By Minton, Eric
Industrial Management , Vol. 42, No. 6
It's not so much the bloodlines that made David Berger what he is today as it was the constant presence of his blood kin. One grandfather was a civil engineer, the other a union organizer. One grandmother was an intellectualist, the other a homemaker extraordinaire. One uncle is a physicist, another an electrical engineer. He has a social worker father, a philosopher mother. Growing up in a close-knit Toronto family, Berger seemed destined to be an industrial engineer. "I was taught the love of science and math and physics," he says. "The people skills, I learned very much from my parents. My house was always filled with people when I was growing up."
But with such an upbringing, even the label "industrial engineer" could not contain Berger. His nine-page resume traces a career that started in manufacturing, moved into consulting, did time at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and returned to consulting. His current occupation is managing director of the management consulting division at Grant Thornton LLP in Toronto. Name an industrial sector, he's been there: manufacturing, financial, distribution, government, technology. In addition to his IE degree, he has an M.B.A. and is proud to have information technology listed as an area of expertise. He writes columns for Advanced Manufacturing and Plant Services magazines, and he has been teaching at York University in Toronto for 15 years. He's also "up to my eyeballs" serving on various charity boards and industry councils.
A Renaissance man or a resume junkie? "A love of mine is to have that variety, not in one short sweep; I'm saying a life thing," Berger says. "I get bored easily." He laughs, then corrects himself. "Actually, it's just the opposite: I don't get bored easily. I can spend hours and hours and hours doing something. That's why I did well in math and physics; I took as long as it took to get it. I love to learn, and I love learning all different aspects. I loved English as much as I loved all the sciences. My favorite subject at Ryerson [Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, where he earned his bachelor of technology degree in industrial engineering] was psychology, more than any of the industrial engineering courses. It was always hard for me to determine what I wanted to go into because there were just so many different things out there. That was why I went into consulting."
More importantly, it's why Berger never lets the dust settle on his philosophies and methodologies, let alone his career. He doesn't just want to be at the leading edge, he wants to be hanging from it. "He doesn't accept the status quo," says Al MacLean, regional managing partner and office manager for Grant Thornton in Toronto, Berger's current boss. "He's always looking for new ways to do things better, takes that to client situations he's involved in and also tries to look at things differently within our organization and make us better." MacLean hired Berger to establish and lead a management consultant service line for the firm, which already had service lines in assurance, tax, corporate finance, corporate recovery, and forensic accounting and investigation. Though MacLean primarily wanted manufacturing distribution experience, Berger's broad applications of strategy, technology, and product improvement added to his value, as did his team-player attitude. MacLean admits he has to keep Berger focused on his management support role, but he doesn't mind Berger's quest for new thinking and likes the "different perspectives" he's brought to an office dominated by chartered accountants.
Consulting isn't enough
To keep abreast of new theories, techniques, and technologies, Berger moonlights by writing and teaching. "It forces me to stay leading edge. What interest would it be if I taught stuff that is ancient? The students would throw me out."
According to Wade D. Cook, area coordinator in the Schulich School of Business' department of management science at York University in Toronto, where Berger teaches and earned his M. …