Randy Lake

President, Studio Operations & Imageworks,
Sony Pictures Entertainment

What were your early years like?
I grew up in Los Angeles. My mother was a teacher and my father was an attorney. For a long time, I thought I’d follow in my dad’s footsteps: As an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley, I chose a pre-law major called “political economies of industrial societies,” then I went to Harvard for law school, and I practiced corporate securities law for a few years in Silicon Valley. It was the dot-com era, so I worked with a lot of tech companies going public, but I soon realized that I wanted to learn more beyond the legal issues. I wanted to understand what the bankers were doing and what the companies were doing, and what kind of strategy had led them to the transaction they were pursuing.

So how did you make the leap from law to management consulting?
I saw consulting as an opportunity to get a business education without taking on the debt of an MBA, especially since I was still paying for law school. I started networking and reaching out to people I knew who worked in consulting, like Karla Martin. She was a proponent of hiring people with different backgrounds, and she was instrumental in helping me navigate the consulting path. I’ll always be grateful for her support.

What drew you to Strategy&?
Initially, I joined Strategy& because of the people and because I could focus on consumer, media, and tech companies, which were relevant to my interest and acumen at the time. But I ended up staying at the firm for about seven years in total — moving from San Francisco to New York to London — because the work was so interesting and engaging. I remember a fascinating engagement in Abu Dhabi that really broadened my perspective and my skill set.

What lasting lessons did you learn at Strategy&?
Most important, I learned how to understand the drivers of a business and what the challenges are, and then how to come up with potential improvements and opportunities. That ability has been critical to my success. I also learned the importance of having a client service mentality at all times — being professional and adaptable, and taking ownership of your work. In consulting, as you work with different personality types, mind-sets, and cultures — among CEOs, engineers, folks on the factory floor, people in HR, and others — you learn how to approach things in new ways and sell your ideas, and that has certainly been helpful as I navigated my career in a large corporation.

How so? Tell us more about your career at Sony.
I joined the company as part of the corporate development group. I looked at potential transactions on behalf of the studio, as well as opportunities to support the core mission and strategic growth. From there, I took on a more cross-divisional role and I supported a group that, at that time, included Sony Pictures Imageworks, the digital effects animation studio. That part of the business was struggling financially, so I worked with the divisional president to develop a dramatic turnaround plan. It was a typical consulting project. But about a year after the strategy had been put in place, the management team had failed to execute it. So they asked me to “eat my own dog food” and see if I could pull it off. That was my first operational experience, and it was really eye-opening to not just design a turnaround plan, but actually be the one to implement it.

How did you make the case for change?
We tried to make it clear to everyone that the status quo wasn’t sustainable, and we did that by being very transparent about the reality and the trends we were seeing. I also tried to spend a lot of time listening, and not just talking, so we could adapt the plan as necessary. Some things look great on paper, but aren’t really practical in reality.

After the turnaround, how did your own role change?
I actually have two different jobs now. In my role with Imageworks, I run the digital animation and visual effects production facilities, overseeing about 1,200 employees. That’s where I’m most involved on a day-to-day basis. It’s my responsibility to make sure we have an efficient cost structure, and to continue to invest where it’s profitable. I also manage the studio operations group with about 600 employees, but we have four key executive vice presidents with their own P&Ls, and they’re much more involved than I am in the trenches. They handle all the services that we provide as a studio — for example, sound stages, lighting, transportation, wardrobe, and all the other production activity that takes place on a lot, as well as all post-production services such as sound, screening rooms, sound engineering, and projection engineering. In addition, we support the distribution functions of the studio, as well as the studio’s library, archives, restoration, and logistics. I mostly get involved in studio operations when there’s a problem.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be collaborative and accessible, yet with a strong point of view as to how we should run our businesses. I spend time with my direct reports, one-on-one, to make sure people get the support they need and that we stay focused on the same vision. And, I still take the time to do 360 reviews, because I value the thoughtful feedback that comes out of that process. But mostly, I try to let people do their jobs and get out the way as much as possible.

How would the people closest to you describe you?
I hope they would say I’m smart, focused, honest, and trustworthy.

How do you like to spend time outside the office?
With my family. My wife and I will have been married for 20 years this fall. We have a 13-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, and we love to travel and spend time together outdoors. This summer, we’re going to Alaska and Taiwan.

What career advice can you offer to people starting out?
I’d say, for almost anyone interested in business, consulting is a great place to start because it exposes you to so many different types of companies and industries. It helps you develop strong communication and analytic skills, and it challenges you with a wide variety of business problems to help solve. It gives you the opportunity to meet all kinds of people and explore the world. For me, it was a fantastic education and it paid dividends in terms of my professional advancement. It’s a great career path.

This interview was conducted and edited by Jen Swetzoff, founder of CLOSEUP, a creative content studio in Brooklyn. She was formerly the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

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