Jay Alix created the Founder’s Award to recognize individuals whose contributions have made significant impact or led to profound and positive change in the fundamentals of the firm. In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of AlixPartners, Alumni Champion and Founder’s Award Recipient Esther Habana hosted a conversation with fellow award recipients Ted Stenger, a recently retired MD in the TRS community, and Judy Baranowski, a Director in the TRS community, to reflect on what this award means to them, their experiences at the firm, and what the future looks like at the varying stages of their careers.
Esther: Let’s start by thinking back to when we received our Founder’s Awards. Do you remember that moment and what the award meant to you?
Ted: I was truly honored to receive a Founder’s Award in 2007. I had a heartfelt appreciation for the colleagues who thought that I embodied what we want to see in our Founder’s Award recipients—being an example of our core values and at the same time also respecting and loving the firm.
Judy: I received the Founder’s Award in June 2021. Receiving the award was overwhelming. It was such an honor and I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude for my colleagues who recognized my contributions to AlixPartners.
Judy Baranowski receiving her Founder’s Award virtually in 2021.
Esther: I completely agree with your sentiments about how meaningful the award was. It celebrated the difference I had made at the firm and motivated me to be an even better employee as I had to live up to the expectations of the award.
As you know, the Founder’s Award reflects a body of work or significant contributions and accomplishments. What are the accomplishments you’re proudest of?
Ted: I am proud of work as the co-leader of the TRS practice, and my efforts to build the firm’s capabilities. I’m also proud of the way that I worked with my internal and external partners. I presented myself and my colleagues in a way that projected the firm’s core values, and my clients appreciated how we worked and our commitment to respect as we helped solve their most challenging problems.
Judy: First of all, Ted is right! He has been a great role model and a source of encouragement for me and others across the firm. He recognizes that during difficult times or assignments, there’s a right way to get things done.
For me, I’m passionate about helping teams win, both the client team and our team. I am also committed to training and coaching my colleagues and to sharing my expertise while also learning from the individuals I work with.
Esther: While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I received the award, what I am proudest of is consistently going the extra mile, doing not just what is asked but going over and above that, and being a culture carrier.
Esther Habana receiving her Founder’s Award in 2013.
Now, I’d love to hear a bit more about your careers. Judy, you rejoined the firm as a “boomerang employee” after some time as an alumnus. What led to this move and what are your reflections on being away, and then coming back?
Judy: I was very humbled to come back. My reasons were not complicated. Number one is the people. I’ve never worked with such a great team of people. Number two is the work we do. We are helping clients solve their most complex and urgent problems. It is challenging and important work that is high pressure but also high reward.
“While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I received the award, what I am proudest of is consistently going the extra mile, doing not just what is asked but going over and above that, and being a culture carrier.”
-Esther Habana, Organizational Development Senior Vice President and Alumni Champion
Esther: Ted, you recently retired after three decades with the firm. Do you have any favorite memories from your time at the AlixPartners?
Ted: I’ll always remember my first day. I joined as employee number 19 from a large professional services firm and when I arrived at the AlixPartners office, there wasn’t even a desk for me. Eventually, Bonnie Smith, a colleague on our administrative team ordered me a folding picnic table to use as my desk. I remember having all these boxes full of documents neatly piled under my picnic table desk. We were a small, talented group of people in an industry that was, in many ways, in its infancy. Those beginning days and years were special.
Even though I retired just a few months ago, I already miss the people. I miss the camaraderie, the connections. When I recently cleared out my office, I realized that while many of the awards and mementos from deals represented great moments in my career, what I really want to carry with me in the future are the relationships that I’ve developed along the way.
Ted Stenger receiving his Founder’s Award in 2007
Esther: Your story reminds me of my first day at the firm too. Jay Alix stopped by my desk to welcome me to the firm and said, “I hope you’ll be happy here.” In response, I said “thank you, Mr. Alix.” He then turned to me and said, “Jay. Call me Jay.” For me, that set the tone of what it’s like to be a part of the AlixPartners community. It’s very collegial, it’s not hierarchical, and I thought (and still think, 21 years later), “this is really wonderful!”
Now that we’ve looked back, let’s look ahead to the future. Ted, what are your plans for retirement?
Ted: Instead of retiring “from” AlixPartners, I like to think that I’m retiring “to” a new chapter. I am serving as a board advisor for a few small private companies. It’s something that I’m skilled at and something that brings me a lot of joy. I’ve also gotten involved with land conservancy in the Detroit area and I’ve always been involved with my church so I’m continuing that.
Esther: Judy, do you have any personal or professional goals that you’re working towards?
Judy: In addition to my day-to-day work with clients, I’m passionate about giving back so I’m looking for opportunities to get more involved in charity work. I am also passionate about continuing to drive a work-life balance that enables me to get things done, enjoy my loved ones, give back to my community, and pursue my hobbies. It’s hard to do, but I feel that I am a better person and a better professional in the moments when I find this balance.
Esther: Do you have any final reflections for our alumni community?
Judy: I would say: the door is always open. The opportunities at the firm are ever changing. If you left a while back, it’s the same firm in a way but many aspects of the firm’s culture and goals have evolved. We hope that our alumni will stay in touch and remember that we are here for them.
Ted: I’m so proud of the firm’s investment in our alumni community and am looking forward to being a part of the AlixAlumni network. The firm has always supported employees, and I think that goes for the alumni as well. This is one of these great benefits of being with the firm; the kind of culture and the caring that we have for people goes on, even after a colleague moves on.
Esther: Ted, Judy, thank you so much. It has been so much fun hearing your reflections and learning about your future goals. As we celebrate our firm’s 40th anniversary, I want to thank you for the contributions that you have made and will continue to make to AlixPartners.
LEARN MORE ABOUT ALIXPARTNERS' ALUMNI PROGRAM
Interested in learning more about AlixAlumni or looking to become more involved as an AlixPartners alumnus?
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of AlixPartners, LLP, its affiliates, or any of its or their respective other professionals or clients. This article regarding Looking back on 40 Years of AlixPartners with our Founder’s Award Recipients (“Article”) was prepared by AlixPartners, LLP (“AlixPartners”) for general information and distribution on a strictly confidential and non-reliance basis. No one in possession of this Article may rely on any portion of this Article. This Article may be based, in whole or in part, on projections or forecasts of future events. A forecast, by its nature, is speculative and includes estimates and assumptions which may prove to be wrong. Actual results may, and frequently do, differ from those projected or forecast. The information in this Article reflects conditions and our views as of this date, all of which are subject to change. We undertake no obligation to update or provide any revisions to the Article. This article is the property of AlixPartners, and neither the article nor any of its contents may be copied, used, or distributed to any third party without the prior written consent of AlixPartners.