Chris Hummel (F93) of Siemens Enterprise Communications Shares the Secret to His Success: “Managing the Matrix”

October 11, 2011

chummelAt one point not long ago, Chris Hummel’s biggest concerns were how to find fax paper in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and why his Kazakh business partner insisted on walking arm-in-arm with him. Now his days are filled with worries about marketing and managing the latest evolution for global electronics giant Siemens in North America.

It’s a winding career path that took him from Fletcher graduation eighteen years ago to the top levels of a $3 billion company. And if there’s one secret to his success, it’s what he calls “Managing The Matrix,” or knowing how to manage multiple, complex agendas simultaneously.

“Most people do not know how to manage that skill…. Most people do not know how to manage multiple executives or solve multidimensional, cross functional business problems,” he said during a lunchtime presentation October 11 at The Fletcher School, the latest in a series hosted by the school’s Institute for Business in the Global Context.

“If you can master that skill, there’s no stopping you.”

Hummel currently is the North American President for Siemens Enterprise Communications, a so-called “carve-out” initiated by the European giant. The company, among other things, develops and sells “communication-focused” products and services. Hummel is also head of Global Sales, and the global Chief Marketing Officer, though he says he likes to refer to himself informally as the “EEO” -- the Everything Else Officer. “It’s everything else that no one else wants to do.”

A “Double Jumbo,” that is, a Tufts undergraduate as well as a Fletcher graduate, Hummel said he spurned encouragement from Professor of Diplomacy Andrew Hess, who told him to become a U.S. Marine, and after graduation he moved to Kiev, Ukraine, where he made $500 a month helping Apple to get a distribution network up and running. He later ended up in Kazakhstan where he helped Oracle open its office in the Central Asian nation and where he learned about important cultural nuances like NOT eating everything on your dinner plate (lest your Kazakh host think you’re still hungry and repeatedly pile even MORE food on your plate). He eventually went back to Ukraine, where he learned about the importance of “being in flow: It’s the balance created when what you're doing is challenging enough to keep you interested, but not so challenging that it’s overwhelming.”

By the time he moved to Moscow in the late 1990s, to manage operations around Eastern Europe, he was already considered a veteran of the IT industry in the former Soviet Union. He was thrown into major projects involving government agencies like the Russian Customs Service or helping the U.S. Department of Defense set up a system to track weapons-grade uranium in Russia.

“I was watching a country, a whole region, rebuild itself, from the bottom up,” he said.

As he moved up the ladder, he transferred to oversee the Asia-Pacific region where he learned about marketing, not as a job but “as a discipline. It’s really about revenue and packaging a company. It’s about blurring the distinction between sales and marketing.” Later, he jumped from Oracle to SAP (whose different business cultures he likened to Christians and Muslims… or Red Sox and Yankee fans) where he became executive vice president of Global Field Marketing – managing a 600-person organization -- and learned about the art of war, in a boardroom setting. (“If the knives are coming out, I want to see it coming; I don’t want to get it in the back,” he joked.)

At the time he jumped in April 2010 to Siemens Enterprise Communications – then four years old – it was considered a challenger, an upstart in the North American market. For the current fiscal year, Hummel helped lead the company to incredible success: a 26 percent jump in new business, after ten years of shrinking business.

Over the years, he bumped up – and competed against – graduates of other competitor schools and, he told the audience frankly, “It’s tough, you’re going to compete with people with pedigrees and stamps in the passports.”

But, he said, as a Fletcher graduate, “Once you get management, you’re going to wipe the floor with them.”

“With Fletcher, your advantages come in that ‘matrix,’ you can play in multiple disciplines at the same time,” he said.

At Fletcher, he suggested, you should, first, focus on your differentiation: "Don’t try to be everyone else. Take advantage of all the other programs that are here. And second, emphasize the skills it takes to work in a matrix-environment: That’s a major differentiator."

- Mike Eckel, MALD candidate F13