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20 Questions with Chrissie/Rich Wachter, BBA ’84

A black and white photo of Chrissie in a sparkly dress and cardigan standing in a banquet hall, beside her, the 20Qs logo

Chrissie/Rich Wachter, BBA ’84, has established herself as a seasoned human resources professional with years of experience building and leading successful and inclusive teams across companies.

Wachter spent nearly two decades at Danaher Corp., where she held various leadership positions, including vice president of human resources for Videojet, which, under her guidance, earned recognition in 2017 as one of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in the Nation and in 2019 was highlighted for its inclusive culture by Corp! Magazine.

She now works at private equity firm Gryphon Investors on the human capital team, assisting industrial growth portfolio companies by working with deal and operations partners, HR leaders, and CEOs to foster strong, diverse, and inclusive work environments.

In addition to all of her career accomplishments, since joining Gryphon, Wachter has also hit an important personal milestone. Last year, she came out as transgender to her colleagues at Gryphon and her associates at the Ross School of Business.

“Fighting and hiding my true gender for decades has been the greatest challenge I’ve overcome. I’ve met numerous other trans people who shared the same challenge and, because of our internal struggle, may have compensated through over-achievement in our careers,” Wachter said. “I never imagined how affirming and supportive most people would be and realized I allowed my fears and anxieties to keep Chrissie hidden.”

To learn more about Wachter’s HR career and her time at Michigan Ross, as well as celebrate her experience this Pride Month, we asked her to answer our 20 Questions.

What’s your favorite part of your current job?

There’s nothing more rewarding than coaching and developing HR leaders and seeing how they add value to their organizations. I’m very lucky that Gryphon recognizes the importance of human capital to drive organizational success and is a long-standing leader in private equity investing in and developing leaders and human capital.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career so far?

First, when I was heading up HR for the Danaher Sensors and Controls Platform, we built a general management talent factory, becoming the top exporter of general management talent into other Danaher platforms and companies. We recruited early career high potentials and MBAs from top business schools to be functional leaders in small businesses with the knowledge we had a robust career path and development process to invest in their growth. As we developed their functional and leadership skills through training and coaching, they progressed through different functions and larger businesses to quickly become multi-functional general managers and presidents.

After driving this success, Danaher’s CEO tapped me to build the “Danaher Leadership Program,” our first classroom-based leadership development program for group presidents, presidents, and general managers. Working in partnership with internal and external subject matter experts, we developed a multi-module immersive program teaching such skills as operationalizing business strategy, hiring and developing high potentials, managing a diverse team with different leadership styles, and driving growth through sales and marketing optimization while sustaining our unique corporate culture.

Together, these programs contributed to Danaher’s readiness to rapidly grow through acquisition as we had a funnel of “ready now” talent we could plug into the newly acquired companies enabling them to quickly meet or exceed performance expectations.

As an experienced HR leader, what do you think are the most important things to consider when building an inclusive and positive work culture?

Driving culture change, including inclusivity, is often best accomplished with a combination of aligned leadership and multi-level, organization-wide engagement.  Especially in our current cultural environment, it’s important to listen to and learn from team members' input from many different levels and functions.

Truly believing in inclusion means everyone’s voice and opinion are heard and respected. Organizations should also consider leveraging experienced external DEI consultants who can help leaders establish a DEI vision, train leaders and employees, facilitate diverse employee resource groups, and define objectives and more systemic processes that will drive sustainable results.

Who inspires you?

I’ve been fortunate to encounter so many leaders at Danaher and Gryphon who are great teachers and role models or just possess excellent skills I’ve tried to emulate. Today, my wife, Ann, and my two children, Andrew and Danielle, inspire me the most. Ann is nearing completion of her master’s in fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she will be exhibiting intersectional feminism as she continues to develop herself after pouring her life into our family.

Andrew and Danielle have great values and care deeply about making the world a better place for everyone. My kids remind me of how important it was for me as a Ross student to build a successful career and make a positive difference for others. As such, I’m re-prioritizing my time with a strong focus on giving back, especially at Ross and within the LBGTQIA2S+ community, where I am volunteering my time, including sitting on the board of a Chicago-based support group.

What was your dream job when you were young?

I wanted to design cars. Lack of knowledge led me to enroll in engineering at Michigan State University when I should have studied art and design to achieve that goal. Fortunately, I found my calling in HR after transferring to Ross. This taught me that if something doesn’t fit, it’s okay to learn from the mistake and move on to something better.

What was your best business decision?

Joining Danaher in 2000 was my best personal business decision. The best business decisions that impact organizations are always hiring the right leaders, whether it be a CEO, president, chief human resources officer, or others. Leadership ultimately differentiates an organization’s results, often transcending competitors, organizations, teams, and people. A longstanding saying in HR is, “People join organizations and leave leaders.”

Do you have a favorite Ross professor?

For the last five years, I’ve been guest lecturing for Professor Brian Wu, who teaches strategy, including mergers and acquisitions integration. It’s been a fun and humbling experience to return to Ross and teach the Danaher Harvard Business Review case study. Brian has been a great mentor and coach, helping me improve the students' learning experience.

What’s one thing you learned in business school that you’ll never forget?

The value of and importance of teamwork. Leveraging everyone’s knowledge and efforts is a force multiplier.   

How has your degree helped you in your career?

Michigan Ross is a wonderful place to learn valuable skills from some of the best professors and researchers. Ross is also highly regarded by many companies and executives. Additionally, our strong and respected alumni network is frequently willing and ready to help others. 

June is Pride Month! What does Pride Month mean to you?

Last June, following months of anxious planning, I led a firm-wide Pride Month presentation, which included a pop quiz on the history of Pride Month, laws supporting LBGTQIA2S+ people, and where I and another executive shared our personal stories. Pride month is an opportunity to share and inspire others. Being proud and visible while showing compassion and care for all others may be one way we can break down prejudice and lack of understanding. 

What advice would you give LGBTQIA2S+ students or alums interested in pursuing a career in business?

Be comfortable knowing that many companies actively hire, support, and develop diverse talent. Be proud to be yourself, focus on learning your craft, and support your leader and organization. If you do encounter any naysayers, try your best not to let them impact you while you trust that results and positivity will prevail. Having a support network to share with, including like-minded peers, friends, and allies, is also helpful.

What can organizations do to truly support and value their LGBTQIA2S+ employees and customers during Pride Month?

Companies should focus their energy on empowering and supporting their diverse employees during Pride Month. This includes sponsoring and investing in LBGTQIA2S+ activities, organizations, and internal communications and sharing positive and affirming information and stories. Ongoing positive visibility and support can help break down barriers and prejudices over time while making it safe for more employees to be authentic and bring their true selves to work every day.

Do you have any interesting or unusual hobbies?

About four years ago, I started taking adult ballet classes and subsequently learned that it is more physically demanding than I could have known. I never imagined I would be performing in an amateur ballet company. No matter your age, you can start almost any new hobby.  

What’s your favorite quote?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Favorite TV show to binge?

Geek moment… Star Trek.  What I have loved about most of the shows is the optimism for the future of humanity, and the continual focus on diversity and inclusiveness keeps bringing me back.

Your favorite book?

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. One of my best Danaher leaders shared this with his team some time ago. It's an easy and fast read that taught me how my early career competitiveness was getting in the way of being an effective leader. Another excellent book is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which demonstrates that talent is really all about hard work and repetition.

Favorite comfort food?

Pizza. I am originally from New York City but live in Chicago, so I like both styles. My current favorites are Piece Pizza in Wicker Park, Chicago, which is considered “New Haven-style,” and Lou Malnatis, which is the quintessential Chicago deep dish.

First album/CD you ever bought?

This is going to age me. I started buying 8-track tapes in the early 1970s. While I can’t remember which was first, my early purchases were an eclectic mix that included Chicago’s Chicago V, Elton John’s Honky Chateau, Fragile by Yes, Jim Croce’s You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, Neil Diamond Moods, The Carpenters’ Now and Then, The Raspberries’ self-titled album, and Cat Stevens’ Catch Bull at Four.

Who is today’s most influential business leader?

Let’s go with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Corp. He transformed Microsoft into the world’s most valuable company, becoming an innovator in artificial intelligence while possessing the foresight and humility to candidly speak about the risks of AI and cyber security.

If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would they be?

Martine Rothblatt, transwoman, founder, and CEO of multiple companies, to learn what obstacles she faced and how she overcame them. Sarah McBride, trans politician and trans activist, to understand how she has successfully helped and influenced others in a polarized political environment. And Tim Cook on how he manages diversity and inclusion while respecting all points of view at Apple Inc.