Interview with Alex Snider, Toronto, Canada & Bali, Indonesia
Hi Alex, what's the first thing people perceive about you?
That’s such a difficult question. People used to say, when they first met me, that I came across quite standoffish or intimidating. I was always really surprised because I used to be shy and very often the youngest in a professional setting. I'm talking serious impostor syndrome kind of insecurity. I don’t think I’m perceived that way anymore. I've heard things like helpful and exuberant.
That's a long way from shy to exuberant. Are you more of an introvert or extravert?
certain archetypes of people who energize me
The most helpful definition of an introvert I've seen was “Where do you draw your energy from, being around people or alone time?” If we use that, I think I'm more introverted. However, there are certain archetypes of people who energize me. Those tend to be people who are really driven, possibly even competitive, problem solvers, and those who are worldly or just have seen and done a lot. Groups of people I don't know or don't have something to contribute to, I find more difficult. That’s probably when I go quiet. But I've lived in different places and over the years went from being shy to being pretty good at navigating different social norms.
What do you love about the places you've lived in or traveled to?
You tend to have strangely deep and meaningful conversations
I've just returned from living on Indonesia's southwest coast -- Bali. There are elements that are prevalent in Balinese culture and also Moroccan culture around collectivism and community that I love. The Balinese people are super caring, warm, very kind, and open. They’re very interested to learn about you and will share their story with you. When I travel, I don’t buy anything anymore, but the conversations I’ve had with shopkeepers have been just faaascinating! Even the expat community have taken on the elements of the local culture. These are people who are achievers in some way. Everyone is hustling, but everyone has time to say "Hi" and ask about you. And the questions aren’t typical or superficial. You tend to have strangely deep and meaningful conversations with people whom you haven’t known very long. Both Bali and Morocco have more communal and less individualistic norms and ways of seeing the world. The lack of that is what I have a bit of a struggle with when I ’m back in London or Toronto. And this is coming from someone who is considered “stand-offish" and "less friendly" by Canadian standards.
Where did you grow up?
There’s something about New York that I friggin love
I grew up in Canada. I was an amateur athlete, training horses. Since I did not come from a family with unlimited funds, I worked on a farm, trained horses for other people and for investors. I absolutely loved growing up in Canada with a lot of freedom and opportunities. I actually think Canada has a lot of the communal elements I so appreciate. That's probably why we’re perceived a little different from folks in the US. But today, what I see in the bigger cities is people really wrapped up in themselves. Everyone is more busy or at least more and more into their phones. It's as if the hustle is forcing them inward, to become more self-interested in order to survive. When I lived in London, I took the tube to work. You can be standing there, facing someone’s arm pit for 45 minutes, but if you look them in the eye, you’re a crazy person! One day coming out on Canary Wharf, I was knocked to the ground by this big guy who didn’t even turn around. I mean it took some force, I’m not easy to knock over. New York is different though. There’s something about New York that I friggin love, and I can’t put my finger on it.
What kind of work took you around the world?
the deal was as long as you get straight-As, you can work 2 jobs and train 7 days a week
After finishing grad school in 2009, I worked in a strategy consulting firm that had clients around the world. It wasn't a straight road for me. In Canada, I was training with olympians and had Equestrian Junior Team Canada aspirations. I grew up in a family where the deal was as long as you get straight-As, you can work 2 jobs and train 7 days a week. The olympics didn't pan out but that discipline and strategic thinking served me well. After University, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I worked in construction, then for a team of surgeons. I heard about consulting, which seemed to me basically problem solving as a job. I applied for my MBA at McGill and didn’t think I was going to get in -- imposter syndrome going strong. Turns out the woman interviewing me had a partner on the rugby team in South Africa and I've always been a big rugby player and captain of my teams. We really hit it off, and I did get in. My MBA was the first time I took on student debt, but it was worth every penny. After that my whole life changed. I was lucky to come out of school after the '08 recession and accepted a Sr. Consulting role in a strategy consulting firm. They were big in natural resources, which I was interested in, and had projects in North America, Africa, Europe. That's how I ended up working all over the world until about 2 years ago.
What happened 2 years ago?
the larger the client, the smaller the impact our work was making
When I started consulting, I was passionate. I worked across multiple teams on things that really mattered, built relationships, saw the impact we were having and was exposed to so much. Throughout my consulting career, I was in a learning mode, just soaking it up, doing my best to execute and deliver for clients. I worked with larger and larger clients, especially in the UK after we were bought by a large consulting practice. Paradoxically, I started to see that the larger the client, the smaller the impact our work was making. There was less urgency and desire to change. I felt like I was pushing my team to deliver things that were never going to land an impact. I just wasn’t getting the passion and satisfaction that kept me going through what was a terrible lifestyle. I was moving toward the partner track, and realized that what I valued was building vs. fixing organizations, and working with smaller teams who really want to be there. Smaller organizations have a better shot at being driven a little more by purpose, and a little less by politics. And I really wanted to control my own schedule. I call this period my quarter life crisis.
As a life-long consultant, I completely relate to everything you've described. Did you have a direction in mind when you left?
being connected, inspired and wellness were my goals
I’ve always had an interest in social ventures, sustainable enterprise like Microfinance in Africa. So that interest turned into a feeling of need and urgency. I left without a job lined up, sold everything and gave myself a budget. I wanted a few things: to feel connected, to be inspired and to focus on wellness. During the last two years, I explored a lot of things. I went nomadic for about a year, surfing in Morocco, networking and volunteering in Europe and North America, worked in NY on a social impact conference, and eventually ended up working in and on the Board of a technology start up and co-founding a second start up.