Monday, February 23, 2009

Hitting the Books

As previously mentioned, I hope to get into business school for entry in 2010. This means applications for the first round end about November. Business school entry consists of three major components; the GMAT, application essays and references. I will be covering each of these components in some detail as I go through them. As always, helpful comments from veterans are useful. I hope to be an expert in these things as I go through – so if you have any questions post them as well.

The GMAT is a computer based, adaptive multiple choice exam that tests both math and English skills. I started with English on the weekend, and surprisingly found I could handle most of it. It appears years of reading too many books has paid off. The English part is in three sections; Reading Comprehension (where you have to understand the meaning of a passage), Critical Analysis (where you have to pick the sentence that most agrees with a passage), and Sentence Correction (where you have to correct a poorly written sentence). That last one is quite hard as the sentences they give you often sound pretty close to being correct. I can do them, but only if I read them out aloud as somehow I can tell when a sentence is correct by how it sounds. Ah well, I guess I will have to actually learn the rules.

Anyway, I had better stop writing now as I have a 6am (erk!) flight tomorrow for my new project – a stakeholder engagement strategy. I will post later on my GMAT progress.  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cost Base Variabilisation

Sorry for not posting on the weekend as I enjoyed one of those rare treats for a consultant - leaving the laptop home on the weekend. Admittedly, it should be possible to not work on the weekend - see this post at Killer Consultant - but most weekends I take it home just in case. This time it was fine because I was on the beach.

We had our monthly office meeting on Friday, and it was very doom and gloom. The global CEO was here, and he gave us a very depressing rundown on how bad things are getting in the global economy as a whole. He also punctured the "Australian Immunity Thesis". Here in Oz, we have been somewhat insulated from the worst of the problems - but its only a temporary and illusory protection. 

After the big boss, the regional MD talked to us about how badly we are going against plan. The picture wasn't fantastic, with belt tightening definitely necessary. Luckily, there are no plans for redundancies in the area I work in, but they are looking to variabilise the cost base - the ostensible subject of this post. 

I have used this term countless times on projects. It refers to situation where a company has a high proportion of fixed costs (costs that don't depend on the amount of business you do), and would like to convert them to variable ones. Fixed costs are not too bad in a rising market - the more revenue you generate, the more profit you make (simplistically). In a falling market that fixed cost base, e.g. salaries, starts to look a whole lot like a massive anchor on your results. So we tend to tell clients to try and variabilise the costs. You can do this by making a higher percentage of compensation at risk (i.e. bonuses), or by offering greater flexibility in working arrangements, or by having a higher percentage of work done by contractors. 

In our case, we are looking to increase flexibility. To that end, and for my own reasons also, I am looking to go on secondment. I want to do it so I have time to apply to business school, and also to give myself a taste of something different to consulting, which I have been doing my entire career. In any event, I will let you all know how it goes. Does anyone have any perspectives on doing an industry secondment?

Stay tuned for the next post, where I begin blogging my road to getting into business school. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How not to impress on your first project

Maybe its because of the recruiting stuff I am working on, but I have been thinking lately of massive rookie fails that I have incurred over my time in consulting. Two that come to mind are from the same project – my first ever client project in my first ever job out of uni.

The client was a snack foods manufacturer, a division of [Popular Soft Drink Brand 1]. I was excited to be on my first case, and on the very first day we got to go out to the distribution centre. This is the warehouse where all the stock is received and then shipped out to the various supermarkets and so on. It was a pretty cool place, especially for a recent law grad who had never seen its like before. They gave us all visibility jackets, fluorescent yellow vests that theoretically helps forklift drivers not run you over. Its pretty standard practice in DCs, along with the bit they didn’t mention – there are lanes marked on the floor, which indicate where its safe for humans not driving a forklift to walk. Not being armed with this information, I nearly got hammered by a forklift coming around the corner, with end result being a few boxes going everywhere, and the partners being embarrassed by the rookie confirming to everyone that he was, in fact, a total newbie.

To compound my embarrassment, when we went to lunch with the clients later that day, I got my customary sandwich and diet [Popular Soft Drink Brand 2]. As you may remember, the client was a division of [Popular Soft Drink Brand 1]. I got several dirty looks during lunch, and a lecture later that afternoon about respecting the client, and never, ever, using a competing product, especially in an area as keenly fought over as soft drinks.

Small stuff ups maybe, but to a new grad it seemed like I had irrevocably shot myself in the foot. Luckily my bosses were much more forgiving than that – and I have managed to keep my share of stuff ups since then low. Of course, there was always the agribusiness client but that’s a story for another time …

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Beach

No, not the bad Leo movie but that activity in a consultant’s calendar where you get to kick back and smell the roses for a change. For those of you who don’t know, the beach is when you aren’t staffed on a project, and get assigned random tasks –  such as helping with recruiting, pitching for new work or developing intellectual capital. For a new grad, this can be amongst the most confusing things – I remember back when I was a fresh faced grad, I joined and went straight to the beach – it really got me questioning why they had bothered hiring me.

Having been staffed on projects continuously for over a year however, it has been nice to be on the beach for a little while. Get in at 9, leave at 5:30 – I almost feel like I have a normal job. The downside is, its boring – intellectual challenges certainly don’t feature.

I am currently whipping up a little presentation for a giveaway CD we are providing to some “select” recruits from one of the universities around here. I get to put video in a PowerPoint – something which has regrettably got me all excited. This is probably the point where I should realise its all gone horribly wrong – when did I become the person who gets excited about PowerPoint?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Recession Rumblings

Well, the second post has come around faster than I expected. This could turn into somewhat of an addiction.

Here in Australia, the GFC (Global Financial Crisis as our PM likes to call it), or the AFF (American Financial Fiasco / F***up), has made everyone very nervous. Consulting is risky at the best of times, and now we are all worried. Appraisals got moved up by a couple of weeks, and it’s a good bet this means that people will be slightly more aggressively “counseled on” than is the norm. I think I am ok – my billability is up high, I haven’t screwed up lately and I am not being appraised until October, but still I have this kernel of concern. To paraphrase a recent BSG episode title, "disquiet follows my soul".

I have the benefit of working in a strong cohort (people at or near the same level as me).  I really don’t want to see it broken up, but I also don’t see any way out of it for the partners. Ah well, we are apparently getting the scoop on it in a few days – I will let you know how it goes.

First Ever Post - Get in on the Ground Floor!

So here’s who I am - Lowly drone at a big 4 consulting firm.

I probably don’t have the sense of humour to pull off a Leverage Sellout style laugh-fest, but I wanted to write about my experiences and insights in consulting. Over the next few months, I will probably go on secondment, and begin the arduous trek into business school. Thus, my postings will be a combination of random observations, intermixed with useful tips and tricks. Hopefully, if anyone actually reads this they might find something of use in here.

As you will probably notice, I am a first time blogger, unless you count a short lived holiday blog that was really just a way to avoid sending spam-like update emails to friends and family. Be kind therefore, and I will happily to respond to any insights you might have.

That is it for an introduction – I will be back shortly to begin posting proper. Happy consulting all.