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MBA on a very counter-intuitive BCG strategy

Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?

The program was one of the best journeys of my life! Well before doing my MBA I wrote to Michael and asked for his advice. He recommended INSEAD or Ivey for the 1-year program and several of the US programs for the 2-year programs. He strongly encouraged me to consider the limitations of a 1-year program and that I would not have any room for mistakes. I signed up and went with Ivey.

Big mistake? Hell Yeah!

My grades were tanking by September and I did not see any way out. I was struggling to prioritize and decided to major in finance modules to show off my analytic skills. Bob Whites course was killing me. At this stage Michael gave me some very useful advice which changed everything for me and put me back onto track:

1) I should ignore consulting in the September recruitment and join the internal strategy team at a bank. Consulting firms apparently liked this profile and I could apply to McKinsey the next year in December – in about a year’s time. If I applied in September and was declined it would be hard to ever get back in.

2) Use the limited interview preparation time to focus on grades.

3) Ignore the analytic subjects and select majors for grades. Grades matter!

4) Forget about networking. It only works if done correctly and will not compensate for weak case performance and weak grades.

I was the only one in my cohort that went for this strategy and it worked. Overall only about 6 people joined MBB in that year so we were not a great group for university placement stats! I joined a local bank in strategy and then applied to BCG & McKinsey a year later just as Michael had suggested, getting into both. I enjoyed the diligence and careful planning to find a way around problems.

Did the program meet your expectations? If yes, how?

The program exceeded my expectation on every level. Michael had super techniques to learn cases, estimation and brainstorming. I think I was the only person in my group practicing brainstorming and estimation cases. My case study partners smirked when I mentioned this to them. I must admit, I felt slightly stupid being the black sheep in the group. Michael still pushed for me to master this area and ensured I would be a guru on the basics.

Michael also seemed to have detailed knowledge on the placement rates at my school and the schools of my friends. Every time I mentioned a statistic he would correct me on the interpretation of the numbers. When I told him “Ivey was a strong consulting placement school” he said it depends on how you define “strong.” He was right. Ivey does not place as many people as I thought.

That is the importance of reading the details and not starring starry-eyed at the brochures a school sends out. I was also super-keen for Toronto and he told me to forget it. My profile would not fly because Toronto has very narrow criteria and I would be better off in London, Dubai or New York, given my background. When I started applying Michael pinpointed the partners in New York I should approach since he considered them friendlier.

I expected good case feedback and got a whole lot more. Far above my modest expectations

What was the most important learning’s from the program?

Right at the beginning Michael told me to ignore rumors and corridor chatter among my friends.

“Every year’s class seems to think they have discovered a new way to handle cases or discovered some new change in the recruitment process.”

It was very hard to do so. Ivey is a small program so everyone spends all their time together. This was even worse around July when the school was arranging trips to the consulting offices in downtown Toronto. How do you avoid rumors during a 2 hour bus ride?

Everyone I spoke to told me my idea of joining a bank and applying later was a bad idea, including my career counselor at Ivey, who on to start his own case interview training firm. I was apprehensive and I sent Michael a few emails asking him if he was sure this would work. I got a short one line email stating every solution for a client is unique and he is sure this is the best path for me. So much for trying to calm my anxieties!

Another great learning was selecting courses for grades. It never occurred to me that I should focus on grades and ignore the analytic subjects. I had a fairly large group of students looking at the consulting electives and another group trying to take as many quantitative subjects as possible, even through their grades were suffering.

Michael made me understand that consulting firms define analytic skills as reasoning and not math. I can only imagine how many people hurt their chances by misunderstanding this point. I would have helped my colleagues on this point but no one in my class wanted to listen to this novice!

Michael talked a lot about business judgement and I never thought about it until I made some embarrassing assumptions on cases. I was given a list of journals and magazines to read to improve my knowledge. I found it interesting that with all the useful case techniques I was learning, it would not matter if my assumptions were way off – I would not get the offer. I suppose the one advantage I had was pushing my interviews back, which gave me more time to read and prepare.

Do you feel the program provided an advantage for you versus your own/other preparation? If so, in what way?

If I look at the preparation of my colleagues, it was the blind leading the blind. Even with all the material on the internet and books and many other things, it was useful to have someone experienced guiding me through the process. I would have never thought up my strategy into BCG unless Michael had developed it for me. It was just too ridiculous in my opinion. Compared to what I had and would have done, this program pushed me all the way to the top.

As a foreign student in Canada, I found the culture at the school to be very abrasive, rude and almost poisoned. There was no team work, no help among students and fake leadership with everyone plunging ahead to get attention. It was like high school with the cool kids and the not-so-cool kids. Really nice people were bullied in teams and some just broke down. Those from Canada seemed to be more vocal than those from other countries where the culture was more reserved – like my own. So I ended up being pushed around a lot and it helped to have Michael teach me how to respond to these problems.

Can you recall any memorable moments?

There were many memorable moments –certainly more than I can remember. The Russian visa case was the very first case we did and that was stunning in its simplicity.

Michael wanted to prove to me that all the online material I was using to study estimation questions was wrong and that everyone was doing it wrong. He asked me to calculate the number of visas issued by the US embassy in Moscow and I arrived at some absurd answer like 400,000 per year. He then showed me a different way to do it and arrived at an answer of 20,000. The difference was night and day and the rules he used were so elegant and simple. At that point I stopped practicing with my Ivey colleagues – why give away the state secrets when you don’t have to?

What would you like changed in the program?

Michael should consider having his firm host live training in major business schools. I am sure many people would sign up for this superb service and I could see enormous value in spending a day with the Firmsconsulting coaches. The clients benefit, Firmsconsulting benefits and the school benefits from this model. I attended another training program in Toronto but I think Firmsconsulting has better material and they should get it out as quickly as they can.

Do you believe your coach was effective?

Michael is/was my guru! We speak often and I continue to benefit from Michael’s guidance. He always thinks very carefully before providing feedback and his suggestions are usually correct. I used Firmsconsulting during my first 6 months at BCG and found the advice perfect to set me apart from the other consultants.

I found that Michael cared about my needs and did not drop me even though my choice of school and difficulty at handling the course load were my own challenges. He took on the burden of finding a way around the problem. I am grateful for that and no one else would have done that.

The best use of Michael’s time is discussing career strategy and life strategy. I cannot say this more strongly, but Michael is one of the wisest people I have ever met. He really should write a book, because nothing he says can be found anywhere. It is such clever material.

Do you personally believe the sessions were tailored for your own development?

Yes, I explain this when I describe the plan developed to delay my entry into consulting and move into banking first.

What are your thoughts on using former McKinsey/BCG worldwide practice leaders to coach clients?

Such a good idea! The fact that Firmsconsulting only uses ex-partner is what drew me to them and this increases the prestige factor of the firm – that and the scary entry requirements. Waiting for my Firmsconsulting admit reminded me of waiting for my MBA admit. The similarities are uncanny.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I enjoyed all my interactions with Firmsconsulting and look forward to keeping a close relationship. I am always happy to help with this great business and will wait for further guidance.

For non-clients, we also have 250+ open podcasts and 100+ quarterly articles.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

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