Meet Mel Christiansen

A firm leader turned rancher reflects on his career building AlixPartners across the globe

Mel Christiansen’s journey at AlixPartners began in 1989 with a handwritten note. After several conversations with Jay Alix about what his career path could look if he decided to move from Arthur Andersen, Jay gave Mel a freehand sketch of the firm’s historical and projected growth. That drawing sealed the deal on Mel’s decision to join AlixPartners and set him on a 25-year journey of personal and professional growth at the firm.

“At the time I joined the firm, there was a grand total of 24 people,” Mel said. “Jay said that he enjoyed client work and he wanted me to take over everything else.”

One of Mel’s biggest priorities was recruiting the right people to AlixPartners to fuel its growth. During the early years of his tenure, he was responsible for hiring almost every employee at the organization. According to Mel, “When you find good people, you have to latch on to them and bring them in.” He credits the firm’s unique interview and assessment process for helping him identify talent whose intellect and work ethic would enhance the AlixPartners community.

"We surveyed our folks at the time to find out what they thought were the most important traits of the firm...anytime that we met with candidates for AlixPartners, the topic of core values came up."

Mel was also part of the leadership team that developed the firm’s core values. “We surveyed our folks at the time to find out what they thought were the most important traits of the firm,” Mel said. He and other leaders then carefully analyzed the results to identify key themes and eventually decide upon the six core values of the firm. The leaders worked to institutionalize the core values and help employees understand the importance of them to the day-to-day culture and, ultimately, the long-term success of the firm. “Anytime that we met with candidates for AlixPartners, the topic of core values came up.”

Mel’s role evolved from establishing people and operational processes in the firm’s one and only office in Detroit to helping to launch 18 offices in cities across the globe, the first of which was New York City in 1992. Mel reflected on this project by sharing, “New York City is the financial center in the United States. We knew we had to be there. I was there to find the office space, set up the office, and hire people to staff the office," Mel reflected.

Mel, who was born in Venezuela of missionary parents, grew up in Ecuador, and has lived in several regions across the United States, leveraged his ability to thrive in new environments to help the firm rapidly expand to its new markets across the globe. 

At the height of the expansion, Mel worked closely with leadership and a small team of colleagues, including his now wife Debbie Christiansen, to launch as many as four offices in the span of four months. “It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun,” he said, reflecting on the time. “I don’t know how we did it, but we did it.” Working with Jay Alix and Michael Grindfors, the former CEO of AlixPartners, on this journey, he appreciated the “get things done” approach that is endemic throughout the firm.

By the time of his retirement in 2012, Mel was at some point responsible for every administrative function of the firm, including all people operations, facilities, travel, and risk management. In Mel’s retirement announcement, Fred Crawford, then CEO of AlixPartners, and former Managing Director Doug Barnett summarized Mel’s impact at the firm: “In the course of a company’s evolution, there are people that literally define it. They establish the culture and values, and they reinforce those values by the way they do their job. Mel is one of those people at AlixPartners.”

Mel and Debbie Christiansen at home on their Texas ranch in 2012, visiting Jerusalem in 2018 and Alaska in 2018.

In retirement, Mel leveraged the same entrepreneurial spirit when he and Debbie moved to Kenney, Texas to operate a ranch. As Mel said, “On the ranch, things don’t get done unless you have the initiative to do them.” He credits the work ethic and networking skills that helped him achieve his goals at AlixPartners with helping him to successfully build his new life in Texas.

Mel and his wife Debbie have also dedicated much of their time in retirement to serving their community; they are active members of their church and support a variety of local charities. Mel has led adult education courses to teach personal finance skills and has organized a local celebrity golf tournament that has raised over $75,000 annually for at-risk youth.

In the past year, Mel and Debbie moved to Milton, Tennessee, where they are, once again, beginning anew and working to establish a network within their community. They focus on spending time with family and continue to seek international adventure as avid travelers who have recently explored Israel, South Africa, and Namibia.

When asked to reflect on his best advice for employees and alumni, if you fail to plan, you are basically planning to fail is the mantra Mel credited with helping him succeed in both his personal and professional life. Mel is living proof that work ethic, persistence, and a lot of planning are essential to leaving a deep and meaningful impact on the individuals, organizations, and communities you serve.