BUSINESS
How I Made It

Early lessons from tough bosses took Kate Duchene into the problem-solving business

Since December, Kate W. Duchene has been chief executive of Resources Connection Inc., parent of RGP, a 3,300-employee company with 67 offices around the world. RPG is part temp agency — for professionals that businesses can’t afford to keep on staff full time — and part expert resource. Duchene said the Irvine company, formerly called Resources Global Professionals, can quickly assemble a team of several dozen, if necessary, to help with matters such as mergers, implementing a new business strategy, retrenching and learning to comply with new regulations.


Working side by side

“Unlike some of the traditional consulting where consultants will come in with a big binder and say, ‘This is what you need to do and good luck,’ that’s not where we play,” Duchene said, “We take that binder, we sit side by side with our clients, and we execute together. We transfer our knowledge to you while we're doing it, and then we walk away.”

Legal business prep

After earning a political science degree from Stanford and a law degree from New York University, Duchene worked as an attorney at O’Melveny & Myers for nine years. Her current business is “not unlike being a litigator. I had a mentor who said, ‘Kate, it’s like taking a bath.’ You know, you fill up your bathtub. You have to be the kind of person that is naturally inquisitive, loves to learn, obviously smart…. You get so knowledgeable about that thing or that case. Then you drain the bathtub, and you’re going to fill it up again on the next project. You have to bring the mind-set and the interest to continuously learn and improve in our business.”

Tough bosses

Don’t avoid them, Duchene said, even if the critiques sting. One boss during her days at O’Melveny & Myers “scared me to death when I started, and yet I find myself 30 years later in my career still remembering a lot of the great advice that she gave me even when it was hard to hear.” After missing a filing deadline as a young attorney, Duchene recalled that boss telling her, “‘I’m going to make it very uncomfortable for you to have made this mistake, but you won’t do it again.’ She was right.”

She started flipping burgers, now she's the boss at Six Flags Magic Mountain »

One of my most important jobs is bringing out the skills of the team and aligning us in the right way.

— Kate Duchene, Resources Connection chief executive

No sugar coating

An early mentor taught Duchene to dig for all of the information — good and bad — about a client. “Get your client to trust you to tell you all the bad facts,” Duchene said, “and so as a lawyer or as a business leader, I tell my executive team, ‘I don't like to hear bad news, nobody does. But we all need to, and we can’t together design the best solution or strategy forward unless we have the information in front of us.’”

‘Ask a busy person’

Duchene’s mother was a schoolteacher, and her father, once an employee of the CIA, is still working at age 84 while battling cancer. “He'll work until he departs this world, I think. His motto, and I've used it in the company several times, is if you want something done, ask a busy person,” Duchene said. “He always believed in the capacity of smart people and engaged people to take on more, and he instilled that in me for sure.”

Irvine-based RPG, the operating subsidiary of Resources Connection Inc., is a multinational business consulting firm.
Irvine-based RPG, the operating subsidiary of Resources Connection Inc., is a multinational business consulting firm. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Changing course

Duchene was recruited in 1999 by Don Murray, founder and chairman of Resources Connection. As executive vice president and chief legal officer, she helped take the company public in 2000 and build operations. “He had faith in me before I had faith in me, and he said, ‘You’re smart. We’re going to have outside counsel helping us through this. If you promise me you’ll learn, I think you can do it.’”

Leading by serving

“I take more of a servant leadership style,” Duchene said. “That is more to serve the organization and to bring out the best in others. I believe we rise up together, and so one of my most important jobs is bringing out the skills of the team and aligning us in the right way, and giving really smart colleagues the room and the tools to deliver what they can.”

Championing a cause

In this file photo from 1997, Vivian Clecak gives a lecture on date violence and family abuse.
In this file photo from 1997, Vivian Clecak gives a lecture on date violence and family abuse. (Alex Garcia / Los Angeles Times)

Duchene said one of the biggest influences in her life, outside of family and business, was mental health services pioneer Vivian Clecak, founding executive director of Human Options, an Orange County group dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence. Clecak, who retired last year from Human Options, is “about 4-foot-6 maybe in high heels, and she’s an incredible force.” Clecak got Duchene to join Human Options’ board, where 17 years later she finds the organization’s work more crucial than ever.

Pointing to the infamous case of two Vanderbilt football players convicted in the 2013 dorm-room rape of an unconscious woman, which numerous bystanders failed to prevent, Duchene said “it’s mind-boggling that some of those good boys didn’t step in and say, ‘Stop.’ … Doing that education with bystander response is really important.”

Personal

Duchene, 53, and her husband, Tim, have been married for 27 years. They have a daughter and a son, both in college. Duchene admits to being an adventurous cook. “My husband’s always saying, ‘Why are you trying a new recipe on our guests?’ I say, ‘Why not? I mean, let’s just do it.’”

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Ronald.white@latimes.com

Twitter: @RonWLATimes

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