Kathryn Hayley '84
A passion for putting the right people together
By Amy Trang
When Kathryn Hayley ’84 put together her management team after being named CEO of Aon Consulting in 2006, she was looking for people with a bit of “magic.”
“It wasn’t about bringing somebody in to just fill the job, but someone who was going to take the duties to the next level,” Hayley says. “I want people who can motivate other people, who people will look up to and want to work with, learn from.”
That’s not to say that the team is made up of identical people. Haley’s team members have a range of leadership styles, from extraverted to introverted, and a variety of backgrounds, from financial to technical. The common thread, though, is that every team member wants to achieve more for the company, Hayley says.
“I built this team that was more cohesive, really scrappy and excited about what to do at the firm,” she says. “We helped each other out, challenged each other and came to believe that we could accomplish anything together.”
Those polished teamwork skills were put to the test in July, when Hayley was named to the integration team that oversaw Aon’s acquisition of human resources firm Hewitt Associates in a $4.9 billion deal. After she was named CEO of Aon Hewitt Consulting, Americas, Hayley looked to create similar dynamics on her new leadership team.
“As part of pulling these two firms together, we took the same care in selecting a diverse group of people who would work well together as a team and build the next chapter for our firm,” Hayley says. “We are creating a foundation that serves our clients better than our predecessor firms.”
Prior to joining Aon, Hayley spent 21 years with Deloitte Consulting, where she served as the Midwest regional managing director and helped grow Deloitte’s operations in India. She also led the firm’s financial services practices in the Americas.
Through the years, Hayley has acquired extensive experience building teams that devise unique solutions to complex issues. Her teams’ successes range from developing clearing and trading systems for exchanges that are still in use 20 years after implementation, to replacing all the systems for a Fortune 250 firm in one day.
Hayley takes risks in bringing in members who, at first glance, might not be obvious choices. She recalls a young, inexperienced team member who “proved to be a good team player and problem solver” and another who “may not have always made friends, but had the background and instincts to make the (Fortune 250 firm) project a tremendous success.”
“It’s not just the technical skills and the experience that I look at — it’s about drive, critical thinking, character,” Hayley says. “I think the dynamic that a person brings to the group is just as important as the technical skills.”
That approach has paid dividends. Over the course of her tenure as CEO of Aon Consulting, the company’s pre-tax income grew an average of 19 percent per year over the last five years, and the firm has had the highest margins in the industry.
Hayley predicts that dynamic teams will be critical to Aon Hewitt’s continued success as the largest human resources and human capital consulting firm in the world.
“It’s an exciting chance to build and create something really new,” Hayley says. “Along with that comes responsibility. How can we continue to invest in ways that have a meaningful impact for clients? How do we continue to grow our global footprint and continue to serve our middle-market clients and our large clients? It’s just full of opportunities for us.”
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Kellogg World alumni magazine.