CPD interviewed Nancy M. Williams (MBA 1992) to share how she leveraged career coaching to make a career switch, launch a venture and find true fulfillment in her professional and personal endeavors.

Tell us a little about yourself, your journey post HBS and your current role.

I’m Founder and President of Auditory Insight, a boutique management consultancy focused exclusively on hearing healthcare. We partner with senior leaders of device and biopharma hearing healthcare companies to develop successful commercialization strategies. We also consult to venture capital and private equity firms evaluating hearing healthcare investments.

For example, I recently advised a company developing gene therapies for hearing loss. For the engagement, we delivered strategic recommendations for clinical trial design based on a synthesized analysis of the market needs, from surgeons to audiologists to patients.

My business has a deeply personal aspect for me: I have a progressive, genetic hearing loss. In addition to wearing powerful hearing aids (I was fitted with my first aid at age 12), I lip-read and use captioning in order to communicate effectively with others.

My entire business career has focused on developing new markets. Before starting Auditory Insight, I created and ran the patient engagement business for HPOne, which was founded and led by my section mate, Bill Stapleton. Before attending HBS, I spent four years in management consulting, at Marakon Associates (since acquired by CRA International) and Boston Consulting Group.

What aspects of career coaching helped you reach your goals in your career & life?

Career coaching has played a crucial role in my founding Auditory Insight in two important ways. First, Jill Huggett (who is founder of Bridgepath Career Advisors in addition to being an HBS Career Coach) was instrumental in helping me to think through my decision of launching the business, both from a personal and financial perspective. In fact, it was Jill who suggested that I consider working in hearing healthcare. At the time that Jill was coaching me, I was on the Board of the Hearing Health Foundation and served as a hearing health advocate on nights and weekends. Yet sometimes we cannot see what is most obvious: I had not considered the possibility of dedicating my professional life to hearing healthcare. I credit Jill for helping me to see what a great fit hearing healthcare could be with my advocacy work, personal journey, and professional experience.

Once I launched the business, I realized I could benefit from coaching on the business development process for gaining new clients. I reached out to Rich Schneider, who is a sought-after HBS Career Coach for his 40 years of experience in consulting. He is formerly a Senior Partner in the strategy practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, where he focused on healthcare; currently he is a Partner at Sage Partners, advising boards and executives on growth and new business entry. When I signed up for those initial career coaching sessions with Rich, I had no idea that our initial meetings would expand into what is now, three years later, a valuable partnership. Rich sits on Auditory Insight’s advisory board and meets with me on a monthly basis. He has been instrumental in helping me to develop Auditory Insight’s go-to-market strategy. For example, he helped me think through how to expand Auditory Insight’s offerings to address the needs of venture capital and private equity firms evaluating hearing healthcare. In our monthly conversations, he has passed along to me numerous techniques and approaches for developing new consulting clients and leading consulting projects to maximize client value. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work with Rich, whom I greatly respect not only for his business achievements, but also his personal philosophies and his dedication to helping others in multiple communities. He has been a role model to me on developing the whole person.

What is one piece of advice you would offer fellow alumni who are starting their own venture?

Get as much input as you can from others with expertise in your field. The numerous administrative requirements to starting a new venture can be distracting. Try to remain as focused as possible on honing your go-to-market strategy with the input of others. I’d recommend forming an advisory board as soon as you can. But also don’t underestimate the power of occasional conversations with others who have a valuable perspective, including HBS career coaches! Constantly checking your assumptions on the validity of your value proposition can help ensure that you are making the right bets with your limited time and capital.