She juggles career, life, family. What helps? Building in flexibility
Juggling tasks comes naturally to Carrianne Basler. After all, she once packed a whole school year's worth of accounting into breaks while volunteering during summer vacation at a local hospital. Basler had not had an opening for the subject in her junior year schedule, so she simply took it upon herself to squeeze it in ahead of senior year.
Fast forward to now, and the managing director in AlixPartners’ turnaround practice manages to lead engagement teams, assume the global chair role at a highly active women’s professional association, commit to taking her two teenaged sons to all seven continents by the end of 2021, train to become an advanced open water scuba diver, and join her mother and grandmother at weekly farmers’ market outings in her hometown of Madison, WI.
Ask her how she manages to stay healthy and sane with such a busy calendar, and she jokes that it is neither healthy nor sane. “I still struggle with it,” Basler said of her schedule. “However, the goal is to try to build flexibility into work from a team perspective. Even before you start an engagement, you have a conversation with the team to figure out who needs what, and you arrange things accordingly. We can’t make everything happen all the time, but we try.”
Basler, whose specialty lies in financial contingency planning for clients, received her degree in accounting from the Wisconsin School of Business. She first interned and then briefly worked in auditing and litigation support, before joining AlixPartners in 1995 when she and her husband moved to Detroit for his work.
“It’s a little unclear to this day how my resume reached the desk of Bob Koval, who used to run our HR group then,” Basler said. “They were looking for someone with my exact profile -- litigation support experience as well as restructuring experience.” Basler thinks she was probably the youngest client services professional hired by the firm at that point in its history. “I was at the lowest level; basically they had to create a level for me.”
Hired to provide litigation support, three weeks into her tenure, Basler was roped into a restructuring case that quickly turned from a months-long commitment to a years-long engagement. It was here that Basler’s long-standing love and appreciation for restructuring work was born. “I really enjoyed the hands-on nature of the restructuring work,” she said. “So, I asked if I could do more of it, and the firm said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
Basler uses the word “challenging” to describe restructuring. “There’s no job working in restructuring that’s fun, because that would imply I enjoy the hardships of others,” she said. “But what I do enjoy is the fact that when we’re done, we have helped them. When we walk into these cases, sometimes people are excited to have us because they need help so desperately. Sometimes they need help desperately and still don’t want us there. But usually by the end they really do feel like we helped and that without us it would’ve been an entirely different outcome for their organization.”
Basler moved up the ranks to managing director at the firm, but she still thinks the industry can do more to encourage other women. “Certain things take longer,” she said of women getting promoted in consulting and adjacent industries. “I don’t think it’s been as much of a detriment to me, but I do think I’ve been fortunate.”
For the past decade or so, Basler has been very active in the International Women’s Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation, an international organization where she recently assumed the worldwide chair role. At the organization and at the firm, she mentors several women. “When I started (at AlixPartners), I was the only full-time traveling woman at the firm. For me, it was important to find other people who I could connect with who understood the industry and some of the challenges.”
Speaking of being understanding of the challenges of her job, Basler and her husband have deftly managed their sons’ upbringing by setting expectations from the very beginning. “It can be a bit chaotic at times, but my kids know the drill,” Basler said of her household that includes two teenaged boys. “They’ve grown up knowing this is how our family works. If I have to miss something, I will check with them. If there are two events and I can only make one, I ask which one they’d want me to make.”
But there are certain perks that come with mom’s travels. “My kids get the fact that what I do provides for some really great experiences for them,” Basler said. “We travel a ton. We have a goal of traveling to all seven continents. We have Australia and Antarctica left, and we’re planning a trip to the latter for January 2021.”
Trust Basler to conjure up a way to fit it all in and turn this once-in-a-lifetime hard commitment into reality.