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Meet the alum who's connecting a globalized world

Nearly a year into his role as CEO of Thomson Reuters, former Partner Steve Hasker discusses leading through the pandemic, sources of inspiration, and co-founding EM College. 
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Steve Hasker (NYO, AUO 98-09) joined Toronto-based business information services company Thomson Reuters as CEO last March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic had begun sweeping through North America.

It wasn’t the first challenging role he had accepted. Over the 25 years of his career so far, Steve has served as a Partner at McKinsey, COO and Global President at Nielsen, and CEO of CAA Global, a portfolio company of TPG. He has lived and worked in North America, Europe and Asia, often far from his native Australia.

Steve recently sat down to talk with us (over Zoom, of course). The wide-ranging conversation touched on why he finds the business information services industry fascinating, how he approaches complex problems, and where he finds inspiration.

Why did you decide to take the CEO role at Thomson Reuters? What was compelling to you about it?

When I started speaking with the Board at the end of 2019, I was intrigued. As I learned more about the company, I started to get more and more excited about its culture, its history, and the opportunities ahead of it.

I've always had a particular affection for business information services companies. They’re a combination of big data, advanced analytics, and increasingly AI and machine learning. I find it fascinating.

The pandemic was a global issue when you began your new role last March. What was it like to start a CEO role in that strange reality?

The first decision I was faced with was whether and how to send all of our people out of the office to work from home. When you're faced with extraordinary circumstances, and therefore extraordinary complexity, you have to simplify it down to the one or two things that really matter, and be clear and resolute about that.

In a business like Thomson Reuters – like McKinsey – a principal asset is our people. We're an intellectual capital driven business. One thing that really matters is the health and safety of our people. So it was easy to make the decision to send them home – and it turned out that our investments in technology held up well.

We’ve stuck to that simple philosophy of first and foremost looking after our associates, and secondarily emphasizing our care and attention for our customers. Those two principles have helped us to this point, and we've endured this crisis pretty well. It will keep going for longer than any of us want it to, but so far, that simple approach has held us in good stead.

What’s your biggest current challenge?

I think we've got a transformation program to undertake that will turn us from the portfolio-company orientation that we've had for many years into a truly world-class operating company with a set of competitive advantages from our operations, whether it be the customer experience we provide, our ability to innovate at the product level, or the talent we attract, retain and develop.

Often, success breeds a bit of complacency, and change is always difficult. I think our biggest obstacle will be ensuring that openness to transformation and reinvention is indeed there across the entire company.

Let’s talk about your McKinsey career. How did you first hear about McKinsey, and what factored into your decision to join the firm?

McKinsey in Australia has had a storied history, and has consistently attracted some of the most talented Australians, from its early days when Rod Carnegie set up the first office there. I'd heard McKinsey mentioned in somewhat hushed tones, because it was a place that consistently attracted some of the most talented people.

I was approached by McKinsey when I was in graduate school. Like many students, I was considering a few different alternatives. The difference with McKinsey came through not only in the interview process and the various meetings, but the follow-up once those interviews had taken place. McKinsey very much took an interest in me.

That really came to life when we had conversations regarding a summer internship. I decided to go and do something else that particular summer. The response was that they didn't mind what I did for the summer, but that they wanted me to seriously think about McKinsey when I graduated. That was a very different approach from other firms. I felt that it said something substantive about McKinsey.

What stands out to you from your time at McKinsey?

I was one of the founders of EM College, and I participated in the first three. I have very fond memories of that, and of the process of working through to its creation with Kevin Sneader and Marcia Nuffer, and the late Alastair Ramsay. They were just fantastic, fun days. Very busy, long, hard days, but ones that ultimately ended in something I was very proud of.

The second thing is that I was lucky enough to be on the Partner Election Committee for a number of years. Initially I found it daunting and challenging. But ultimately it was very rewarding as a basis to meet a much broader cadre of people from the firm, and also just to get insight as to how the firm really works. And that was great.

From a client perspective, I did some work early on in my role as an EM for one of the European telecom operators that had bought every media asset in that particular country. It was like an incredibly accelerated graduate school course on how media and media strategy work. That was probably my favorite study, of all of the many, many studies I undertook.

You had been a Partner at McKinsey for six years when you moved to the Nielsen Company as Global President. What factored into that decision?

Nielsen at that time was one of the biggest leveraged buyouts in history. Dave Calhoun had recently joined as CEO after nearly 30 years at GE.

I joined for a simple reason: I'd always felt that I wanted to be an operating executive. I figured that I wouldn’t get a better apprenticeship than from someone who had enjoyed tremendous success in a variety of general management roles and had worked very closely with the likes of Jack Welch and Larry Bossidy.

I joined at the end of 2009, and spent eight years there. There was nothing easy about the job or about the transformation that we undertook at Nielsen, but I did learn a tremendous amount from Dave. It was an advanced Ph.D. in how to be an operator, from one of the best.

Who inspires you?

I think we all draw inspiration from many different places and people. I grew up in Australia in the shadow of older family members who had endured one if not two World Wars as well as the Great Depression.

Some were doctors, some were farmers, some were engineers, but they all had a common trait, and that was a tremendous amount of humility. They were all hardworking, humble people who, no matter how talented and successful they were, brought grounded humility to everything they did. In particular, my dad was a successful athlete and executive, and held himself to the highest performance standards throughout his life.

What do you like to do outside of the office?

I'm not a very good tennis player, but I enjoy playing tennis. I sit on the board of the Johnny Mac Tennis Project, which is affiliated with John McEnroe and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, and raises money to create opportunities for underprivileged kids to play tennis, particularly around New York City.

I enjoy watching various Australian football teams, whether it's rugby union or rugby league or Australian rules. I very much enjoy that, and any kind of physical exercise.

Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?

My favorite place on the planet to go, whether I have a few hours off or a few days off, is Bondi Beach in Sydney. It's a combination of fabulous Pacific Ocean water with consistently good surf, and within step of some world-class places to have a coffee. Many people would roll their eyes at that, but that's the truthful answer.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I'm very proud of my time at McKinsey. I found it to be extraordinarily rewarding. It is a truly global place, where you can fly anywhere in the world and drop into an office and be instantly productive and plugged in.

I loved that. I loved getting to know so many colleagues from different places. I loved learning the problem-solving techniques that the firm gave me, and the performance ethic that runs through the firm. I'm proud of being recruited to the firm, of being elected Partner and having a terrific tenure there.

Secondly, I'm proud of the transformation we made at Nielsen. It's now some time ago, and times have changed for Nielsen. But we made a big difference during the eight years that I was there.

And now, I am honored to be the CEO of Thomson Reuters. It is a huge responsibility, but I am looking forward to what we can achieve as a team here, as I mentioned before there are tremendous opportunities ahead of us.

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