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Monty is a principal with Deloitte’s Strategy & Operations practice in the tri-state area, primarily working out of the New York office. He holds an MBA from a top-5 school, an engineering degree and has worked around the world for Deloitte.

Could you introduce Deloitte Strategy & Operations, Deloitte Consulting and Deloitte to our readers?

Deloitte is a global professional services firm based in the UK; it is no longer a Swiss Verein. It comprises of tax, audit, consulting and financial advisory services as the core businesses. Each of these divisions is wholly owned by Deloitte, although the employees belong to separate legal entities – partnerships as you call them on the blog.

Deloitte Consulting is one of the largest divisions hiring tens of the thousands of consultants. Consulting focuses on human capital work, technology and strategy & operations (S&O). There are other areas but these are the largest of them all. So S&O is the part of Deloitte Consulting which only focuses on strategy and operations work. Leadership and organizational design consulting, for example, would be done out of Human Capital and technology consulting work would be done out of technology consulting.

S&O is large and growing rapidly. It is a multi-billion dollar business, the largest strategy and operations consulting team worldwide by revenue and has a presence in 75 countries around the world. We are structured around a number of focus areas: strategy, operations, innovation, cost reduction, supply chain and finance transformation. We have about 15,000 consultants in the practice worldwide.

Tell us about the culture of the firm?

The culture is one of being collegial, innovative and driving excellence. We see ourselves as a home to consultants who want to stay and build a long-term career, and not just race to the top. Therefore, we do not have an up or out policy. That said, poor performers will be asked to leave, like in any firm which cares about its clients. Without this pressure of constantly needing or having to impress, Deloitte consultants can focus on solving problems. We believe in executable strategy, strategy which can be implemented by our clients, and that is what counts for us. Our culture is about encouraging people to seek opportunities to develop ideas and solutions which work for clients.

That said, we do creative things and inspire excellence. We have strong relationships with the Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB and other top schools. To bring in these top people, we need to do inspiring work and make a meaningful impact at clients. So the culture is very creative and we do our work in a collegial way. We compete for the clients and not against each other for personal gain.

On a lighter note, we have so many Indians working in some of our offices that Diwali leads to the office being almost deserted. This is not just in India. I am talking about Manhattan. Deloitte S&O has a culture which embraces diversity.

Is there a memorable engagement or story which shows Deloitte’s rise in management consulting?

Yes, one more than any other shows our rise. When HP and Compaq merged, Deloitte S&O, McKinsey, BCG and another firm were in contention to help with the post-merger integration. After a tough process of getting to know the client and really understanding what they needed to make this work, we submitted a formal proposal. At the time, the odds were stacked against us and although Punit Renjen pushed us to go for the work, I think internally we were worried whether we would get it. HP did give us the work. One of the largest ever post-merger integration engagements in the US.

The McKinsey partner actually called the HP executive and asked why Deloitte was awarded the work over McKinsey!

That award, and the way we overwhelmed our competition, along with their response shows that Deloitte S&O has been playing in the highest levels of management consulting for a long time. It is just that only after we started sharing what was happening “under the engine” that people have realized there is much more going on here. For example, we set up special sessions with Kennedy Research so they would not make assumptions about the business but understand what we are actually doing.

Let’s talk about some landmark engagements which Deloitte runs, which our readers would typically expect to go to McKinsey and BCG.

I will have to be careful in answering this and will only speak to engagements which do not give away confidential client data. The first one that comes to mind is us helping execute a strategic rebalancing of Agilent’s business unit portfolio to help position several multi-billion dollar global divestitures. We concurrently performed a global cost reduction program targeting $450 MM in annual cost savings (38% reduction). The fees for that engagement were up in the low $20M.

I also do not want the readers to think that Deloitte S&O only performs major work in the US. I want to talk to some landmark projects outside the US. Turquality comes to mind – this is in the media. Our Turkish office, with strong support from the Dutch, German and UK offices are helping to literally transform the Turkish economy. We helped the Turkish government review all Turkish companies across all sectors and find those who could be helped, through improved strategies and business practices, to become more profitable and stronger. This 4 year engagement is the center of Turkey’s plan to make sure its economy can grow, and the results speak for themselves. At its peak, we had 40 consultants on the engagement generating fees well in excess of $40MM.

We helped ABM set the strategic guidance for all Mexican banks on pricing, growth and technology adoption. Deloitte S&O developed an interchange fee structure for card transactions in the Mexican banking system to maximize growth of electronic payments for the domestic network while optimizing benefits. Just a couple million dollars in fees and this engagement was of great importance to the Mexican government and economy.

In another engagement, growth for CNN International had slowed as multi-channel TV penetration peaked and profitability was being challenged by local channels. We delivered a real and robust growth strategy, adding incremental revenue exceeding $100MM. This engagement was led from the UK practice.

Finally, Bluescope Steel faced increasing maintenance costs and needed sustainable cost reductions. We beat all our peers to design and deliver an improved maintenance program, enabling a data-based approach to find and resolve bottlenecks. The fees exceeded $2MM on this engagement.

This list can go on and on. Yet, I think your readers get the point. We do great work.

Why do you think many, rightly or wrongly, consider Deloitte tier-2? For the record, I do not like that phrase much.

I just think people need to take more time to learn about Deloitte and not go on perceptions and hearsay. For example, you taking the time to ask these questions is a good example of what candidates need to do. You would not be asking these questions if you already knew about Deloitte. Granted, we should be doing more to make it easier for candidates to learn about Deloitte S&O. I have for long time advocated a separate website to address this issue and I think that will help. However, even without the separate website, as I explained earlier, we still do outstanding work and a serious candidate would dig behind the misperceptions to find out what is happening.

What is happening with the Deloitte Review?

It is still going strong. It is the flagship publication of Deloitte S&O and captures our best thinking. It can be found on the Deloitte website. There are plans to expand the review and I think in a year it will be a very different, and more exciting, initiative.

Tell us about the strategy laid down by Punit Renjen (previous S&O leader) and the results so far.

Punit’s vision was simple. He wanted us to be within the top-3 recognized consulting firms by 2009. Granted, we are still not there on the general market perception, but he made huge strides, and we are there in terms of quality and client perception. We now have one consistent and unique identity and branding worldwide. The momentum we built attracted a drove of McKinsey, Bain and BCG partners to come across to Deloitte S&O. Profits surged, we started winning major assignments and recruitment went through the roof. We are one of the largest recruiters of MBA candidates worldwide. In terms of eminence, Deloitte partners wrote more books than most of our peers last year and we repositioned the Deloitte Review.

He also had some specific themes he pushed very hard. He pushed hard on training and teaching the consulting fundamentals, as well as giving recognition through internal awards. He also worked aggressively to integrate the different offices around the world and encourage cooperation. He pushed heavily into improving our practices in cost reduction & shared services, growth & corporate strategy, supply chain and M&A. Finally, but not least important, he focused on raising salaries, fixing our business and training models, and developing more support systems for consultants.

All good news, but most importantly, Punit showed our clients that we were their best partners for their business and he changed the markets perception of Deloitte.

Why was Jeff Watts, a partner leading the smallest S&O practice (Japan) appointed to succeed Punit Renjen?

I am not sure if Jeff led the smallest practice! However, even if he did, should size correlate to ability? Jeff is a widely respected partner, who was groomed to work in one of the fastest growing regions in the world. No one questioned Dominic Barton’s appointment to lead McKinsey from South Korea and the logic is roughly the same. Jeff had the values the firm needed and had exposure to a key region.

That’s the first time I have heard Japan referred to as “one of the fastest growing regions in the world.” Let’s talk about Deloitte S&O around the world.

I meant Asia-Pacific in its entirety. As mentioned earlier, we are in most major countries and cities. We generally served about 30% of the largest companies in all economies where Deloitte is present. In major economies Deloitte S&O serves up to 80% of the largest companies.

Let’s talk about the implications of having separate P&Ls across Deloitte S&O. How do you manage the challenges associated with this?

There are definitely challenges, but we manage them well. The fact that we continue to grow aggressively would show that our clients feel we are handling things very well. S&O has 91% of work from repeat clients. That is a figure we are proud of. Logically, we want that to be lower, around 85%, and still grow, since it implies we are bringing in new clients.

What about staffing? Why would the Australians, for example, put in place an international team and “give” revenue to another partnership at their expense?

They would rather have 30% of a big pie versus 100% of a tiny pie. Seriously though, yes it does happen at times, but that is normal with human nature. When it counts, the partners will always do what is best for a client. Our clients will bear testimony to this.

So the UK partnership (separate P&L) is buying up partnerships across Europe, the US led partnership (separate P&L) is buying up practices in South America and others are doing the same. What is the end-game?

If we can manage the risk of integration, then integration is the end game. But I am skeptical we could.

I have always wondered this. If Deloitte Consulting has a separate technologies consulting practice from S&O, who is on the technology strategy projects? Is it the SAP implementers?

Yes and no. Technology strategy projects are led by our technology practice, but if needed, S&O will have people on the engagements. It depends on the nature of the engagement. Our strength is our ability to form teams which have strategy depth, technology ability, finance skills and more. Is there any firm in the world today which can help you restructure your entire technology base, run your IPO, develop and carry out your strategy, align your organization’s culture and finally make all these pieces work? We have a unique base of skills.

What is the S&O practice looking for in new hires?

Passion, intellect, a track record of accomplishments, entrepreneurial nature, inquisitiveness and a bent for interesting work. There is no need to be obsessed about your school, GPA, GMAT Score and so on. We look at the application in its entirety and rely heavily on the fit and case interviews. I think the most important thing is to be sincere. We can quickly see whose resume, background and style does not mesh.

What is the application process?

Although we have peak seasons for recruiting, we look at talented people all year round. So it is best to contact the office you would like to join and get advice from the HR team.

We also work through campuses and you should see if we visit your campus. If so, try to attend our sessions and learn more about us.

I have offers from BCG and Deloitte S&O. Why would I pick you?

If you want to learn, grow as a business thinker, add value to clients and join the world’s fastest growing, and largest, strategy and operations team, you will want to be one of us.

And the salaries?

It really depends on the country and level. Depending on who is reading this, the numbers may be irrelevant. I can say that we offer highly competitive salaries which match or exceed our peers.

Do you have any fast-facts or memorable sound bites to remember?

These numbers are just for Deloitte S&O and not for Deloitte Consulting!

  • We are committed to management consulting for the long-term and did not cut or sell the business during the last 3 recessions/downturns
  • ~ $3bn revenue
  • ~ 15,000 consultants worldwide
  • Fastest growing management consulting firm worldwide
  • Largest management consulting firm worldwide
  • Presence and opportunities in every major city and country
  • Exposure to landmark clients on critical projects
  • Rapid growth opens up tremendous promotion opportunities

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Cause and Effect: When Not to Choose Consulting

Cause and effect are discussed to help readers understand when working for P&G, GE, Nestle etc., may be a better career path versus working for McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, etc.

cause and effect When Not to Choose Consulting

Misunderstanding Cause and Effect

Do you remember the days when it was cool to roll out software and stick a beta sign on it? There was a time between 2004 and 2008 when it was a badge of honor to roll out broken software and expect the beta sign to make up for the poor performance. Companies loved saying they were in beta-mode. Some start-ups actually rolled out software in this format just to have the beta sign up, even when they could have easily waited for a more refined version.

Why did this happen?

There is a one-word answer: Google.

Google may not have pioneered the beta idea but they certainly made it acceptable. After Google started doing it, betas became famous for three reasons.

First, Google was becoming cool and everyone wanted to be cool so they wanted to be like Google. If Google was releasing beta software, then they said, “What the heck, I should do it too.”

Second, Google was this mythical company that no one really understood. People just assumed that if Google did it and it worked, they should do it as well, since it will probably lead to the same results.

Third, and the basis of this post, is that Google was supposedly this company encouraging employees to work on fancy new projects in their spare time and roll them out for testing. This, the pundits claimed, was the secret to their success.

Well, betas died. Apple killed that by showing that well designed and integrated products matter. Now, you would look slightly ridiculous if you rolled out anything in beta. Yet many companies still do it, although they tend to give it more fancy names like fail-fast or lean-start-up.

Most people misunderstood cause and effect by getting sucked up in the whole beta craze.

In Google’s case, its incredibly successful and profitable search engine business allowed it to tinker with many ridiculous projects, which may or may not work in the future. The point is, existing success in the search business allowed Google to experiment in new areas.

Not the other way around.

The tinkering was merely collateral damage the company would bear on the path to hopefully finding something useful.

It is a mistake many people made, and still make. They assumed the tinkering led to enormous profits. Even large companies fell for this trap in their thinking.

Many years ago I was the corporate strategy partner in a discussion with the CEO of very large client company: US$15B in market capitalization. I liked this CEO and liked his leadership team. I felt they were trying to make a difference and create value for their employees.

In a strategy planning session, their head of planning had this entire presentation about how they should be more like Google and launch these unrelated and dubious ventures only tenuously related to their business. The CEO was taken with this idea and was almost going to go for it.

Some ideas were plain crazy. They had lots of land so they decided they could create low cost housing and that would be profitable. They used a lot of water so they wanted to recycle the water, clean it and go into the water bottling business. None of these were even remotely related to businesses they understood.

I had to explain to them why that would not work. It comes down to the core of strategy. Strategy is about making choices that allow a company to offer a distinctive value to customers. That is it. Sounds simple but it is very hard to do. It is worse when you have angry shareholders screaming for capital appreciation and you have nothing to show for it.

The easiest way to show a company why they should not do this is to demonstrate the strain on the balance sheet. You will find most executives and consultants do not understand a balance sheet. They leave it to the CFO and his minions. By showing the strain on the balance sheet, the need to create new supporting structures for unrelated business and the stress on employees, most CEO’s sober up.

They realize their crazy dreams cannot be built. So you see, even the smartest people confuse cause and effect.

Cause and Effect in Consulting Careers

How does cause and effect impact career choices in management consulting?

Candidates see (x) number of people joining McKinsey and BCG, and (x – y) of these people becoming CEOs?

Therefore, McKinsey and BCG must be the reason they were successful.

Maybe.

A better question would be: is this the only route for these people to be successful? The answer is an unequivocal no.

McKinsey and BCG, and to some extent Bain do have a very strong institutional system of training people, provided you stay there long enough, and by that I mean 4 years or more. If you stay for less than that, or heaven forbid was never promoted, it is questionable if you learned enough.

So even though these firms take very good people, they can, all other things being equal, make them better.

So, in this way, McKinsey and BCG are (were) the cause.

Yet, there has been a shift in recent years, and this is the part that matters.

In the 1980s and 1990s management consulting was more self-selecting. Not everyone wanted to be a management consultant. The firms were smaller. They had offices in fewer countries and they recruited from fewer schools. You were usually invited to interview versus having to submit an application.

This made recruiting eminently easier. The best applied and the best were selected.

Since 2000, the firms have become larger, expanded to new markets, expanded their services and are looking for newer skills. They have expanded their recruiting net exponentially.

The net has become so wide and placed such a strain on the system that several groups of people have been getting in. Not all of the people in this net should be there.

In this net, you have roughly two groups of candidates.

Group A: Confident and intelligent. They have a rough idea of how they will use management consulting as a launchpad for their careers.

Group B: Also intelligent and confident. They are, however, choosing management consulting because everyone is doing it. They do not really have a plan for consulting, think it will work out somehow and really are just hoping to “find themselves.”

I want to talk about the latter group because I do feel they are making horrendous choices and potentially damaging their careers. I personally feel management consulting is a great career choice. But it is not the only choice to be successful.

There is more to life than management consulting. There are companies that offer equally stunning career training for leadership roles. There are companies that pay far more money. There are companies doing more important things in the world.

Before blindly hitting the send button on your online application, have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and then decide.

Management Consulting Firms versus Multinationals

McKinsey and BCG are not the number one producers of CEOs. That is a widely held and incorrect myth. Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Coca Cola, Pepsi-Cola, GE etc., are the companies that dominate this group.

I know they never tell you this in glossy brochures but it is true. Sometimes GE, P&G etc., produce fewer CEOs in a year, but this is not because those companies have weaker talent. It is because rising share prices and rich stock options packages make it hard for senior executives to jump ship and head up another firm.

So why are people not falling over themselves to join the so-called multinational-enterprises (MNEs)?

Usually, it is due to a lack of good career advice and a focus on short-term gain.

To start, many candidates are driven by ego and salaries. McKinsey and BCG will pay more now, and it sounds nicer on your resume. Moreover, a consulting firm trains well so, on average, you will end up well. It is about playing the odds.

Now, lets look at a path through P&G or GE. Starting salaries are not great but not bad as well. You will also be one of literally hundreds hired in that year. Maybe thousands. The roles are not as glamorous. It is sales, marketing, R&D, operations or finance. I am simplifying things, of course, but that is more or less what will happen.

Yet, there are some profound differences between P&G and McKinsey that matter.

P&G hires a lot of people and not all of them are stellar or want to be promoted every year. McKinsey works on an up or out policy and P&G is more of a grow-or-go model. So the company is arranged for everyone to be happy. You need to be accepting of this. You need to get along with everyone and work your way up.

Exceptional people at firms like P&G and Nestle will go very far very quickly and have the same, if not better, career than at McKinsey or BCG. The mistake many candidates make is to assume that if they are struggling in their current roles in corporate, going to BCG will make them better.

That is not going to happen. The companies can only channel the skill you already have. They cannot create it for you.

If you are truly exceptional you probably do not need BCG on your resume. You will make it anyway.

Therein lies the issue with P&G or GE. While GE may have produced more executives in corporate America, it is doing it off a vastly larger base. In terms of percentages, more McKinsey and BCG partners will reach the c-suite. Most candidates are not happy with these odds. That is why they prefer consulting firms.

However, they are making a math mistake that is important. You should not compare yourself to all P&G employees.

With so many people who are happy to just get the job done, or at least have a job, there is room for someone truly exceptional to shine. So while P&G may have many more employees, the number that is truly competing with you is much lower. In other words, the percentage of P&G, GE etc., employees who end up in executive positions is far higher if we consider only those who wanted executive positions in the first place.

And that is what you should be considering: a like-for-like comparison.

You also need to consider the training and effort made to support those high-performing employees, which is substantially more than that for the average employee.

To thrive at a firm like GE you need to be a self-starter. A company of that size, with that amount of resources, has sufficient budget for training and sufficient challenges for a person willing to ask for it. But you need to prove you deserve it and ask for it since the company is not organized to find and coach stars as easily as McKinsey.

The training at these firms is very good. Yet, the training is more linked to the experience it affords you, versus distinctive problem-solving skills. If you join P&G as a brand manager in Russia, for example, given the skills shortage, you will be given lots of responsibility and control. Your growth traction is therefore much higher. So, the training comes from running a business versus advising a business.

In other words, you will learn the skills to run a large business in your sector, but you will likely not have the foundational skills to analyze any business in any sector. Though, to be fair and blunt, even an associate at McKinsey does not have those skills. They come with time at the firm, as you get more senior.

Most candidates fall into a simple logic trap at this point. They claim that joining McKinsey will teach them business problem-solving skills. That is true. A better question is: why do you want business problem-solving skills in the first place?

The answer to that question is more important. Most of you need those skills so that when you eventually leave McKinsey, you can hopefully run a business.

However, is that not what P&G or Nestle is teaching you in the first place? Granted, P&G has a different training program, longer training cycles and focused on a particular sector, but it is teaching you those skills.

I once spoke to a regional head of paper products for P&G in Switzerland who was adamant she wanted to join McKinsey. When I kept asking her, why, why, why… she realized she needed a different type of training to improve her corporate career. Leaving P&G to join McKinsey would take her further away from her corporate leadership role and would have led to a brutal cut in salary. More than a 50% cut.

She stayed at P&G and went through a different training program, which really helped her both lead teams and make better quantitative decisions.

It is crucial to understand when McKinsey, BCG or Bain helps your career because joining them on a whim can certainly hurt your career.

No matter how good you are as a consultant when you join a corporate you will need to prove you can manage a business operation. And that will not come easily. You will have to learn it. You will likely initially move into an internal strategy role and after a year or two, if you are really lucky, be given a small operating role.

Compare that with someone who joined Nestle at the same time you joined McKinsey. The roughly four-year gap since your MBA means the colleague joining Nestle could very well be a brand manager with significant operating responsibilities. In fact, if you joined Nestle from McKinsey, at the end of the 4 years, and assuming your colleague was as good as you, you will probably be reporting to them.

That is hard to believe but it is true.

Why would Nestle give a relatively junior consultant (associate to early engagement manager level) oversight of an operating team when the consultant has no operating experience?

The friend who went to Nestle is far more equipped to manage an operating team with profit and loss responsibility.

The type of training also matters. MNEs offer significant international experience, both in developed and developing economies. That is one of the critical reasons for these roles. You can manage business and understand operating conditions across a wide variety of industries. That is a really sought after skill in business.

Salaries are also worth discussing. They are not even comparable. Corporates pay more, much more. After 4 to 8 years at P&G, provided you do well and are promoted often, McKinsey could not match your salary. You would be taking a steep salary cut to satisfy your ego and work at McKinsey.

Moreover, as you get to Level 3 or 4, vice-president level, then you are earning significantly more, even if you exclude the likely stock options you will have.

So to bring back this article full circle be clear about what you want in your career and also get a clear understanding of cause and effect: realize there is more than one cause to generate the same effect.

In plain English, there is more than one path to be a c-suite executive.

I see a lot of good candidates with great roles in firms like P&G, GE etc., wanting to join McKinsey. Be very clear about when such a transition will benefit or harm you.

Thought-leadership versus Operating Skills

If you happen to be at Nestle, GE, P&G and so on and are reading this article, be wary of falling for the thought-leadership trap. I routinely receive emails from employees at these firms wanting advice on how to improve or demonstrate thought-leadership.

I have some bad news for you. In the corporate world thought-leadership is for people who have zero corporate future.

You have to think about this for a second to understand why this seemingly counter-intuitive point is eminently logical.

A consultant does not actually run anything. All we could do is generate ideas that help clients run their businesses better. Our currency of value is our ideas. We have to show a thought-leadership. In a corporate environment, how you run a business is what matters.

Let us look at an example to clarify this point. Let’s assume Norman headed one of GE’s turbine facilities and wrote an award-winning HBR article on factory management. Would Norman be lauded if his facility’s performance were in the gutter? The answer is a unanimous “no.”

Who is going to read that article or book if Norman cannot prove his skills in an operating environment? Even if the contents of the article are truly insightful, GE is not hiring Norman to write articles. He was hired to run a plant and that is what he needs to do.

The source of a consultant’s value is the ideas which clients implement in their operations to improve results.

The source of a corporate employee’s value is the operating results he/she achieves which leads to new ideas to help the business. So, do not model yourself on a management consultant if you work in a corporate environment. It is a bad idea.

You can certainly learn the analyses, team management, project management etc., skills of a management consultant but channel them towards achieving operating results.

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Why go into management consulting: 11 reasons

Management consulting, along with financial services, is among the top choices for most MBAs, other graduates, and even experienced professionals. This is despite the fact that the image of management consulting is not always positive. As some people say “management consultants take your watch and tell you what time it is”.

You may be thinking about making the switch to management consulting, but may not be sure if you are clear on why go into management consulting vs. pursuing other attractive career paths.

You may also be trying to figure out how to answer a possible consulting case interview question, “Why Consulting?”

I am here to share with you my 11 reasons why go into management consulting. Hope you will find it helpful.

Why I ended up joining a consulting firm

I came across management consulting by chance. My close friend was a management consultant and he used to tell me how interesting his work was. He routinely regaled me with stories about the client issues, analyses and impact they were having.

He also shared with me interesting books and articles, and forced me to take a more structured approach to my thinking.

I remember him warning me how difficult it is to get in. The outstanding grades one needs just to get invited for interviews, as well as case interview skills on estimations, brainstorming and hypotheses, plus the stamina and alertness required to successfully handle rounds of interviews.

Moreover, even once you are in, the work can be tough, especially when deadlines are approaching. This results in many people leaving management consulting to get a better work-life balance. The churn in consulting is very high.

I remember he sometimes would not sleep 2 days in a row, working 48 hours straight. Of course, this was not necessary and was driven by the study partner who wanted to prove to everyone how exceptional he was by working all-nighters and expecting the same from his team.

Still, he seemed to like the work very much.

So, despite all the negative information I really liked management consulting and committed to joining a management consulting firm one day.

When I finally got in, it was just as great as I expected it to be, if not better.

In the very beginning I was a business analyst so you could not be more junior than me unless you were an intern or an administrative staff. However, the work was interesting.

I worked with mostly amazing colleagues and eventually, after a lot of hard work, had exposure to very senior executives of large international organizations.

I would meet and even wine and dine with billionaires, present to the top political figures and travel internationally as part of my job.

11 reasons why go into management consulting

Overall, I would recommend management consulting as I think it is a great platform to start one’s career. And for many, it is a great platform to build one’s career.

So what are the key reasons why go into management consulting?

The answer is different for each person. I can’t speak for everyone but below will share with you what were the reasons why I chose management consulting and why I still love the work.

1. A wide variety of driven and intelligent coworkers.

In management consulting you always work on different engagement teams for different clients. You are a part of a massive organization with many exceptional people at each level, whether it is at the level of a business analyst, associate, engagement manager or associate principal. Working with so many people introduces a lot of diversity into your life and makes work more interesting and exciting.

It also allows you to build a network of individuals within the firm that you truly like, respect and trust. Those are like-minded individuals who are after similar goals to yours.

Moreover, you learn a lot from people you work with. And this is important because, after all, people say you are an average of 5 people you spend the most time with.

If you are driven individual, you may feel demotivated and isolated if you end up working outside of management consulting as the quality of your colleagues in most cases will not be as consistently high as in management consulting.

2. Your reputation reflects your performance.

This benefit is the result of benefit number one. If you are good, it will be well known in the firm. Because you work with so many different people, no one person can damage your reputation or take credit for your work, the situation which is more likely in other careers.

It does happen a few times, but it eventually evens out and is usually not so damaging. The culture does not permit it.

For example, if you join a bank after your MBA you will likely have one boss who may try to put as much work on you as possible and to give you as little credit as possible so he or she (and it is usually he) can keep more credit for himself.

Moreover, there is some envy involved. Many managers and senior executives in banking really had to work through the ranks to get the role you received by securing an MBA. There is a lot less of this in management consulting so you tend to be with more like-minded people.

3. In management consulting you have more control over your development.

If you are proactive you can get yourself onto the engagement which will allow you to develop the skills you want to develop.

Moreover, in management consulting you are the product of the firm. It is in the firm’s best interest to keep your skills level up to date and help you build yourself up as a professional.

In fact, this benefit is one of the most alluring when it comes to management consulting. I cannot think of any other line of work readily available to MBAs and other graduates, or even to experienced professionals, in which organization will be as incentivized to invest in your professional development.

You are in a relationship where both partners want to see the other succeed.

4. Management consulting culture is exceptional.

Consulting firms tend to have positive environments focused on developing people, with approachable leadership. It comes back to the organization’s view of you as an asset, not just as a resource. We spoke about this in an article Consulting vs Banking: 4 Key Differences. Hence, a lot is invested in your professional development and the organizational environment is usually more supportive.

5. You get to see the world.

The extent of this depends on the things like the management consulting firm you join, your efforts to network within the firm (so you know when opportunities to work in exciting places arise and people know that you are available and have the necessary skills to be picked for those opportunities), and your luck.

However, on average, you will get better opportunities to travel and see the world in management consulting versus in other organizations.

I remember when I was just starting out my career before my MBA. My friend wanted to cheer me up and invited me to tag along on a weekend business trip.

I was sitting in an airport catching a flight to a nearby city where my friend was attending a conference. We were in an airport cafe and I distinctly remember thinking that someday I want to live a life which will allow me to travel to different cities, countries, and cultures. This was before I realized I wanted to be a management consultant.

Fast-forward about 2 years, I was working for a large consulting firm, I was at the very same airport, at the very same café, catching a plane with an engagement partner to go to another continent where our client planned to build a new business.

6. You get to test-drive different jobs.

In management consulting you will end up working on various engagements, which often will be very different in nature. You will likely end up working on projects in different industries and even in various geographies.

You may be doing a study to enhance customer satisfaction for a media client, prior to being staffed on an engagement for a banking client helping them to determine if they should target a new segment, which may be followed by a study for a large retailer that plans to enter an emerging market.

Think about the exposure this level of diversity of work brings to your life. Especially if you are a young person who just graduated and not quite sure what you are passionate about.

During one of his last presentations, Steve Jobs said “It’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that makes our hearts sing.”

Being exposed to so many projects in various industries is such a wonderful opportunity to try out things and see if you can find something that, in words of the legendary Steve Jobs, makes your heart sing.

After all, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why”.

Many people never discover why they were born. I think management consulting can help you find what makes your heart sing.

7. Consultants get a lot of perks.

You accumulate a lot of air miles, which you can use for personal travel. Your cell phone cost is usually covered by the company. You can expense meals, travel and accommodation when you are out of the city on consulting engagements. Management consulting firms have well-oiled administration machines and onboarding teams that help consultants stay on top of everything.

8. Management consulting is known for its output-driven culture.

In management consulting the output you deliver is more important than face time. You usually have the flexibility to work remotely when needed as long as the work gets done.

When you are working from the client’s offices, the face–time culture becomes more important but still not to the extent it is abused in banking and other some industries.

9. Higher job satisfaction.

I worked in management consulting and worked outside of consulting and can say that a significantly higher proportion of my management consulting colleagues found their jobs interesting versus my colleagues in industry.

In fact, I only knew one person during my days in the industry who seemed to enjoy his job, or at least he told me he did. But he was in his role for a few months and he was in a coveted leadership position which probably any driven person will find interesting, at least for a while. Even I would find it interesting.

You also more likely to feel you are doing meaningful and impactful work. As Kevin Coyne (a former McKinsey worldwide strategy practice co-leader who leads a number of FIRMSconsulting programs such as The Consulting Offer II, How to Solve Big Problems, How to Become a McKinsey Partner etc.) mentioned in one of his interviews: “People don’t hire consultants to solve easy problems. Why would they pay our ridiculous fees?”

10. It makes negative elements that are common in any job more tolerable.

It is interesting how when you enjoy your work, negative things are more tolerable. I remember my project team landing in a different country for a series of meetings only to discover that our baggage was lost, and as a result we had no business clothes for our meetings.

Moreover, the airline had no idea when they could return it.

On another occasion, I found out around dinner-time that I had to write a business case that was due the next morning. I knew I had to pull an all-nighter. That was not what was stressing me out. I felt I needed more time and the time I had would be insufficient.

There was also a time when I was driving to a meeting on a highway in a storm at around 6.30 in the morning and was not able to see anything and yet was still driving since I had to get to an important meeting.

Those types of experiences would be highly painful in a job you hate or don’t care about. Yet those painful experiences exist in any job.

At least for me, management consulting work is so interesting most of the time that I was driven by an adrenalin rush during those difficult situations. So it was not pure logic or a sense of obligation that was driving me to suffer through those experiences, as it would be the case if you hate your job.

I actually had the energy to do difficult things. I had an internal drive, in addition to logic and a sense of obligation, which made these experiences significantly less painful.

11. Management consulting vacations are more relaxing.

As a consultant you can time your vacations so it takes place between engagements and you can completely disconnect from your work for 2-4 weeks. Comparatively, when I was working in industry, I never actually had a vacation.

When I was on vacation I was still “required” to check my emails. If there was a crisis I had to fix it. I basically worked remotely and whatever work was not done while I was away accumulated, which resulted in coming back to mountains of work in addition to already extremely heavy day to day workload.

Final thoughts on why go into management consulting

Management consulting is a good choice if you would like to learn a lot and are not sure which industry excites you the most. It’s a bonus if you are willing to be in a service job where you always have to be nice to clients who don’t have to be nice to you, can deal with uncertainty and lack of routine and willing to work harder than people do in average jobs.

I hope you found 11 points above on why go into management consulting helpful. My view is if you have a good enough profile to try out management consulting, go after it. In the worst-case scenario, you can stay for 1-2 years and learn a lot. In the best-case scenario, you will find a career that is so much better than most other alternatives available. You will find a career that will accelerate your professional development and your search for what makes your heart sing.

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Cheers, Kris

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6 guidelines to help you manage travel expenses on consulting projects

In this article, and related podcast, we discuss a very important and rarely addressed topic – how to manage travel expenses during a consulting project. This is an important question to ponder over since mismanagement of travel expenses can, and usually will, be detrimental to your reputation within the firm and your consulting career.

Your project leader and other colleagues will contribute in meaningful ways to making decisions on which travel expenses are relevant and appropriate. But in the end it is you who bears full responsibility for the choices related to travel expenses.

travel expenses 2

Your choices must rest on a foundation of clarity and sensibility. No one should even think about questioning your expenses. Hence, gaining a clear-eyed perspective on how to manage travel expenses on consulting projects will help you prepare to succeed.

The post was inspired by a question from a Firmsconsulting reader, a Deloitte consultant in the United States. This Deloitte consultant wanted to know how to determine if travel expenses (e.g. bills related to a hotel stay, restaurants, taxi, etc.) during a consulting project are reasonable and appropriate. And he has given examples from his recent consulting project.

Example 1: A management consultant chooses a flight or hotel which allows him to collect reward points even though an equivalent alternative is much cheaper.

Example 2: A management consultant visits a luxury spa and charges it to the client. This charge is included in an aggregate bill so the client cannot see the itemized charge for the luxury spa.

Example 3: The engagement team stays at a five-star hotel even though the Deloitte consultant feels he does not need that lifestyle.

Example 4: The engagement team enjoys expensive dinners at a luxury hotel which are not necessary.

The Deloitte consultant expressed the following concern, “This doesn’t seem to be in the client’s best interest. It appears to be unethical. How do you ensure these practices are curbed? And how does the junior consultant decide what is ethical or not in the above scenario and act accordingly in team settings?”.

That is a great set of questions to begin with. I will give you a framework and guidelines to analyze how you should manage travel expenses during a consulting project.

Managing travel expenses in my own career

Before I get into the framework and guidelines on how to manage travel expenses, I want to talk about two situations from my own career.

Serving a client: The first example is from the days when I was a management consultant. When I just joined the firm, this is a long time ago, we had recently finished a turnaround engagement for a major oil company. That oil company was about to lose its biggest client. And they had hired us to figure out a way to replace this revenue stream.

The project was very successful. The client was incredibly impressed with the work done.

But there was an issue with that project. A presentation was put up by the senior partner which covered feedback from the client. And one of the things the client said is that, while they would not hesitate to recommend us for our analytical skills, what they didn’t like is that they felt we were not cognizant of what they were going through.

The client disliked that the project team ran up expensive tubs at restaurants in the town where the client’s head office was located, knowing full well at the time that people were being retrenched. And this came from the CEO. This is CEO giving feedback to a major firm, us. Telling us he loves the work, but he did not think we handled travel expenses well. And while they are most likely going to use us again, it just leaves him with a bad feeling knowing that the travel expenses were abused.

Being a client: And another example involves Firmsconsulting. We once hired a team to do some significant media work for us. We flew them down and booked them in a hotel covering all their expenses, including setting a nice team dinner at a very prominent restaurant. And when we were doing the travel expenses later, we came across an expense statement for the drinks and charges they occurred going to a night club.

This situation still upsets me because we did not ask them to go to a night club. They chose to do it and they decided to bill us for it. We paid it, but never worked with them again and would never recommend them to anybody.

They lost a major client over a relatively minor expense. It was the principal of the issue. They contact us often for work but can never understand that trust has been broken.

Framework for managing travel expenses

These two incidents serve as a framing point for the structure I am going to give you to analyze this. When determining whether a behavior or travel expenses are appropriate you have to think about it from your perspective, from the firm’s perspective and from the client’s perspective. And you need to consider 3 elements: cost, perception and value.

Imagine a 3 by 3 matrix here. On one side you have got yourself, the firm and the client. On the other side you have got cost, perception and value.

travel expenses management consulting 2

Travel Expenses from Your Perspective

When managing travel expenses seek to consider six essential guiding principles:

  1. Don’t spend money on things you don’t need to get the job done.
  2. Don’t spend money on things you would not spend on by yourself.
  3. Make sure your choices are in sync with the client’s culture and situation.
  4. Make sure your actions look congruent with your overall profile.
  5. While it is important to save money for the client, also make sure your needs are met.
  6. Extravagant travel expenses should translate into at least equal value for the client.

These six guiding principles are not a formula. They do not represent the whole universe of “good management of travel expenses”. However, they will help guide your decision making on how best to manage travel expenses.

Six guiding principles to manage travel expenses

Let’s take a closer look at each guiding principle.

1. Don’t spend money on things you don’t need to get the job done

The most important rule to remember is only do things you need to do to get the job done.

For example, you do need to stay at a hotel. You have to sleep in a comfortable and safe place while you are working on the consulting project. But in most cases you don’t need to go to a luxury spa to be able to do your job.

Also, if you are doing something because it will not show up on an itemized bill, the mere fact that you are doing it because it won’t show up on the bill indicates that you know it is wrong. So don’t do things you know or assume to be wrong. It’s unethical.

So, to come back to this Deloitte consultant who asked a very important question, when deciding if travel expenses are reasonable consider whether you need it to get the job done.

2. Don’t spend money on things you would not spend on by yourself

You also should not do things you would not do if you were paying for it. You cannot do things just because a client is paying for it. That is just wrong.

3. Make sure your choices are in sync with the client’s culture and situation

That is where we come to the concept of perception. Be very circumspect about how you spend client’s money in light of a client’s culture (how the client behaves and thinks) and the client’s particular situation (e.g. turnaround).

Choose a hotel that a reasonable person will consider to be an appropriate selection for a particular client and client’s situation. For example, if a client is going through a turnaround, don’t book a five-star hotel. Also, if you are working for a client that is very reserved, everything you do that interfaces with them should be reserved as well.

Further, while from client’s perspective they always want to cut consulting costs, from the client’s perception level don’t do things that clash with their culture.

If you are doing things that put you out of sync with the client that is a problem. If you are, for example, going to serve a major financial services client who has a certain way of doing things, which happens to be staying in five-star hotels, and you instead stay in a two-star motel you will look out of sync. So you see, this cuts both ways.

However, you can get away with staying at a two-star motel if being frugal is just the way you are. There are stories of Marvin Bower who was very frugal. In fact, he would fly coach when everyone else was flying business class. But you need to manage it and make the judgement call based on your particular situation.

You can charge a lot for your work, but do not create the impression you are abusing the expenses. In fact, that is my philosophy. Bill very high fees but charge reasonable expenses. Never ever charge low fees to a frugal client. They will not value you and it will hurt your firm in the long-term. Quality costs money.

4. Make sure your actions look congruent with your overall profile 

When it comes to costs, if you are not comfortable to charge the client for the finer things your project team selects, my view is that you are fine to say, “You know what, I don’t think I want the most expensive thing”.

It’s okay to do that. You don’t need to do what other people on the team are doing. But don’t make it look like you are better than anyone else. Just say, “I don’t need this. It’s too much for me. So I will go with a cheaper option”.

If you are someone who is frugal or just likes simpler things it is okay to go down that path versus doing what everyone else is doing. It is okay to order the cheapest item in a restaurant. Just because you go to an expensive restaurant does not mean you have to order an expensive dinner.

I have been in situations where I ordered the cheapest things because I knew the client was paying for it. And I did not wanted them to waste money.

I also had meetings with clients in Starbucks. I have met CEOs in Starbucks. That is not even a joke. I have always believed overhead is legal theft from shareholders and consulting expenses are one sliver of overhead.

If you have decided, on a personal basis, to not abuse the client’s finances, as long as it is consistent with the way you are, you will most likely not be treated badly by your project team.

However, if you generally like splurging on cupcakes and you drive a fancy German convertible, but when it comes to a client issue you say, “Oh, this is wrong. I am not going to do it”, your team may take it the wrong way.

They will notice a disconnect between who you are and what you’re doing. And some members of your project team may think you’re trying to make them look bad. You can be ethical without insulting your colleagues.

5. While it is important to save money for the client, also make sure your needs are met

If you ask a client how much you should spend, they will almost always tell you to spend as little as possible. As a result, if you make decisions based on what the client considers to be right, you will almost always undercut yourself.

So don’t ask a client how much to spend on a hotel or meals because they will likely give you the cheapest option. This is what clients do.

While you should try to save money for the client, you should also ensure you meet your needs. So I would say don’t cut costs to the bone so it is detrimental to you.

Building a great firm is expensive. You have to do things that are sustainable. If putting all consultants in B&Bs to save money forces them to leave, then it is not sustainable.

You have to treat consultants well and that means relatively higher expenses.

6. Extravagant travel expenses should translate into at least equal value for the client

If you are an awful consultant who is adding little value you should feel terrible about racking up extravagant travel expenses knowing full well you are doing a terrible job for the client. If you are a brilliant consultant who is adding enormous value to the client it is okay, in my opinion, to rack up extra travel expenses.

I will share my own experience here. Yes, I always tried to cut travel expenses for clients. But, there are certain things I never compromised on. And one of the things I never compromised on is my clothing.

I always laundered my clothing no matter at which hotel I was staying in and I often used expensive laundry options. And a client could always come back and say, “Well, why didn’t Michael go with the cheapest laundry option? Isn’t it unethical?“.

It depends on whether the tiny amount of time I was saving was used to create better value for a client. Time is money for me. I will go with the best option because they accommodate my schedule. And I would go with that option even if I was paying for it myself.

What does it mean to add value?

Adding value to a client does not mean, “I’m a McKinsey consultant. Therefore, I am adding value”. The fact that you are there does not mean you are adding value. I always say, you know you are adding value when you feel you are doing things that will earn you a bonus. You add value when you do more than what is expected of you.

If you are just doing enough to complete the tasks assigned to you, earn your base salary and get promoted in the normal amount of time, that is really poor value and you should not splurge.

If you’re someone who likes the finer things in life make sure you are adding value to a client. And if you don’t feel you are adding value then keep your travel expenses to a minimum.

Travel expense decisions are often a judgment call

Whether incurring a specific travel expense is right or wrong is often a judgment call. It comes down to this. Do you feel you are adding value to the client or not? And do you feel you require a particular expense so you can add additional value?

And if you honestly believe, “You know what, I can add this value to a client even if I don’t get these things”, then don’t go for these things. If you feel, however, that you need the finer things, only do it if you believe you are adding an additional value to a client.

And I know many of you will say, “the luxury experience during consulting travel is a major perk of management consulting“. But this perk is a reward for bringing in talented people who will do extraordinary things.

You do something extraordinary and you get a perk. A mere fact you are there does not mean you are doing anything extraordinary. Yet, this is the way many consultants think. They think, “Well, McKinsey hired me. Therefore, I deserve this perk.” That is wrong.

If you have extravagant taste and you get the job done a client may hate you for spending too much of their money but they will likely tolerate you while you are adding value. Like that example I gave you about the oil company.

Yet remember that the predominant majority of clients like frugal consultants who are good at their job. In fact, I have never seen a client saying, “Oh, you are a consultant with simpler taste and, therefore, we will not hire you”. Clients don’t care about your taste.

Some of the most brilliant consultants like George Stalk etc. look like they shopped in a trailer. Yet clients loved them.

If you get the job done and you care about client’s money like it was your own, they would most likely like you a lot more than if you were not frugal but was good at your job. And that is the thing you need to consider.

So the bottom line is if I was you I would try to not spend the client’s money unless it is necessary because ultimately that is all overhead and it increases the amount of value you have to add to a client.

Travel Expenses from the Consulting Firm’s Perspective

Now let’s look at this issue from the consulting firm’s perspective. The consulting firm needs to hire the smartest people. Its going to be very difficult to entice the smartest people to work for the consulting firm if those smart people can work somewhere else and get better perks than what the consulting firm can offer.

So in a truly competitive market where people are joining a consulting firm partially for the perks they are unlikely to join a consulting firm that doesn’t offer these perks.

And the weaker the brand of the consulting firm the more important the perks. When people are picking a consulting firm that has a weak brand and they only picking it because of salaries and perks, such consulting firm has no choice but to offer these perks.

People would say, “McKinsey also offers these perks”. Yes, that is true. But a lot of the perks McKinsey offers are not so great. For example, McKinsey salaries are not as inflated as people think. And McKinsey can get away with this because the brand is so strong.

So from a consulting firm’s perspective the position is, “Even though we are incurring high travel expenses because we are bringing in the best people the value of the work will show through”. The firm is basically looking at it from a cost / value perspective.

Travel Expenses from the Client’s Perspective

When you apply this competitive market position from recruiting to clients, the same thinking applies. If a consulting firm is offering these perks obviously the cost to the client goes up because all that overhead needs to be eaten up. If the cost to the client goes up, in the short-term the client may accept it. But in the long-term, unless you add enough value to that client, the client is going to say, “You cost us a lot of money. You don’t add enough value. Therefore, we will not work with you anymore”.

So now we come back to the value discussion. If the consulting firm is not adding enough value to justify the costs, the client is completely free to walk away. This is what it means to be in a competitive market. The client is not obligated to work with any particular consulting firm.

The client sees the fees. They understand that part of it is baked in travel expenses. If they are satisfied with the value versus cost trade-off, they say, “This is the value the consultants brought. So we are ok with it. The value of the work is showing through”.

From a client’s perspective it is also a cost / value trade-off.

Proper management of travel expenses on consulting projects requires good judgement. However, those six guidelines above will help you in determining whether travel expenses are appropriate.

Frugal consultants who add an enormous amount of value are respected. Extravagant consultants who add significant amount of value are usually tolerated, but are likely to be shoved aside at the first sign that value is starting to drop.

So the question is: do you want to be a consultant who is liked or tolerated assuming both add the same amount of value?

If you are spending a lot of money, at the first sign of trouble the client will likely shelve you. So ask yourself, whether the risk is worth it, after everything you have invested in building your career.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Which key guiding principle do you find most helpful? Please share in the comments. Cheers, Kris

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Case interview examples – McKinsey, BCG, Bain (MBB), Deloitte etc.

Consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, Bain (MBB), Deloitte etc. use the case interview process to assess candidates. It is very difficult to be invited to a consulting case interview, especially with McKinsey, BCG, Bain and Deloitte. And it is even more difficult to do well at case interviews without preparing for them properly. And there are a lot of free case interview examples out there, but it’s difficult to know where to start. So in this article we have listed some of the best free consulting case interview examples available, in one place.

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Consulting vs Banking: 4 Key Differences

Many FC members, especially those currently completing an MBA, are considering consulting vs banking. I had a privilege to work in both fields so I can compare the pros and cons of both based on my own experience. Below are some key differences I noticed in being exposed to both environments.

Four key differences when comparing consulting vs banking

Asset vs resource:

The number one difference for me when comparing consulting vs banking is what I call asset vs resource. In consulting a lot is invested in your development and you are treated as a valuable asset to the company. People are the most important asset for consulting firms and while there is the up or out policy pressure, you do have to compete with only top performers on a daily basis, you do feel very clearly that YOU are important and your development as a professional is important for the firm.

In banking, you are a resource. Your development is, to a large degree, not important. If you deliver results they will promote you. If you don’t they will push you out, or to the side. I have seen VPs being demoted, senior business development person pushed to a lateral but less important role or made feel so uncomfortable they leave to join a competitor.

People are escorted out of the building the moment they say they are joining another bank. My friend went through this. He had to leave all his belongings, including his jacket and photos of his baby daughter as security walked him out of the building, the moment he said he was leaving to join another bank.

The culture shock for someone from consulting was huge, at least in my case. You get this clear feeling that you are just NOT valued, you are used. This contrast was shocking to me and I hated this about banking.

Cream of the crop vs politically savvy long-timers:

The next thing that was very different when comparing consulting vs banking is the type of people you get to work with. While you will be working with competent people in consulting and in banking, in consulting the caliber of your colleagues will generally be much higher.

In banking, most bosses are in their high seats because they served the bank for decades and know how to navigate the political landscape and be in good graces with important decision-makers. In consulting people at the top are generally more than politically savvy long-timers.

They are highly competent people who made tremendous sacrifices in serving their clients.

Tiring but exciting travel vs. missing out on seeing new places but sleeping in your own bed:

And the last biggest difference I noticed when comparing consulting vs banking is, of course, the travel schedule. During my years in banking, I only had to travel out of city one time on business and several times for training. While I missed not visiting amazing cities that I otherwise may never get a chance to visit, I also really enjoyed being able to plan my weekly meals, not having to pack all the time and live out of a suitcase and sleep in my own bed.

And nothing is really worth to be away from those you love.

Life is too short for this. I would say that overall, not traveling for work turned out to be a benefit, even taking into account the downsides of not seeing amazing parts of the world. So I would say this point is a pro for banking and con against consulting.           

Clear and guided career path vs confusing maze with mostly lateral moves:

And the last key difference I found when comparing consulting vs banking is in navigating and figuring out a career path. In consulting the career path forward is crystal clear. You join as an analyst, you move to associate, you become engagement manager, junior partner and then senior partner.

In banking, my experience was a complete opposite. No coaching or guidance. It was not clear what was the career path. There is a maze and you can take various turns and hope to get somewhere at the end of the road.

The bank is huge. There are plenty of options available for your next role, but most of them are lateral. You could stay in investment banking and follow a set path, or do a lateral move to fixed income. Or you could go into wealth management. While all have their own set promotion path it is not clear where to do and what they really do.

My verdict when comparing consulting vs banking

So what is my verdict when comparing consulting vs banking? I would say, by far, consulting was, and is, a much better fit for me. I love learning. I put a lot into my work and I expect to be viewed as an asset to be invested in vs. a resource to be used and squeezed.

Also, during my years in banking, I met maybe a maximum of 4 people who were somewhat happy. All of them NEVER worked outside of financial services so I think they were happy because they never seen the world outside of financial services. Everyone else was at various levels of misery. In consulting most people I worked with were happy or at least content with their jobs, careers and future prospects.

So based on my experience, if you are anything like me, my advice is to choose consulting or something else, but don’t go into banking.

This is, of course, based on my experience only. I am sure there are a lot of very happy bankers and maybe the issue was the organization I worked in vs the entire banking industry. But I thought to share this so you can avoid some disappointments that I experienced when I picked banking over consulting after MBA.

Looking at FC clients, there has also been a big shift away from banking. Ten years ago banking and consulting dominated our client choices. Today, even when clients receive McKinsey offers, most end up at tech firms, consulting is second, PE/VC is third and investment banking and wealth management are in the lower top ten list.

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How to design a consulting career around immigration needs

Immigration has always been a big topic for our clients. It determines what clients will study, when they can apply for consulting firms and where they will apply. Today, I will offer some perspective based on some of the issues our clients raise. I will focus on the US since that is the most popular destination.

Hopefully, this email can spark your creativity based on the ways we have helped clients.

Immigration at a consulting partner level

For foreign executives who are trying to join McKinsey USA as a principal/partner we advise them against it. At the partner level one needs to have a network of clients in the US and understand US culture.

That is hard to do for a McKinsey Australia partner transferring to McKinsey NYC, and almost impossible for an executive from Sony Japan, for example. This is because the partnership is a lot more about sales than it is about the problem-solving process.

It is better to take the steps to build a client network before trying to join McKinsey in the USA as a direct-hire partner. In this situation, clients often have an option to consider transferring with their companies.

It is usually a non-immigrant visa, and if the clients end up liking the US, and find it easy to work in the US, we then guide those clients to focus their activities on just 4 areas which will allow them to meet the criteria to self-sponsor their applications on the EB1 path. And I am sure you know this, but just as a reminder, please remember that you must clearly state your intentions when applying for the original visa.

Want to run your own consulting firm in the US?

One FC Insider, from Germany I believe, emailed us about his experiences coming to the US on an E2 visa, having to leave when his plans failed, and then considering a return to the US. He tried to launch a small consulting firm.

What makes this visa useful to those who run their own consulting boutique firms is that if you can show you have made a commitment financially to move your business to the USA, and your business has been viable, in Germany for example, or could be viable, and you meet all the criteria, you may be granted a non-immigrant visa to work in the US and set up your business. For experienced-hire clients who run their own firms in Europe etc. this may not be a bad idea.

The US is a much larger but very competitive market but this may be a better path. Although there may be some common-sense exceptions, the investment visa applies for almost any business. Again, if the client ends up liking the US, and find it easy to work in the US, we then guide them to focus their activities on a narrow set of activities which will allow them to meet the criteria to self-sponsor their applications on the EB1 path.

Common immigration path

Most clients assume the best path into the US is via a degree, H1B application and finally a sponsored green card application. It may be, but it is also a long and arduous path with no guarantee of sponsorship. Very few firms sponsor green cards and the H1B process is a very long wait for clients from some countries like India and China.

EB1 path to immigration

For Lisa, a Chinese national completing her MBA in the USA, we followed a very different strategy. And we did it because her lawyer was taking her down the H1B path. And this is a strategy we have used for other PE and McKinsey, BCG etc. clients.

The strategy is to go down the EB1 path, provided they have an MBA, Masters in Business Science and/or any business degree and are working in management consulting since this visa has very specific requirements. It could also work for a PhD running a small consulting firm in his/her field, or even working within a consulting firm in his/her field. It also works in many other situations but we will keep it focused on consultants here.

We guide our foreign PE clients already working within the USA to undertake strategy related work within PE firms, and where possible within the strategy units within those firms. The goal is to show that the client has an MBA and is working in the field of their study. With MBA clients who join consulting firms this is not even an issue because they will be working in consulting.

And it need not be a consulting firm in the USA. You can self-sponsor from outside the USA. This has worked with clients in other countries. With Lisa and similar clients we guide them to focus on a very narrow set of activities to meet the criteria for self-sponsorship. The key here is the client can self-sponsor with this path.

Clients looking outside-in to our PE programs are often confused why all the non-Americans were guided into strategy-type roles in PE firms. This was not a sign of them not having the ability to land pure PE roles, but a career strategy decision that worked. The same reasoning applies for us guiding many foreign clients to take internal strategy roles in banks versus trying for years to join McKinsey.

Consulting career designed around immigration needs

For US clients we develop career strategies to have the best career. For foreign clients we focus also on their best career strategy, but we often have to design a career strategy around their immigration needs and that may, based on their choice, take precedence. Other foreign clients simply want to join McKinsey and are not worried about the certainty around their visas.

Our objective is to allow clients to self-sponsor relatively faster versus staying in the H1B path for years while trying to join McKinsey. And the broader lesson here is as you design your career and career strategy you have to do things that work for you, even if it may not be what others are doing.

You have to sometimes take two-steps back in a year to move 10 steps forward over 2 to 4 years. And you certainly should not simply be following the path everyone is taking.

As you can see there are many options here. If you are a foreign MBA either working inside or outside the USA and joining consulting, internal strategy and the like, you have to do some disciplined work over 2 to 3 years, but self-petitioning can be an option. In fact, working in any consulting role, scientific or management focused, can be a viable path provided it matches your education.

Go to the source: USCIS site

If you are exploring moving to the US, I would urge you to read the USCIS site for very clear instructions. This was our broad advice to clients like Lisa. We have seen extremely talented clients have their EB1, and other petitions, rejected because they did not follow the rules laid out for each visa type. The site is very clear and lawyers are typically overworked to offer bespoke advice or careful attention to your file. In fact, use your lawyer to manage the paperwork process but make sure you check every document and understand the requirements. Do not outsource that part. It can hurt you.

Think long-term

As you plan your studies and life, I would recommend making strategic decisions about where you want to go in 5 to 10 years. The MasterPlan program lays out this approach to thinking for the long term.

You have to distinguish between short-term wins and long-term strategic wins. You have to plan now as you shape out your career and path.

That is one reason we always hesitate when a non-resident science PhD wants to transition into McKinsey. Do they understand they most likely will lose the right to self-petition for their green card? Do they understand and appreciate the turmoil and uncertainty it can create? Would it not be better to stay in their field for 2 to 3 years, self-petition and then join McKinsey as a resident?

A 2-3 year delay is not much and will not be a waste of your time. Your professional development will suffer only if you fail to develop yourself in that time. In three years if you use our Insider content carefully you would have mastered strategy better than most McKinsey associates and engagement managers. The delay only leads to no self-development if you do not use it wisely.

Finally, while this may have sparked some ideas, please use a licensed immigration lawyer to help you determine the best path forward and execute any strategy you feel is best for your unique situation.

Best. Kris 

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