averse early on in life. My parents found jobs and stayed with one company for many years. I had contemplated going back to get an MBA for years, but I had a fear of going into debt and it felt like a gamble, but in hindsight, I wish I’d have done it sooner. I want to teach my kids to not fear failure because mistakes will happen, and they will learn something from it.

Leadership lessons: Pay it forward, be transparent, and ask for what you need 

You are a leader of Black@Kearney (B@K). What is the goal of this organization, and why is it meaningful to you?
Many people paved the way for me to be where I am. I had great mentors in my family and others who have encouraged and opened doors for me, and I am only the second Black female elected to partner at Kearney. It was always instilled in me to pay it forward. I’m passionate about this role at Kearney because we’ve been able to recruit, hire, and develop Black talent that, without these focused efforts, we might not have been able to. It is very rewarding because our lives are not only about “what’s in it for me?” but “how do I help leave a legacy for my kids and others?”

I’m passionate about this role at Kearney because we’ve been able to recruit, hire, and develop Black talent that, without these focused efforts, we might not have been able to.

Are there one or two important lessons in business that you always keep top-of-mind?
At the end of the day, people are people. You need to ask for what you need. When my son started his first day of school, I was still at a pretty junior level. I followed the bus to school because I was nervous and immediately drove to the client site afterwards. The client overheard me talking to someone about it, and she canceled all my meetings that day and told me to follow the bus home from school, too. Those acts of kindness I will not forget.

What advice do you have a for a young woman just starting out in her career in business?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Transparency and openness are what attract people to work with you – they want to trust you are authentic and honest in your answers. The ability to be comfortable even in discomfort will reveal your true strength.

Education: Applying analytical rigor to solve business challenges 

How does your undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering help you in your current role?
Engineering was my foundation, and business school reinforced it – it taught me how to solve problems and be more efficient. It also taught me to apply analytical rigor, which is looking at a problem, breaking it into pieces, and understanding why it happens.

Why did you decide to get an MBA at Purdue? How has it benefitted you?
My initial thought post-MBA was to re-enter financial services, but the MBA helped me realize that I wanted to transfer my analytical mindset to business and apply it to bigger, more strategic challenges.

Personal passions: Family first

Where did you grow up?
St Louis, MO

How did your parents influence you and ultimately your career choices?
My family plays a big role in my success, including my husband and my parents. Family first is our motto. My mother is a retired teacher, and my dad is retired engineer, and they were both mentors to young people. My dad was a Little League coach, and both parents stressed the importance of education. My parents exposed my siblings and me to different activities, including traveling and learning about the world. Curiosity was instilled at an early age.

Did you ever dream about a career at a young age?
Growing up I wanted to be a lawyer – maybe because I can be a bit stubborn, and I like to win arguments. Today, I still feel I get to use legal skills since negotiations is an important part of my procurement work.

What was your very first job (where you had a W2)? What did you learn from it?
In high school, I was in a program called INROADS, an organization that helps minorities get internships and jobs. My internship was with Enterprise Leasing. I worked in a corporate/office role where I got to see how the business operated and how they interacted with customers.

How do you spend your time when you are not working?
When I am not working, I love being a mom and watching my two boys (10 and 8) grow. They keep me busy! My husband and I are active in their activities, and I sit on the parents’ association at their school.

My personal motto is “try to be present, not perfect.”

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