Sunday, April 26, 2009


What does it mean to be an expert? Malcom Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers, talks about the 10,000 hours of practice needed to master something. In consulting, we rarely have the luxury of that much time in any one area, at least initially. I remember on my second project out of university, we were sitting down for the kickoff meeting and I was a little bit shocked to be described as the cost to serve modeling expert. This was after doing one cost to serve project. So it is pretty clear that when we talk to clients, consulting expertise is not always particularly deep.

Within the walls of the firm, its generally another story. Expertise is valuable in a couple of ways, and generally it will be gained because of more than one project you have worked on, or just a general ‘rep’ around the office. This rep is crucial to your development as a consultant, but it can cut both ways. If it’s for good, interesting things, then it will drive you towards those sort of projects – if it’s not, you’re screwed, because you will keep being put on those things people think you are good at. I came to this realization the other day, when someone came up to me and asked me a question, prefacing it with “Seeing as how you are a government expert …”. I was pretty annoyed, and for good reason. I have only been on a couple of government projects, and I hated every minute of them. I am kind of screwed if this is my rep, and I have no idea how to get out of it. Any ideas?

By the way, I know it has been a bit of a gap between posts. I can only promise to do better - this is still fairly new to me.

Monday, April 6, 2009

So why Business School?

I think I have boiled it down to five reasons – in no particular order.

1) A fun break. Psychologically, I am not the sort to pick up sticks for 6 months or a year and bum around the world (Damn my 1st generation immigrant origins!). Unfortunately, I think it’s the kind of break I need after slogging away at the corporate grindstone for nearly 4 years. Business school offers the opportunity to have that time off, but spend in a way that keeps me from feeling guilty about wasting time. From all reports, it is seriously awesome fun with a little learning thrown in. Perfect.

2) Meet new and interesting people. Ever since uni finished, I have had a progressively more difficult time meeting new people. Apart from the fact that I am single (and have no desire to remain that way for ever), I genuinely enjoy meeting people of diverse backgrounds and learning about them. I don’t get to do it enough these days, and business school seems like a good opportunity to do so.

3) Career progression at current firm. In a lot of consulting firms, an MBA is seen as a quasi-mandatory rung on the ladder to promotion. Whilst I have spent much time wondering if I will stick with my current firm, lately I really felt strong ties to it. If I do decide to stay here for several years longer, an MBA will definitely prove useful.

4) Get a professional business qualification. Throughout my time consulting, whilst I have picked up things quickly, I have always felt bedeviled by a lack of a professional business qualification. I have had to work fairly hard to catch up on things that come easily to a commerce or business grad, so I figure its time to get a degree to give myself that solid bit of knowledge.

5) Open up future career opportunities. I also need to think about my long term future in business. Over the last couple of years I have come to the realization that eventually I want to end up as a CEO of a decent size corporation. Industry doesn’t matter as much – although something in biotech or consumer goods would be awesome. For that, I think an MBA will prove mighty useful, both in knowledge and network terms.

So that’s what I have so far. Individually they are not enough, but together I think provide a compelling value proposition. I may have some buried in my brain somewhere so will update then. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The deadliest insult in consulting ...

Ok - wil get to the B-School post later, but just had to get this thought down. A recent revelation of mine is that the worst thing you can describe a fellow consultant as is "you are not [insert name of firm here]". Its the kind of imprecise description that can spell one's doom at a consulting firm. It doesn't mean you are not good at your job, doesn't mean you aren't smart or personable, it just means that you somehow don't quite fit. It could be a variety of reasons - maybe you have the wrong type of personality, maybe you are too industry (and not consulting) focused, maybe you just pissed someone off. In any event, once people start believing it, you are pretty much finished.

Hasn't happened to me thankfully, but I can think of a couple of examples at my place of work. How about you all out there - any thoughts?


So now onto the Associates. In reality, there are two type of As, the newbies who are fresh from business school without having been at the frim previously (the majority of hires in the States are like this), or the ones who have been promoted from SC, either via business school or not.

The newbie A will get assignments much like an SC, with a slight extra helping of responsibility. On a given project for example, the A might lead a workstream just like the SCs, but would typically be given the most difficult / important one. Expectations are also higher – after all the firm is paying you 40% more. Having said that, performance of new As often lags behind the seasoned SCs – the SCs simply have more hours on the ground doing consulting projects, and are familiar with management. However, where the As sometimes come out on top is by virtue of their wider work experience – it is not unusual to have As who have gone to business school looking for a career change and hence have a good bit of outside experience under their belt. Theoretically this gives them a “business voice”, the ability to talk knowledgably about business issues. I don’t buy it personally, but then again I’m not running a consulting firm.

As who have come up through the ranks are on a bit of a faster track than the newbie As. They know the territory and have either demonstrated A level skills already or have gone to business school. This means they get tougher and better assignments, and are on the track to team and job management much faster than newbie A.

Overall, the attrition rate is said to be highest amongst As. I haven’t done the analysis to back this up, but it feels right. I would take it one step further and say it is highest amongst newbie As – I suspect “come up through the ranks’ As stay at least until Engagement Manager.

Next post will be not be on Engagement Managers. I am working on one that announces why I am applying for business school – kind a of a cathartic reflection that hopefully will motivate me a little to get moving on GMAT study.