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Interview - Justin Wilson

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Navigating Change in a Complex Business

An Interview with Justin Wilson

June 4, 2015

What a difference a few years makes.

When Justin Wilson (San Francisco, 2008-2012) had an internship with Google in 2007, the firm was still primarily in the search engine business.

Fast-forward less than a decade and we’re now looking at a brand with a lot—a heck of a lot—of irons in the fire: from robotics to photo editing, mobile payments to cloud computing, and video streaming to social gaming. And that barely scratches the surface.

“The biggest and most obvious change I’ve found since coming back to Google is the increased complexity of the business,” said Justin, head of global top accounts, technology, and media & entertainment.

Justin’s initial role upon his full-time return to the company was to lead the global business strategy team. He found this newer, more complicated Google “difficult to navigate; challenging to understand the many moving pieces.”

“Leveraging the skills and capabilities I’d developed at BCG proved invaluable. I got off to a strong start, learned the business, and moved things along. Even so, I still looked for a Sherpa within the organization to help me find my path through what had become unfamiliar territory and it was actually a good friend and former BCGer that I connected with for that.”

In his current role, Justin works to help Google better serve its large global clients in the technology and media sectors.

“If you think about the entire digital marketing ecosystem, with advertisers trying to reach consumers with just the right message in just the right place and at just the right time, it’s tremendously complicated.”

It’s his role to take that complexity—including the intricacies of Google’s own internal systems—to simplify it, distill it, and offer solutions that help the firm’s advertisers and partners realize their full potential in a global ad market worth $600 billion.

“So how do we win our share of those dollars? As we don’t have a huge creative unit in-house, we draw inspiration from our agency partners to help us develop campaigns. We do, however, try to influence those agencies to think ‘digital first.’”

Digital, he continues, has been growing in order of magnitude greater than the rest of the advertising industry—much of it coming at the expense of traditional media such as radio and print. Indeed, much of Google’s potential market is in the hands—literally—of consumers who today spend massive amounts of time on mobile devices.

“Our chairman, Eric Schmidt, has been quoted to say that Google as an organization needs to think ‘mobile first.’ More recently I’ve heard him say that Google needs to start thinking ‘mobile only.’

“Mobile is making advertisers sit up, take notice, and say ‘we want to be where the user is.’ There’s so much power around mobile that we’re now able to geotarget someone who is, say, at a shopping mall, and to understand that particular consumer in that particular space so that a given store can reach out to him or her in a way that it never could have before.”

When he felt it was time to move on from BCG, Justin says that having the firm on his resume bought him a lot of credibility and opened a lot of doors. “I’m such a huge fan of BCG. I have glowing things to say about it, particularly to MBAs and undergrads, because I truly believe that the learning and know-how I got there has helped me immensely in my career.

He started to explore his options with companies in Silicon Valley.

“Despite my work history and experience, it was no small feat to navigate the various entrepreneurial facets of so many diverse start-ups and growth firms. At Google, however, I felt there was a lot more understanding of and appreciation for what the consulting experience, BCG in particular, had given me.”

With Google now added to BCG on his resume, Justin can boast that he has been part of the number one and number two companies on Fortune's "100 Best Places to Work For" list.

He sees many parallels between the two companies.

“Each puts a lot of value in the ability of the individual to tackle thought-provoking, interesting problems. They demand intellectual curiosity and attract talented, smart, and engaged people who are driven to answer complicated questions.”

He adds that he’s found both companies to be progressive in their respective industries in terms of the benefits they provide, and in their efforts to recognize and address issues of work-life balance.

“For me, at Google, as it was at BCG, it’s about my peers, my managers, my teams, and what they bring to the table, day in and day out. They are not there to punch a timecard and pick up a paycheck; they’re there because they are genuinely excited about the work that they do.”

Indeed, when Google went public, its leadership team put out a letter saying, in effect, that it was not going to be a conventional company.

“Rather than react to what the market might expect from us, we make investments where we believe they will create not just a long-term financial return, but long-term impact. There remains an entrepreneurial belief within the company that says ‘we’re not doing this project with growth projections in mind; we’re doing it because we believe it will revolutionize some part of the universe.'

“Google’s continued drive to think big in disruptive spaces remains appealing to many of us who work there. Google Glass, the driverless car, and some of our more recent investments in the health care space are just a few of examples of the tremendous effort we put into tackling some of today’s challenges. It all boils down to the ambition of doing really incredible things and making people’s lives better.” 

As part of BCG’s Alumni Speaker Series within the LAB Talks Trainings, BCG alumnus Justin Wilson visited our San Francisco office for a conversation with BCG senior partner Jean-Manuel Izaret, which was broadcasted live to a worldwide audience of BCG staff and alumni. Watch the full interview here.

Navigating Change in a Complex Business
Alumni

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