Tom Wagner has designs to build people, organizations

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Published: May 21,2007

At first glace it may seem a little odd, but when Tom Wagner entered college to study engineering, he was not interested in designing buildings and bridges. He wanted to work with people, not slide rules. And, he has forged a career doing just that, culminating in his founding of Wagner Consulting Group Inc. in the early 1990s.

Though he jokingly refers to himself as a “recovering engineer,” he is quick to say his training is not wasted. One needs to use both sides of the brain in his field — it requires both strategic and creative thinking.

“The engineering skill set is handy,” Wagner said. “It’s not enough just to come up with a plan. I want to see the plan implemented, see it played out.”

Following Dad… kind of

Wagner was born in Shreveport, La., but, with tongue in cheek, refers to himself as a “born-again Mississippian.” His father was a geophysicist, which drew him toward a science-related field. He would go on to Florida State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering science in 1972.

But, Wagner was always interested in management. He worked for a telecommunications company in Florida, and did a stint in banking, before returning to Jackson to join his family’s energy exploration company.

With his father’s death, Wagner went back into telecommunications, ultimately working for SkyTel. As the industry and customers’ needs changed, Wagner watched his division shrink. He continued to consolidate until it became personal —he had to let himself go.

“I downsized myself,” he said with a grin. “I had thought about self-employment. It had an appeal. And, from my past experience, I had gained some skill sets.”

It was a leap of faith, and Wagner admits his goals and objectives were not clearly articulated when he stepped out on his own. But his faith — and a lot of hard work — has resulted in a growing business.

Entrepreneurial success

In 1993, Wagner opened Wagner Consulting Group. He said he was fortunate to land a longstanding client quickly. Long hours and constant networking brought in other clients.

Wagner Consulting Group offers leadership development, seminars, ownership/management succession, executive coaching, business development, meeting and retreat facilitation and business planning. Wagner believes in partnering with his clients, and tailor-makes his services to meet individual needs. For instance, Wagner will not only suggest the hiring of new personnel, he sometimes personally serves as headhunter.

However, Wagner Consulting recently added packaged services. Many of his clients are relatively small and have limited resources — both in terms of time and money. They cannot afford Wagner to simply bill them by the hour — they need to know exactly how much Wagner’s services will cost. So, Wagner developed HiringMagic, which spells out exactly the services to be rendered and the price tag.

Wagner said the biggest change in his industry is, well, change. Over the past 10 years, the rate of change in markets and industries has accelerated markedly, and the ability to forecast turns in the road has become much more challenging.

“Without sacrificing quality, you simply must get the key pieces of a solution implemented faster,” Wagner said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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