About Jan Richards
Working with Companies to Turn Their Business Goals into Great Results
I started my first business when I was 10. It was a cookie business and I planned to keep it open only long enough to earn the money I needed to buy my first nice bike. My first customer worked at the local university. Every Tuesday night for a year I chose a new recipe and baked a few dozen cookies for her weekly staff meeting and every Wednesday morning before school I delivered them, fresh and ready to eat.
The result of that experience? I liked the bike. I LOVED the business. All parts of it were fun: planning with the customer how we could best work together when the business began, selecting and trying the first recipes, getting feedback and then figuring out which new cookies the client and her team would like best each week. I also learned how to produce the cookies better and faster each week in the little cookie factory I'd created, staffed by one. And, of course, there was the fun of watching my savings for the new bike grow steadily.
And creating a delighted customer every Wednesday morning…I loved it.
Business building, and business improving turned out to be fun. I’d thought since I was 3 that I’d become a doctor when I grew up. At 14, I gave that dream a test drive and signed up to be a candy striper, a hospital volunteer, for the summer. It was a good move because I quickly realized being a doctor wasn't the right move for me. Seeking a new career to work toward and aspire to, I recalled how much I’d loved the entrepreneurial run.
Throughout my life, I’ve always enjoyed the process of creating a design and then making sure that design works well in real life…not just as a theory, an idea, a plan.
I started by designing buildings when I was little. I didn't actually test my childhood designs for castles, of course. But I added the testing cycle to my design process when I started designing and making clothes as I was growing up, and later, as I designed and created publications for different organizations. Now I design and optimize businesses and the way they run. We create systems and processes that are streamlined and effective, and result in organizations that are far more satisfying to work with, and in.
My college years were invested in working with words and numbers, both.
I completed my undergraduate degree at Iowa State University with majors in journalism and business. When I went back to school a few years later, it was for an MBA at UC Berkeley, concentrating on finance and strategic planning.
As I looked for jobs coming out of Berkeley, people would say, “Words? Numbers? Which is it?” My answer, “Both.”
Understanding, managing and optimizing any business situation involves words, numbers, and the design and dynamics of the full system, including the people in it. I work well with all of these. In the early years of my consulting practice, I was often an “entrepreneur for hire,” tapping the full range of education and entrepreneurial inclinations I’d developed over time to take an idea or dream and turn it into a reality. It’s a role I sometimes still fill for clients who know what they'd love to achieve, but have no idea where to begin, or how to get there.
In various ways throughout my career, I’ve worked with people to envision, plan, and then help them accomplish as much as we can with whatever resources they have. In most cases, what we’re able to accomplish is far more than they ever expected.
At Apple Computer I started by helping highly creative marketing teams focus their resources on meeting major marketing and sales goals. Next, I was part of Apple’s operational analysis group where I led or was a member of teams that evaluated and recommended improvements in core business processes. These included the full product cycle: product design and development, manufacturing, distribution, warranty, service and repair, and product obsolescence. We also analyzed and recommended process improvements in finance and administration, real estate and leasing, and sales and marketing.
Following seven invigorating years at Apple I returned to my long-standing plan of becoming an entrepreneur again and started J. G. Richards Consulting, the business I have now.
Along with my client work in the early years of J. G. Richards Consulting, I was a Baldrige National Quality Award examiner for five years. The Baldrige teams on which I worked were intense, amazing experiences that had a very significant, positive impact on the way I approach, plan and lead teams of all types.
I know much can be accomplished in the short- and long-run with high aspirations and standards, a strong and focused team, great plan, clear communications and project management, and great follow-up.
Among the changes I’ve brought to my field are using the Baldrige National Quality Award criteria as a powerful design template to help rapidly changing companies make their businesses work better. We create a well-planned yet adaptable architecture of work, information, and decision-making flows. This prepares client companies to unleash their full potential, and get out of their own way so they can profit from their full set of strengths, individually and collectively.
Many of my clients’ businesses are changing more quickly than they were prepared to handle, or in some cases, more quickly than they can fully understand.
They don’t have the time or in-house knowledge to plan, implement and independently lead the major change and improvement processes they must successfully complete. They must get the work done, and do it now. And they have to do it right in order to compete in their challenging, competitive markets, and our rapidly changing world.
My work with every client leads to greater effectiveness in their operations, lower complexity and costs, the ability to adapt and grow well, reaching their full potential as a company or as a team.
I’m writing a book about tools people can easily use to make effective, engaging, sustainable improvements. I’ve also used my skills a great deal as a volunteer over the years, working with non-profit groups including Cleantech Open, Astia, Women in Consulting, Institute of Management Consultants, American Cancer Society, Special Olympics, Santa Clara Swim Club, and Bay Area schools.