Maureen Farmer: Maureen Farmer: The Consultant Who Helps CEOs Maneuver Transition & Succession
Beyond's Top 10 Most Inspiring CEOs to Watch Out in 2021
Transition is tough. And it is especially tough for top executives who are at the top of their game. It may look like they are in complete control, having a foolproof exit strategy and a new opportunity in their C-suite bag. But, in reality, most of them falter once they step down. They struggle primarily because there is a lack of career literacy at the C-level. Despite years of experience in leadership roles, they do not know how to conduct their own interview and position themselves as a leader in the marketplace. Top executives, too, need excellent career advice and the help of someone who can guide them through the haze of confusion and make them visible in the marketplace. And Maureen Farmer has become that guiding force for them. As CEO and founder of Westgate Executive Branding & Career Consulting, she helps top executives navigate the turbulent waters of transition so that they can forge ahead and attain their goals.
Westgate Executive Branding & Career Consulting is an international full-service boutique, specializing in personal branding and career consultancy. Its roster of clients includes CEOs, the chairman of the board of organizations, and the senior leadership team. Maureen and her team try to boost their confidence, enabling them to tell their stories and get their message across to achieve their goals.
Maureen’s consultancy approach is unique, as it focuses on the family aspect of the clients as well. She and her team take a holistic approach to come up with a strategy to help their clients. And in the ten years since she launched Westgate, no client of hers has expressed disappointment or asked for a refund. “We’ve never had legal action brought against us. We’ve never had a client ask for his money back. We’ve had 100 percent client satisfaction,” Maureen says. “That is the result of us being very, very thorough and very, very selective about whom we work with.” She and her team work with only those clients whose values align with theirs.
And high-profile clients – from CEOs to political leaders – have immensely benefited from Maureen’s expertise, insights, and creative, individually tailored solutions. Today, Westgate’s sales funnel is overflowing with leads, and former clients cannot stop recommending Maureen as the go-to consultant when facing a career dilemma. However, the initial launch days of Westgate were far from ideal. Soon after registering her company, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It is her determination, tenacity, and resilience that has seen her through one crisis after another — leading to her success as a consultant.
My Own First Client
Before starting Westgate, Maureen worked in corporate for more than 25 years. “I worked at very senior levels and multiple functions, including human resources management, operations, and professional development. And I sat at the board room tables with CEOs and board of directors of the public companies, where they were making major decisions,” she says. “During that period of time, I was always the go-to person for the executive team even though that was not my formal role.” People in the company would approach Maureen and use her as a sounding board and ask her advice. So, it was a natural transition for her to move to consultancy. But she did not immediately jump into it after quitting her last corporate role.
After resigning from her position, Maureen started looking for a support system and a career management service. She wanted their help to make some important career decisions. “But, there was nothing like Westgate on the market at the time,” she says. There is no dearth of large outplacement and recruiting firms, but they usually work with businesses and not individual private clients.
The launch of Westgate introduced the Career Navigator Program for individual private clients, as well as corporations. It helps them forge a path to their next opportunity that aligns with their values, goals, and lifestyle. “So I essentially became my own first client in my business,” Maureen says with a broad smile.
Determined to Make the Business Work
For Maureen, the switch from corporate to consultancy was a huge risk. “I had left a comfortable corporate role to start a practice that was unique in the marketplace,” she says. And a decade ago, the world of global consulting and collaboration was still in its infancy stage, and remote consulting was still an unheard form of consultancy. Other consultants were traveling to meet their clients face to face, while Maureen was using emails, phone calls, and Skype to communicate with them.
Also, Westgate was unlike other consultancy services in the marketplace. “Our practice was unique as it was a combination of human resources management, career management, and public relations management – all rolled up into one type of service. We planned to take care of the client end-to-end,” Maureen says.
And, because of her unique consultancy model, Maureen also faced resistance in the marketplace. “I was told that I wouldn’t make a go of this type of business,” she says. And, as Westgate is a 100 percent independent and 100 percent organic growth company, it had no backing of large corporations – it still does not have any investors. “There are no investors. I’m self-funded,” Maureen says. “And with that have come a lot of challenges, such as finding clients, remaining cash-flow positive, remaining profitable.”
She also recalls that a week after registering her company, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That was a huge psychological and physical barrier,” Maureen says. “Now, I didn’t know what I was facing in the future. So the next few months after that were very challenging for me.” She, however, did not let her illness crumple her business plan. “I’m proud to report that I never missed a day at work. I never missed a day at my desk during that entire time.”
Maureen was focused and determined to make her business work. “And I did,” she says. It is said that only 1 percent of the consultants who go independent last more than three years. Maureen and Westgate will be celebrating 11 years in the consultancy business in 2022. “It has not been a cakewalk,” Maureen says. “But, we have established a good niche and a sustainable business model.”
Services Offered Are Unique in Marketplace
Westgate’s services are unique in the marketplace due to several reasons. One of them is its focus on the family aspect of clients. “We want to make sure that the person we are working for becomes a hero at home as well as at the office,” Maureen says. She explains that by giving an example of a client, a CFO who was “very unhappy” at an international organization. He quit his job when his ethical values did not align with a new board member’s work ethic. “He worked with us for about 14 months,” Maureen says. “And he ended up turning down six job offers before accepting the final offer – which he is very happy with now.” “Now, he gets to have lunch with his elderly mother every Thursday afternoon. And he can walk to work,” Maureen says. “So we are honoring that client’s value system by targeting opportunities that align with his personal values.”
Maureen also talks about another client who used to commute five hours a day – two and half hours each way – and because of that, he had no time for his children. He only saw them during weekends when he drove them down to their sports activities. “Even though he enjoyed his job, he needed to make a change in order to improve the quality of life for his family,” Maureen says. And with the help of Westgate’s systems, methodologies, and strategies, he was able to change jobs. “Now, he works very close to home and sees his children every day.”
Westgate focuses on the family unit as a whole to determine how its clients can give their very best and enjoy. It also ensures that job changes do not result in lower pay packages. Maureen points out that both clients improved their compensation “exponentially” as a result of making job changes.
Strategic writing is the other aspect that makes Westgate different from other consultancy firms. “A lot of the work we do is writing client’s strategic messages for the marketplace,” Maureen says. “Most of the consultancy firms don’t do that. They do consulting and coaching but not writing. We do it all.” Maureen believes in offering organizations and executives a soup-to-nuts experience.
Assessment Tools and Signature Stories
Westgate does everything to create a client’s authentic brand identity and voice. It starts with need assessments, leadership assessments, 360 assessments, and other types of assessments. “We have also created a brand new, innovative Network 7,” Maureen says. “It’s a mechanism to tap into the network of centers of influences of our clients. We are not aware that anyone else is doing this in the marketplace.” And armed with tools provided by Westgate, clients are able to discover their authentic brand voice.
When Maureen and her team work with a client, they leverage the assessment tools to identify his or her core values and specific interests, and they also do deep-dive assessments so that clients can uncover their authentic voice in the marketplace– so that their messages do not sound like a marketing gimmick. Based on the results of assessments and using the client’s key milestones in their career, Maureen and her team create signature stories for them.
“We create signature stories that become the foundation for everything that our clients do,” Maureen says. “It includes their digital footprint, their key messaging, and that key messaging becomes repeatable over time. Also, it gives them the clarity that they are looking for. And it gives them a unique way to speak about themselves without feeling fake or phony. The signature story becomes the authentic brand voice for that person.”
Success and Work Harmony
Maureen believes that career success needs to be defined in terms of how clients define it. So, for her, success is all about making top executives feel confident enough to tell their stories and get their message across to achieve whatever they are looking for. And, success also means ensuring that they are clear about what they are going after and what they want. “Success also looks like helping them get there,” adds Maddison Shears, digital marketing specialist and career success strategist at Westgate.
And Maureen does not believe that work-life balance exists. People cannot leave their job at the subway station before jumping on the subway, she says. “It comes with them no matter where they go.” Hence, she believes in the concept of work-life harmony.
“Work-life harmony really takes in an entire person – includes their family and their values. So, when you are in a position in an organization and in a team that reflects your values, then that is a harmonious outcome and that is another way of realizing success.”
Worried About Losing the Business
The Covid-19 pandemic induced drastic changes that hit Westgate as well. Maureen and her team were “really worried” that they would lose the business, as they had no new clients in April 2020. “It was a very scary time,” Maureen says. “We took a deep dive into our marketing strategy and completely redesigned our marketing program to get new clients into the business.”
Westgate optimized its digital footprint in-house and brought in a couple of consultants to help with search engine optimization. “We now have a robust pipeline of quality representation from corporations,” Maureen says.
Vision for Westgate
Maureen wants Westgate to outlive her. “We have been working on a one-hundred-year plan for Westgate. The idea is to make it a long-living and long-lasting brand.” Also, Maureen wants to create a foundation for career literacy.
“And our vision [for the foundation] is to help high potential individuals succeed in career and business through Westgate.” She wants to ensure that they overcome major barriers that are stopping them from making progress, and then help them become successful through career.