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Meet Susan Lucia Annunzio of Center for High Performance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Lucia Annunzio.

Susan, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started my career as a therapist. One of my clients was the head of new recruits for the Chicago accounting practice at Arthur Andersen. He asked me if I could help him reduce the recidivism rate in his department. Although I had no similar experience, I realized that everything I studied in graduate school — group dynamics, behavioral dynamics, interpersonal relationships —applied to corporations as well as individuals and families.

At that time, few consultants were focusing on the “people side” of business. I began working with some colleagues, and in the 1980s we landed Amoco as a client. The company wanted its scientists to come up with more creative oil drilling solutions, but its process discouraged innovation. We developed a program that Amoco credited with increasing creativity and reducing conflict and turnover. Amoco subsequently bought the exclusive oil industry rights. That project launched my career and resulted in my first book, Communicoding.

The principles of leadership and change management that I espoused had a proven effect on increasing the bottom line, which I wrote about in my second book, eLeadership. After it was published, I got a call from the dean of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who had read the book and invited me to teach a course in the MBA program. I have been teaching high-demand courses at the university for 17 years.

As a consultant, my mission is to demonstrate to senior leaders that treating people with respect and dignity is morally, ethically and fiscally responsible. I knew from experience that companies where people are treated well make more money, but I wanted to prove that with hard data. With the help of a top-notch research firm, my team conducted the largest, most systematic global study on the factors that accelerate or inhibit profitable growth, which I wrote about in my third book, Contagious Success. We proved quantifiably that valuing people is the top predictor of high performance, around the world. I have had the opportunity to share this research at prestigious venues such as the World Economic Forum.

Has it been a smooth road?
Like many professional women working in a man’s world, I faced challenges. Although I was one of the top billers in a consulting firm and had been promised a partnership, I was initially passed over in favor of two men who brought in less money than me. Early in my career a lot of women decided that they needed to act and dress more like men to succeed. They sacrificed their femininity and acted aggressively in the workplace. The fact that I didn’t do that probably limited my advancement in the short run. But it became a differentiator for me, and in the long term attracted the type of clients I wanted to work with. Early setbacks turned out to be a bonus later on. I always made the choice to be true to myself, and I always put my family first.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Center for High Performance story. Tell us more about the business.
After running a large change management practice for a major consulting firm and serving as CEO of a subsidiary of a global company, I founded the Center for High Performance in 2006 to create a new model of consulting. I lead a virtual team of senior consultants who help business leaders achieve and sustain high performance throughout their organizations. What sets us apart is our data-driven approach. Using the findings from our proprietary global research, we create ADVANCES™ (the opposite of “retreats”), customized experiences for boards, executives and top leaders that simulate the factors stifling performance.

For example, a recent ADVANCE™ based on a “Wizard of Oz” theme helped a company undergoing a major transformation to address the behaviors that are inhibiting high performance.

By leading them through a highly creative series of exercises, we helped company leaders understand the benefits of combining their brainpower, and recognize how their siloed behaviors were standing in the way of greater success. We also showed the need for courage in handling difficult client and employee situations and the importance of heart during change. As a result, they were better able to utilize team members’ strengths, increase collaboration and better empathize with their workforce.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
As large companies bring more executive development work in-house, consultants will need to provide differentiated skill sets and offerings. I think that buyers in the consulting world are beginning to understand that there are a lot of niche options out there — such as CfHP’s proprietary research and track record of working with CEOs and their direct reports — and they don’t have to choose the large branded consulting firms that they might have in the past. As time goes on, buyers will become more sophisticated, less risk-averse and more likely to select consultants based on their track record, not their firm’s name. At the same time, the leveraged model in which consulting firms sell to their bench rather than based on the real needs of their clients will be diminished.

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Chris Ocken (

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