Approximately 6.7% of the world’s population has a university degree. Less than 1% of this select group has the intent and the will to make a difference. Because you are receiving this email, I know you are likely a part of that small group. Thank you for being the kind of person who wants to make a positive contribution.
Whether you are new to the FC community or have been a client for many years, I would like to personally thank you for being a part of our community. A community of driven and talented people around the world who understand that leadership is about implementing complex ideas and banking the benefits, which includes influencing their colleagues to act without alienating them.
The challenges facing the world are too big to be fixed unless people are willing to lead. This requires teams, and often these teams must undertake innovative solutions for which there is little precedent. Whether it is poverty, climate change, a pandemic or other global health issues, inequality, income, or productivity growth—many of these problems can only be solved by this 1%.
I know leadership can be a lonely and frustrating path of seeking effective, innovative solutions—and overcoming obstacles—while marshaling the resources to implement them. I stand alongside you by curating your arsenal—books, podcasts, immersive video programs, advanced knowledge management systems (including studies, slides, and proposals), bestselling book publishing service, and transformational coaching programs—to help you make your contribution to solving mankind’s toughest problems.
I believe ethical business is as high a professional calling as any, and problem-solving, strategy, communication, implementation, leadership, entrepreneurship, and investing are powerful skills that require creativity, business judgment, and acute critical thinking ability. I am grateful that you are pursuing mastery in these skills as we need more capable people to ensure we, as a human race, don’t go backward.
If you have not done so already, you will enjoy meeting other members of the FC community – through our coaching programs and community. Many of them, likely the same as you, are self-made. Nothing was handed to them. They worked hard all their lives—now they’re in a position that allows them an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the world. Quite a few of our clients end up dating and marrying. We attract very special people, and our members know they are in a unique group.
I am speaking from experience—my journey has been a long and tough one. I understand where you may have been, what you may be going through, and what you may need to fully realize YOUR potential.
Given you were called to join the FIRMSconsulting.com & StrategyTraining.com community, I bet you are a well-intentioned and honorable person. Being a part of your inner circle is an enormous privilege. You aspire for more than what society had intended for you. You are a leader who understands that making a difference requires noble intentions and commitment.
I am excited about the possibilities that will open up for you as a result of benefiting from our powerful training resources. As you may know by now, I work with eminent former partners of major consulting firms, CEOs, universities, and major banks to prepare in-depth training programs teaching skills you would not be able to learn anywhere else in the world other than if you were a mentee of those partners and executives. This is our mark of distinction. Our programs are specifically designed not only to teach you the insights but to teach you how to come up with your own insights for your particular, unique situation.
The easiest way to understand the advantage of using our training resources is to review excerpts of our work. Below I will give you a big picture view of various resources we have along our value ladder, including some free samples such as chapters from our books. For simplicity, let’s start from the bottom of the value ladder and move up from there.
Strategy and Problem-Solving Books
Succeeding as a Management Consultant (download excerpt) and The Strategy Journal (download excerpt) guide you, step-by-step, to understand the problem, develop a framework, develop hypotheses, design the tests for the hypotheses and track daily and weekly tasks. If you are an Insider or a Legacy member, you can access the audiobook version here.
These books will also show you how to plan the message for your team and manager, manage the project, work through critical update meetings, calculate the benefits case to convince your colleagues, and start the pilot implementation of the recommendations.
Bill Matassoni’s memoir, Marketing Saves the World (download excerpt), goes behind the scenes as told by one of the partners who conceived and implemented McKinsey’s incredibly successful strategy to differentiate itself from BCG and Bain & Co. Bill also holds the distinction of being both former McKinsey and BCG senior partner. You can access additional training with Bill if you are an Insider or a Legacy member (those resources are located on our streaming site: StrategyTraining.com).
Mavis (download excerpt) and Turquoise Eyes (download excerpt) are a new genre of business books with immersive and compelling storylines and worldbuilding. These books are part of an ongoing series that teach business concepts and critical thinking through engaging formats. If you are an Insider or a Legacy member, you can access the audiobook versions here.
We help our members remain energized and focused on their work. Last year for a period of a few months, we released Monday Morning 8 a.m., a newsletter that went out at the start of the week. There we distilled the insights from the noise by summarizing the big themes of the week and provided compelling, counterintuitive, and critical insights and information that every leader needs. You can listen to the audio version of Monday Morning 8 a.m. by searching “Strategy Skills” in any podcast app, or you can get a compilation of Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletters published as a book, “Strategy Insights.”
Podcasts (Top 5-10 for careers in many countries)
Strategy Skills podcast channel: Our Strategy Skills podcast is ranked among the top 5-10 podcasts for careers in many countries. This is where we discuss the latest insights in strategy and business with executives from large organizations, leading professors, and influential McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, PwC, et al. partners, such as Tim Koller, Rob Markey, Aaron De Smet, and Bill Schaninger.
The podcast is used by senior managers and executives from major companies like Amazon, Google, major banks, P&G, executives within public sector giants around the world, McKinsey, BCG, Accenture, PwC, Deloitte, all the way up to executive board members.
Case Interviews & Management Consulting podcast channel: The largest and most popular in the world case interview and management consulting podcast with over 500 episodes released to date. If you are preparing for consulting case interviews this podcast (along with our The Consulting Offer programs on StrategyTraining.com) can be instrumental in helping you get offers from your target firms.
Premium, Insider, Legacy, and SLIDES memberships (StrategyTraining.com)
Our video programs take members deep into fundamental principles to develop insights, launch a luxury brand start-up and an electric car business, transform their careers, launch and grow their own consulting firms, turn around a failing organization, and more.
Members learn from eminent partners like Kevin P. Coyne (former McKinsey senior partner and worldwide co-head of strategy practice) and Bill Matassoni (former McKinsey and BCG senior partner and worldwide head of marketing), and more. Our programming is unique, exclusive, and curated.
This is the world of FC Insiders and Legacy members (Legacy members have access to all Insider materials + additional powerful advanced materials and resources, plus ongoing twice-a-month group coaching guidance and support).
Some of our most advanced programs are exclusively available to them on StrategyTraining.com, and—as an add-on—through our advanced knowledge management system with studies, workshop packs, letters, proposals, and more (a separate membership we refer to as SLIDES. Once you are an Insider or Legacy member you can apply to join as a SLIDES member for an additional fee).
Our strategy studies (get downloadable maps here) provide a step-by-step blueprint to explain both the analytic and soft skills required to solve critical problems.
At the top of the value ladder, we have our high-value programs. Here we have 2 types of programs.
The Published Author Program
Co-authoring a book with other FIRMSconsulting clients and me, or publishing a full book. Our publishing service guarantees that a book you are participating in or your full book will reach bestseller status in at least 1 Amazon category, which will give you the distinction of being a bestselling author. And we can help you write a great chapter or a great book that can become a huge asset for your career for the rest of your life. The full book can be published by Firmsconsulting and/or we can help you create and launch it, but it can be published in your name on your Amazon account. Each option has pros and cons, and we are happy to have a chat and help you decide which option is best for you.
Results-Oriented Coaching Programs
Coaching programs are one of the most powerful ways to work with us. You join a small group of some of our most successful clients and work with us over a period of time (usually 3-6 months per program), following a decade-proven process that gets clients results. Our coaching programs include a combination of elements that together position clients for transformational results, including:
- 1-on-1 strategy sessions with me
- regular results sessions with me and Michael (our most in-demand former senior partner coach)
- additional templates and resources
- and our most advanced training programs
Here are the programs you can apply for:
- Executive Presence & Communication Coaching Program (Currently ongoing. The next cohort is planned to start in October 2023).
- The Masterplan Acceleration Coaching Program (The previous cohort graduated at the end of September 2022. The next cohort is planned to be starting at the beginning of 2023. You are welcome to apply now: VIP or Elite.)
- Consulting Sales and Consulting Practice Building Coaching Program (The previous cohort graduated in February 2022. Currently, you can subscribe to access the online training portion of this program here, which covers in detail our approach to selling million-dollar engagements. The program focuses on selling to senior executives with large discretionary budgets, even if you lack credibility, have never sold before, or are relatively junior.)
One-on-one Private Coaching and Advice Sessions
If you need private one-on-one coaching sessions with me outside of coaching programs, you can reach out to [email protected]
If you would like an advice session with Michael, as part of the advice sessions initiative, you can learn more here.
Remember That Your Training Investment is Likely Tax-Deductible
In most countries, subscriptions/enrollment to/into any of our programs (memberships and coaching programs) are tax-deductible since they can be classified as a training/career placement/search expense. And most large organizations, and many smaller ones, will reimburse tuition for professional development. If you are running your own business, your investments in training to improve the performance of your business can and should be expensed to your company. Download this draft reimbursement request and make the necessary changes.
Is There Another Level?
Beyond coaching, we have an additional level along the value ladder, which includes even higher value work, such as launching businesses with some of our closest clients (you can see those businesses documented on StrategyTraining.com). We also do select consulting engagements and more. But it takes years of working with us to get to this step of the ladder. A high level of “know, like, and trust” from both sides is required.
For now, please focus on the options above. There you will find support, powerful and unique resources, personalized coaching, care about your success and future, and accountability that can help you get transformational results, saving years of trial and error and setting you up for a different future and level of performance.
I hope this overview of what we do was helpful for you. If something is still unclear, please do not hesitate to email my team and me at [email protected] I would like to make this description as comprehensive but also as easy as possible to help our clients and members have a big-picture view of various opportunities for support and resources available.
I look forward to helping you make your meaningful contribution to solving mankind’s toughest problems, realizing your full potential, and living a fulfilling and impactful life while achieving more than you ever thought was possible.
P.S. I tried to give you an overview of all the resources you can get access to. You can view it as a reference guide to use when you are determining the best combination of resources to use right now. If you are struggling to select what will be most helpful for you right now out of the options I shared with you, please email [email protected] explaining your objectives and goals, and we will be able to guide you on developing your coaching and training plan.
Disclaimer: Some links we share may be affiliate links. As Amazon Associate, we may be receiving a commission for purchases from some of the links, at no additional cost to you.
In the final piece for Strategy Insights, called “When Promotions End and the Runway Ends,” I’m going to talk through an interesting client situation. We have an Insider, who later also became a coaching client, named Addie. He works for a large multinational company. There’s nothing unusual about his career. He worked in industry for a long time. He did his executive MBA when he was 32-34 at a very good school. He interviewed at many firms and then joined this large multinational company. Like any immigrant, he wants to follow the American dream of having a healthy and wealthy family and life, but to also contribute to society, to be part of the fabric of a company that’s making a big change for the good—not just in the US, but for the world as well.
Addie followed our StrategyTraining.com programs to figure out ways to make his team as successful as possible. He did a number of things well and if you want to know what those things are you can read any of our journals or watch any of our programs where we teach all of those techniques. I’ll summarize just a few things, but there are obviously a lot more layers behind this.
The first thing he did well was to really understand who the customer is and what they want. Rather than saying these are the resources available to the company, he asked, “Who is the customer? What is their life like? What are their pain points? And how do we build the resources, products and services they need, even if it’s not what we currently have, and even if it’s not what we can offer, or where we don’t have the skills to make a quick, adjacent move?” He did all these things, and by all conventional measures, his unit is very successful. So, he stayed in that role for about three or four years. Each performance review, he was told, “Your unit is successful. The company is very happy with what you’re doing, and we need you to keep doing what you’re doing.”
I don’t know the exact numbers, but I believe his unit was a fairly significant contributor to the firm’s overall profit. For that region of the world, he was running a unit that generated a significant amount of profit. Being the ambitious person he is, he kept doing this. He continued working hard, his team was successful by most conventional measures, whether it was about return on invested capital, return on equity—you can’t get return on equity measured, but you can estimate it against what competitors are doing.
He’s very ambitious, and being someone who wants to use the training, he gets to the point in his career where he’s about 40 years old, and he’s not getting promoted. He’s told he’s very valuable. He knows objectively that his team is doing well. He knows that they’re a big profit contributor. But the EVP doesn’t want to move him around. I would say the regional CEO also has a say in Addie’s career because he’s an important person, he runs an important team. Now, what happens with Addie is that over this period, he gets more and more disillusioned because he believes that he’s doing well, but he can’t see a way to grow his career. When you’re doing well, but you’re not challenged, you kind of zone out. Because you’re not challenged, everything’s happening and going fairly well. Internally, you suffer from burnout because you look at yourself and say, “I’m 40 years old. What do I do now?” This is what happens with many people.
He’s tried gaining new skills, which is what most people do. He’s tried learning new ways to communicate. He’s tried to network with other senior leaders of his company, both in his country and in other countries. He’s had fabulous feedback.
I want you to imagine a plane flying in the air. The imagery that comes to mind for me is a Harrison Ford movie where he’s the president, and terrorists are trying to take the plane by firing on it. When Boeings are fired upon, they have a lot of these evasive maneuvers. They normally shoot out flares, which distract the missiles so that the missiles hit the flare and the Boeing can get away.
Your career is a little like this. As you go through your career, starting at the age of 21 for most people, and as you progress higher and higher, each time you face a challenge that you feel could derail your career, you throw out a flare that helps you. An example of a flare is learning a new skill. You do an MBA. Sometimes you even change companies. Each time you throw out a flare, this missile that’s going to hit your career is distracted. So, you find ways to deflect bad things that could happen to your career.
Something people don’t talk about much is that when you get to the age of about 40, you usually don’t have any flares left. Just like that Boeing, at some point it’s going to run out of flares, and unfortunately, we don’t say much about what happens when you reach that point. When you’re in your thirties, it’s pretty easy to get an MBA, skill up in something or even switch jobs. Many people switch jobs if they think their company doesn’t appreciate them. But they almost always go to a weaker company that wants them because they worked at a better branded company. So, they get what they think is a better job, but it’s not really better because they’re going to a weaker company and leaving behind the entire social network behind that made them successful. So they going to a company that is less successful and have to start all over again.
Addie has tried all of this. When I started working with him, it had come to the point where he wanted to run a decision by me: Which company should he join? He had already decided to leave. I didn’t think it was a good decision to make because the companies he wanted to join—versus all the companies he was likely to join—were very different. The list of companies he gave me at the beginning was different from the list of companies he had interviews with. Those companies he had interviews with weren’t going to take his career to the next level unless he took a leadership role and he took the company to the next level. If he didn’t do that, for the rest of his life, he would have to explain why he left a market leader, a prestigious company, and joined another, not so great company, and didn’t really do anything there.
So, this was a big problem for him. There was a lot of despair and some failure as well. I want to talk you through how I guided him. First, I put together a plan for the client. I repeat the plan until they follow it. Sometimes I’ll repeat things in multiple sessions and a client will ask why. It’s because they’re not following the plan. It’s not enough for them to know the plan—they actually have to do it. I can’t give them the whole plan because when they do something, we have to modify the next stage of the plan. That’s just common sense.
I’ll explain what the plan was because I think it will help many readers. It’s important to know how you’re performing, but if you’re truly a leader, it doesn’t matter how you’re performing. Unless your bad performance involves smoking drugs in the office, coming in drunk every day, or engaging in inappropriate behavior with staff, the company usually doesn’t care about your performance if your team is doing well. When I say the company usually doesn’t care about your performance, I mean they don’t care about your professional performance. The company should care harassment, and they should deal with that very quickly.
If you have a high-performing, high-flying team, you’re going to get good ratings unless you’re doing something very bad on the personal front. You have to do something really bad for your team to be a breakout success but you, as a leader of the team, is getting a personal negative rating. That wasn’t the case with Addie. You could see that from speaking to him for a few minutes. He’s a really nice guy, and he wants to give to the world. He understands the privilege he has of being the first in his family to get an education, the first person in his family to come to the United States of America. He brought his mother, sisters and brothers to the US. You could give a round of applause to a guy like that. He’s very focused and determined. He doesn’t have a personal problem. I could be wrong, but I think no, he doesn’t have a personal problem.
Second, I asked him to look at the performance of his team—objectively. “What would someone looking in from the outside say about your team’s performance?” I mentioned earlier that his team is doing well, so we don’t have to go into the details.
Here’s the next question I asked him: Is your team critical to the broader organization? If your team underperformed, would the broad organization suffer? His team is critical to the broader organization because they produce a significant amount of cash flow that allows the broader company to fund expansionary plans. So, it’s very critical that Addie manage his team well.
Next, I asked him, “Do you believe you’re a valuable member of your organization?” Valuable means that if you’re not part of the organization, the organization suffers. And he said yes.
The next question is an important one, and this is the one senior people need to answer correctly to reboot their careers. You are performing well. Your team is performing well and is critical to the survival and success of this company. Now, where in the organization are you most valuable to your company? Unless your CEO doesn’t like you personally and is trying to punish you—which is almost never the case because CEOs want to bask in the glory of their success, and they like to put key people into key areas so they can focus on other areas, and they want to forget about things they don’t want to think about. So, if you’re doing well and you’re valuable to your company, they’re not going to just put you in a bad place if it’s going to hurt their performance and make the CEO look bad.
So, where are you most valuable to your company and why? This is an important question because Addie believes he is most valuable as an EVP. But clearly the company, for some reason, thinks he’s more valuable as an SVP. The question isn’t why doesn’t anyone want to promote him, but why does the company think he’s most valuable as an SVP? What is it about the way he’s running his unit that makes the company think that given Addie’s skills and success, it’s better to keep him there?
We had a series of discussions, and I said, “Let’s play out this scenario and assume you get the promotion you want, and you become an EVP. What’s going to happen?” He talked to me about how he’s going to run the new unit and install his good ideas. I agree with everything he was planning to do to run the new unit because I know that company fairly well, and I think it’s what they need in that new unit. I think he’d do a great job.
I asked him if he worked for this new unit or for the company, and he said he worked for the company. I said, “Why haven’t you spoken at all about the unit you’re going to be leaving behind, which is one of the most important units in the company? You obviously care about them. They’re important to the company. I want you to scenario-play what’s going to happen to them when you leave.”
Here’s what I got Addie to see: The unit only performs well when he’s there. The unit does not perform well without him, and this is a problem most leaders fail to appreciate as they make the transition into very senior management roles. You must be grooming a successor. That’s rule number one. If you want a role above you, you must be replacing yourself. He never saw this as something he needed to do because, like many people, he still thinks that if he grooms a successor, the successor is going to replace him, and people are going to think he’s not important. Therefore, while his unit is very successful, he needs to actually create an organizational structure and culture that is not dependent on him.
He hasn’t institutionalized, documented or captured the key things he’s doing. If he’s not there, nothing happens. Nobody knows how he deals with some clients. If nobody has ever gone along for a meeting with him, they don’t know the secret sauce of what Addie is doing, and, therefore, nobody knows how to replace him. He’s become so successful and so indispensable in his role that he cannot be removed. It’s a strategy most people follow. They build organizational structures that are so intertwined around their personalities, their processes, their systems, their emails and their voicemails, that if you remove them, everything falls apart. Yes, he’s very valuable and respected, but the team cannot work without him. That’s the problem.
Step one is to create a one-year plan. You need to groom a successor. Step two is to get the team to be able to work without you, which means that you need to teach people all the key things you’re doing—not to one person, but to several people, so you don’t run into this problem again. Step three is to set up systems, processes and meetings so that decisions can be made without you. That means you need to change the delegation of authority, which means you need to change the culture of the unit. That’s a big one because now everyone knows that if you want to make a decision, you have to go to Addie.
There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got a good culture, but it’s the wrong culture. Once you’ve done all of that, and the unit is performing well, then you need to have a discussion with leadership about how the unit’s doing well, you have a succession plan, and it’s important to bring in new leaders from outside the organization into that unit. And it’s important to promote someone that is more junior in that organization into senior role that Addie previously had. You have to explain the conveyor belt, and of course if you talk about that, the question becomes, what’s next for you on the conveyor belt?
He followed that program for just over a year, and it was very successful for him. I want you to think about that as you’re a senior person or on the cusp of seniority. Don’t fall into the trap of just doing everything for yourself.
As always, if you believe that these kinds of insights and concepts are going to help you, then subscribe to the annual premium program (Insider) on FIRMSconsulting. In the annual premium program we unpack and teach problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, strategy, communication skill, in depth, and show you how we helped different clients.
Here is “An Easy Start Guide” if you would like to become an FC Insider:
1. Sign up for Insider here.
2. Access StrategyTraining.com.
3. Balance learning and applying on an ongoing basis.
4. Get results and change the trajectory of your career.
This is an excerpt from Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletter, issue #25. Many of you have found Monday Morning 8 a.m. so useful that you’ve asked us to release a book version of these newsletters. We’ve obliged and released a Kindle version, which you can find on Amazon under “Strategy Insights.” It contains the insights from previous Monday Morning 8 a.m. issues, edited into a bite-sized format that’s very easy to use. And you can learn about other FIRMSconsulting books here.
We use affiliate links whenever possible (if you purchase items listed above using our affiliate links, we will get a bonus).
CEO of Danone Learns That Being Good is Not Good Enough
The next big theme is about how Danone’s CEO has just learned that being good is not good enough. If you follow the saga of Danone, it has branded itself as the socially responsible consumer packaged goods company, or as they call it outside of the Western Hemisphere, fast-moving consumer goods company. That’s not to say that Danone is more socially responsible than its other major competitors. No, it’s just branded itself this way. It’s taken this flag of social responsibility and draped it around itself and told everyone, “This is what we’re going to do.”
But Danone has not done very well. Its share price is trailing peers. It’s PE ratio is trailing peers, and activist shareholders have stepped up and said, “Hold on a second. You’re not doing well. We want the CEO to go.” That’s basically what happened—the CEO has been released.
Here’s the question: Was the CEO let go because he pursued a socially responsible corporate agenda? Or because he pursued it in a suboptimal way? And what does that mean for the world? What does it mean for strategy?
Danone’s peers are also pursuing a socially responsible strategy. They may not have branded themselves that way, but that’s what they’re doing. But they’re making money, and they’re making more money and at higher margins than Danone. Now, the question becomes: If the media and the world think that the CEO was fired because he’s pursuing a socially good agenda, is that really the case? It’s most likely not the case.
There are two quite important insights. First, at the beginning of the socially good theme that swept across the world, it was enough to say, “I’m pursuing a socially responsible agenda,” and the world would reward you for that. But now when almost everyone is pursuing a socially responsible agenda, you’re not going to be rewarded on whether you are just doing it—you’re going to be rewarded on whether the agenda is working. And if it’s not working, it doesn’t mean the agenda is wrong—it means that the group of executives leading it just haven’t figured out how to make money doing it. The question becomes, should investors wait for them to figure it out? Or should investors bring in another CEO to figure it out? The telling thing is, when you speak to these investors, they tell you clearly, “It’s not that we don’t like the socially responsible agenda. We don’t like the way it’s being done.”
The second insight is quite interesting. When companies incorrectly pursue a socially responsible agenda—and many companies do this—they don’t develop fabulous products and reconfigure their product and supply chains to be socially responsible in a cost-effective way. No, they just say they’re being socially responsible and raise their costs, or they do it in such a way that the share price tanks. Now, this is important. If a company becomes socially responsible and its costs go up, but other socially responsible companies in that sector are able to be socially responsible and keep their costs the same or lower their costs, what is the company that hasn’t figured out its cost equation going to do? Is it going to pass it on to consumers or is it going to eat the costs?
If it passes on to consumers, why would a consumer buy from a company that’s doing exactly what another company is doing but is charging more for it? If a company eats the cost, that means it doesn’t pass it on to consumers, but it lowers its margin and has less money to invest in innovation.
So, it’s not enough to say you’re being socially responsible anymore. You have to figure out how to do it in a way where you can create fabulous products at the right price point because being socially responsible is not good enough anymore. On the other hand, let’s assume it built a new supply chain, a new product structure and a new product mix. It got the pricing and everything right. So, it’s not passing on costs to consumers anymore. It’s able to be cost effective, but the products are not great. They’re socially responsible and cheaper, but they’re not great. What’s going to happen then?
You then pass on a cost to your investors because your share price tanks. So, companies are caught in the socially responsible maze and they don’t know how to do it. Many of them are doing it just because it sounds good. They’re going to have to make a decision here: “Am I going to pass the cost to the consumer? Or am I going to pass the cost to the investor?” The easy answer is don’t pass your cost to investors because they’ll have you replaced. But there’s no easy answer. If you pass the cost to consumers, you’ll lose consumers.
So, if you go down the socially responsible route, don’t say you’re being socially responsible and assume that’s the only reason people are going to buy from you. It was good to do that five years ago. Today, as companies figure out how to do good and produce great products, you’re competing against those companies. They figured out everything. Just saying you’re socially responsible is not going to be good enough. The question is: How are you going to do this? Where are you going to make your big play? How are you going to manage things?
This is an excerpt from Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletter, issue #21. Many of you have found Monday Morning 8 a.m. so useful that you’ve asked us to release a book version of these newsletters. We’ve obliged and released a Kindle version, which you can find on Amazon under “Strategy Insights.” It contains the insights from previous Monday Morning 8 a.m. issues, edited into a bite-sized format that’s very easy to use. And you can learn about other FIRMSconsulting books here.
We use affiliate links whenever possible (if you purchase items listed above using our affiliate links, we will get a bonus).
Things Don’t Change Much—or Do They?
The next big theme I will call, “Things don’t change much—or do they?” Over a period in the last week, BHP, an Anglo-Australian
But despite everything we’re reading about the rise of service-based economies in wealthy, developed nations—the rise of climate-based industries, the rise of legal, the rise of consulting, the rise of wealth management—the largest company by market cap is a miner. The two largest companies behind that are Shell, an oil and gas company, and Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company. There isn’t a bank, a tech company, an auto company. We’re not seeing what we would consider modern economy companies.
What is the insight? There are two ways to look at this. One is that maybe the UK is showing us that we’re going to live in a world where tech, finance and services will be the dominant drivers of growth, but companies like oil and gas companies and mining companies can still be dominant players. Alternatively, maybe it’s a sign that the UK’s economy is not as strong as we think it is. It could be one or the other. But there’s another insight here: Maybe all the press coverage about the decline of miners and the decline of oil and gas is overhyped. Maybe the media is publishing a set of stories without fully considering all the drivers at work and all of the sources of value.
We can even go deeper into these insights. If you are an investment professional and you have read everything in the press about the decline of miners and oil and gas and you said, “Well, these companies have no future, so I’m going to bail out,” you would have missed an opportunity as BHP’s share price rallied. BHP is exposed to coal. Of course, they’re exposed to different kinds of coal, and they’re exiting some categories of coal. But more importantly, and here’s an even deeper insight, they’re exposed to categories of commodities that are seeing increased growth—like copper. BHP owns some of the largest copper mines in the world. As electric vehicles become more popular and digitalization continues to take place, you need copper.
What happens when emerging economies like China and other big economies like Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and India start booming and the things they need have fallen out of favor in the West? Because a company is domiciled in the West, exposed to products that have fallen out of favor in the West, but are heavily in demand and seeing an increase in the share price, do we then say we won’t be exposed to them as investors?
This is what happens when you get interlinked global supply chains. BHP’s global headquarters are in Melbourne, Australia, but they’re exposed to demand in emerging economies. They’re domiciled in one location where they raise their capital, their assets sit in another location, and the demand is in a third location. But if our policies and procedures in the West move in one direction, do we then exit our holdings in companies that are showing material wealth creation if they’re exposed to industries we actually don’t want to invest in?
How do you play this? If you’re an investor and you have an index fund that automatically buys the shares of companies with highest market capitalisation, obviously weighted in some way, on the UK stock market, the FTSE 100, do you decide you’re going to exit BHP and Shell? How does it work?
The insight is that it’s very hard to decouple strategies because the world is not decoupled. I’ve seen many investors say they’re going to pull out of certain commodities in certain sectors and regions of the world. It’s actually hard to do that. For example, banks have said for a long time that they’re going to withdraw. If you’re a bank and you don’t fund a coalfield, but then your wealth management arm invests in an index fund that’s exposed to the largest companies in the UK stock market, of which two of the top three happen to be old school companies, you’re still supporting an old industry. This is not to say Shell and BHP are doing anything wrong. It’s not for me to say that. But what is important to understand is how difficult strategies are to implement. How hard it is to decouple things.
This is an excerpt from Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletter, issue #16.
One of the biggest strategy shifts ever in the next 10 to 20 years
There was an interesting piece in the Financial Times related to how new is not always better. This shift is probably going to be one of the biggest strategy shifts in the next 10 to 20 years.This new is not always better shift is probably going to be one of the biggest strategy shifts in the next 10 to 20 years. Click To Tweet
Let me share with you a number of examples and analogies to make my point that. You probably celebrate a tradition with your family—whether it’s Thanksgiving, Diwali or Eid for different listeners around the world. Whatever religion you are, whatever culture you are, you prepare certain food on certain important days. It is unlikely that the food you prepare this year is completely different from the food you prepared last year. That’s because you have certain traditions and you know certain things taste very good. Certain foods are not good because they are new. If something is newer but doesn’t taste very good, why would you eat it?There are certain books we always read in strategy because they are good. There are some books we read because they are new, and we hope they will help us understand strategy better. But they don't invariably do Click To Tweet
The world of strategy consulting or strategy analysis
New is not always better. Think of the world of strategy consulting or strategy analysis. Every year, there are new books published on strategy. But how many of them are better than the books published the year before or 5 or 10 years ago? There are certain books we always read in strategy because they are good. There are some books we read because they are new, and we hope they will help us understand strategy better. But they don’t invariably do. So we read them, but when we think about the material we want to use, we step back and use books that have stood the test of time.
A barrier that says you have to be new to appear here
We’re taught to assume that something published this year is best. Think of the Billboard Top 100. Only a song that’s been released in the last few months can appear on the Billboard Top 100, which means that if a song is more popular than a song in the Billboard Top 100, it will still not appear on the charts.
Think of book critics for major publications. It’s very unlikely they’re going to be reviewing the best book on a subject if it’s already been reviewed because, in their mind, no one wants to read a review of an old book.... there is a barrier that says you have to be new to appear here. Why does that rule exist? Because of how businesses have been set up and the obstacles in the way of making everything available. Click To Tweet
In both cases, there is a barrier that says you have to be new to appear here. Why does that rule exist? Because of how businesses have been set up and the obstacles in the way of making everything available.
New is not always better – the new world
Previously, a record store could only keep a fixed number of records, so they kept the newest records because they were most likely to sell. George Stalk from BCG often asked what would happen when the cost of bandwidth fell to zero. What happens when the effort to find something is equal irrespective of the age of the product? We know that when it comes to books, new is not always better. Same goes for many other things, like the best TV shows are not the newest TV shows.
So, why do companies promote the newest things?Due to digitization and the arrival of digitalized business economics that make sense, you don't need to focus on the newest things. The oldest things can be easily accessed. Click To Tweet
Because for a long time, they couldn’t make everything available to you. They had to pick: if I can’t stock everything, what am I going to stock? The oldest or the newest? Due to digitization and the arrival of digitalized business economics that make sense, you don’t need to focus on the newest things. The oldest things can be easily accessed. So, what if we create a business model where we didn’t just promote the newest thing but we promoted the best thing?
It changes the economics of everything
This has profound implications because it changes the economics of everything. A record or a label or a song that was recorded in 1972 now may be worth more than a song recorded this year. No one’s looked at the recording contract for that song from 1972. No one knows what it’s worth, but now it’s worth a lot more. That means that the half-life of a song has completely changed. The half-life of a TV program has completely changed. As new audiences discover, appreciate and play songs from years ago, new songs don’t just compete with other new songs—they compete with all songs.
FIRMSconsulting training: new is not always better
I have this discussion often with FC Insiders about our huge video library on strategytraining.com. Many people tell me they want to see new content, and I ask them why because the videos that are best suited for them already exist. Then they’ll tell me they’ve watched that program already. Yes, you’ve watched it already, but I don’t think you understand all the material. If you’ve watched it, that’s fantastic, but do you understand everything? Are you getting maximum value from it? Have you implemented all of the lessons? Have you perfected it? Obviously, you should be watching the programs you need to watch. But newer is not better.the videos that are best suited for them already exist... do you understand everything? Are you getting maximum value from it? Have you implemented all of the lessons? Have you perfected it? Click To Tweet
In business, you need to understand what it means in a world where things that are older may actually be more valuable than things that are newer—not because they’ve become more valuable over time but because they’ve always been more valuable. Now we have a mechanism to access them just as easily as new content.That is probably going to be one of the biggest strategy shifts ever in the next 10 to 20 years. It's almost a land rush to stake out old content, which might be more valuable than new content, but no one even knows it exists. Click To Tweet
One of the biggest strategy shifts ever in the next 10 to 20 years
That is probably going to be one of the biggest strategy shifts ever in the next 10 to 20 years. It’s almost a land rush to stake out old content, which might be more valuable than new content, but no one even knows it exists. You need to know if your business model is predicated on the assumption that new is better. How this new normal, new is not always better, going to impact your business? If your business has barriers to entry for older content or older ideas, you need to play on even footing with old ideas and old content, because those barriers will fall away. You’re going to be facing new competitors, and maybe you can even buy them off.
This is an excerpt from Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletter, issue #10.
This is what is required to build intellectual property. It is a critical competitive advantage that most firms/professionals/consultants try to develop yet eventually quit.
Think of the time and cost savings in having the best slides available to your team. Not generic templates that are empty, but detailed study slides tracking a problem from start to finish.The value you can immediately bring to your clients/colleagues by having the right tools and seeing how they are used. Click To Tweet
Imagine being able to see how actual studies are done and being able to use/edit those files to support your clients.
Video explanations of each slide of many studies in SLIDES can be found on StrategyTraining.com should you want to understand how the partner developed/used the slide (FIRMSconsulting Insider level membership is required).
Let’s assume you are part of a 10-person boutique consulting firm or part of a 10-person office within a large firm.
It’s March and your office has completed four projects so far this year.
Each consultant has created 100 unique files (word, PowerPoint, excel etc.) in those 3-months.
The files are a mix of quality-standards. Some are unformatted drafts and others are incomplete PowerPoint decks. A mishmash of design and branding. Assume just 10% are finished documents that can be shared.
Most don’t have obvious names and have file names like “Client Deck V5”. So, searching for a useful file is hard. Not to mention the problem of files being stored across 10 laptops.
It’s just 10 people so there is no time to go back through each file and name them. It’s very difficult to do this.
All 10 people have to agree on a naming convention and stick to it, that is assuming they could come up with the correct naming convention and are willing to follow it. And errors in the naming convention will always creep in.
It is now December. And your team has diligently been uploading documents every quarter. In the 4th quarter you ask them to convert the newest files to a new format and upload. How do they know where all the documents created in the last 12 months reside on their laptop? So how do they know what to upload without being forced to upload everything again?Let’s assume they were able to make time to fix, tag and name every document. How will you store them and access them when traveling? Click To Tweet
Assuming your firm had the time and could do this, the files would need to be stored somewhere, usually online. That would be 1,000 files (10-people x 100 files) stored online and probably only searchable by title.
If the online interface is not user-friendly and bulky, it would not be used.
Since most of the files, 90%, are incomplete drafts, anyone using the online database will generally have to click on many files to find 1 useful file.
And that can be tedious if the online database is slow and requires one to download each file to check what is there.
And forcing consultants to include detailed descriptions and keywords makes the task of cataloguing the 100 files even more difficult. Due to this requirement most consultants would probably use the incorrect labels or not load files into the system at all.
Assuming the files are all online, you also need to keep online and offline backups. You need a way to automatically sync that entire database to another online database and at least 3 offline hard drives. How would you do this? It’s very hard to do. Do you backup all files monthly or just the new files loaded in the last month? How do you easily backup only the latest files?
Assuming you have all your firm’s files in one place, how do you ensure the files can be read a few years down the line. Old PowerPoint, excel and word files are often not compatible with new online storage systems. So even if you succeed in getting them all online, over time files become unreadable.
If you are successful at building this database over 10 years, your prize is to go through the entire process of opening every file, updating the format and reloading them. You have to do this roughly every 10 years.
How do you make the files accessible anywhere and anytime on a smartphone or laptop, tagging and curating them, and creating categories with descriptions?
How do you surface the best content?
It is a significant competitive advantage to have this easy access to all files. And imagine how much you have lost in 10 years with files sitting on old laptops and discarded or backed up but not in a way they can be accessed.
Imagine your consulting staff turns over every 3 years (that is, everyone is replaced in that time due to resignations, managing people out etc.). As they leave with their project knowledge, this database becomes the only way to retain knowledge.
This is where many firms fail. It’s not that they fail at learning from rivals, they fail at using what they already have. And for a smaller firm which does not have many resources to begin with, knowing how to archive and easily use what you do have is very important.
Even if you work at a major firm, if your smaller office does not have access to the best content of the New York, Boston, London, Singapore etc., offices, you are essentially not much different from a boutique firm that may not have these resources.
Imagine if you had an online system that brought together the most insightful analyses in strategy, operations, implementation, digital etc. AND combined the best work your firm has ever done, best templates, neatly arranged files, with all files tagged, tracked and backed-up accurately?
SLIDES solves this problem
Use our curated study slides, tools, methodologies and toolkits.
Upload all your files to your SLIDES folder.
We take care of the storage, backups and conversions.
We take care of loading new tools, methodologies and toolkits.
We protect your competitive advantage.
Effective training in the management consulting industry is not something that is easy to find. When I was starting out as a management consultant I immediately encountered this issue: a lack of effective training in management consulting. A lack of effective training internally within large consulting firms, and a lack of effective training externally.
So when I had a chance to start my own business it became clear to me that the business I had to start was a business related to training for management consultants. I wanted to develop powerful training for the management consulting industry that I was searching for when I was starting out as a young consultant, but could not find.
I then embarked on a journey of working with top partners from major consulting firms to help develop what I believe, and many of our clients and competitors agree, the most powerful consulting skills training library in the world: StrategyTraining.com.
Strategy Training for the Management Consulting Industry
Over the last over 11 years of building out our training library for management consultants, we developed numerous strategy studies, both the video explanations and the editable slides. This is an overview of one such study to give you a sense of the type of training we offer to our clients and customers.
We teach from first-principles only. While you will see frameworks and processes, we teach you how to develop them and why we developed them. This means our training is more detailed and longer to ensure you understand why we do what we do on a real study.
Our flagship training programs and courses recreate McKinsey, BCG, et al. studies, or what some major consulting firms call consulting projects, to great detail. Every meeting, workshop, analysis and interaction from a typical consulting project is captured in highly realistic videos. Our aim is to help you learn the skills of the major consulting firms, as taught by ex-partners of the major consulting firms.
Our programs and courses are streamed in >150 countries 24/7 and considered to be top training resources within management consulting industry, as well as by companies outside of consulting and governments in all 7 continents. We have built the largest strategy training and consulting skills training library.
Each study teaches the core problem solving skills, using first-principles analyses, though they tackle different problems. They listed in order of difficulty and it is advisable to start with the M&A consulting study since it was designed to teach the core consulting skills it is assumed you will already possess to make the most of some of our other, more advanced programs and courses.
- Mergers & Acquisitions Strategy Study.
- Market Entry Strategy Study.
- Corporate Strategy & Transformation Program.
A complete management consulting training library
This is just a small list of our programs. We have many more in a variety of formats covering a wide range of business issues. Our audio only versions are among our most popular along with the 21Day Programs to obtain measurable results in 21 days.
Each study is supported by detailed consulting skills training videos, toolkits and templates explaining every step of the analyses and every skill used by the consulting team, including all the material produced in the study. You will be able to learn what we did, adapt it for your clients and deploy our tools. This can significantly help you in development of deliverables for your clients.
Consultants, aspiring consultants, MBA students, executives and internal consultants can use these detailed management consulting industry guides and tools to become outstanding management consultants.
We have created the most sophisticated and elaborate management consulting skills training program. Based on feedback from many consulting industry professionals, our clients, the material is more detailed and useful than even that available at McKinsey, BCG, Bain and other major consulting firms. The development of our training resources is focused on positioning our clients so that after carefully working through our various training materials, programs and courses, a client can be in a position to be able to walk into any strategy assignment and complete the study accurately and with confidence.
Below is an overview of a typical foundational program. You should start here.
What you will learn from our consulting training
Study / stream management
- Role of an engagement manager
- Checklist for new managers
- Setting up a study
- Setting up the governance structure
- Making teams effective / efficient
- How to select teams
- Managing work streams
- Building analyses plans and timelines from hypotheses
- Managing the study senior partner
- Development of study charters
- Preparing timelines
- Preparing the project logic
- Conducting a pre-study expectations exchange with a manager / associate
- Managing client alignment meetings
- Preparing CEO-ready updates
- Delivering CEO presentations
- Providing feedback to consultants
- Coaching poorly performing consultants
People / change management
- Culture difference assessment
- Management skills assessments
- Development of a change-management program
Process / change methodologies
- Culture Surveys
- Economic product clustering
- Capacity / capability gap identification
- Migration Maps
- Issue mapping
- Basic Activity Based Costing
- Basic NPV Calculation
- Strategy / Risk Assessment
- Options / scenario analyses
- Role of the business case leader
- Principles and assumptions
- Benefits tracking
- Top-down financial analyses
- Model drivers and levers
- Model architecture
- Model descriptions
- Top down / bottom up analyses
- Product identification analyses
- Technical compatibility auditing
Foundational analytic skills
- Communicating with CEOs
- Conducting targeted strategy interventions
- What makes a strategy consultant different
- Setting the scope of the study
- Handling CEO disagreements
- From hypotheses to storyboards
- Creating perfect slides
- Planning / conducting / presenting focus interviews
- Presenting data
- Developing hypotheses in studies
- Applying MECE in studies
- Development of decision trees in studies
- Using PASSAC to develop hypotheses
- Effective meeting management
- Communicating with clients
- Managing clients
- Pre-presenting to clients
- Providing stream status updates
- Importance of good design / formatting
- Validating a study
- Communicating within team
- Staffing:1 Principal 20% time
- 1 Director 10% time
- 1 EM 100% time
- 3 Associates 100% time
- Sector: Electricity Sector
- Region: North America
- Function: Corporate Strategy
- Typical fees : ~$1.9MM Value-based fees which exceeds time and materials fees by ~ 30%
Below we also answer typical questions we get from clients who are just starting to develop their management consulting skills.
What does a management consultant trainee do?
New management consultants, which are often referred to as interns or business analysts (the entry level in management consulting) usually do the most basic parts of analysis, excel work, putting together powerpoint presentations, printing out decks for client presentations, helping more senior consultants develop proposals to win new work.
What do you learn in management consulting?
Some of the core consulting skills you will need to acquire to be a successful consultant include:
– Problem solving skills.
– Interpersonal and communications skills, which include both oral and written communication.
– Analytical skills.
– The ability to work as part of a team and be a reliable team member.
– The ability to navigate challenging situations, and cope with pressure.
What training do you need to be a management consultant?
You will need to have a bachelor’s degree, ideally graduating with very high grades. It does help to have an MBA or another graduate degree and experience of working for major organizations in industries which the firm you are interested in serves.
What is the difference between training and consulting?
This question is common for clients and customers who are planning to start offering consulting services, and considering offering other services such as coaching and training. You can think of consulting as advising clients what to do. Coaching involves working with clients and guiding clients to help them get results they would not be able to accomplish without the coach or would not be able to accomplish as fast. Training teaching a skills so clients know what to do. Training is often done via courses which allows for a lower fee for a customer and less time commitment from the side of service/product provider.
What do management consultants do?
A management consultant works with clients, usually senior employees from clients’ side, to help assess the company, identify problems, identify solutions and help implement solutions. Some consultants only advise and others are also involved in implementation. Management consultants often work in teams. Organizations that require consulting services usually hire a consulting company that is responsible for running the consulting project, and employing and training consultants.
As Presiding Partner Kris works with only the most eminent BCG, McKinsey et al ex-partners to produce strategy, operations, implementation and case interview media that does not exist anywhere else. She is the author of 5 books on strategy and critical thinking.
This is the story of how I changed my life when I found myself at the age of 25 without a degree, in a foreign country and working as a front-office receptionist for a 4-person manufacturing company where I earned ~$500/month with no health benefits. I will be candid about the struggles I faced and mistakes I made. Although it is not easy to discuss these things, I am optimistic others will realize they too can succeed despite significant obstacles.
The Person Who Influenced Me The Most
I was born in Russia where I lived until the age of 21.
My paternal great-grandfather was born in Dagestan. He died so early that his son, my grandfather Aron, did not remember him. A foster family raised Aaron. Later he moved to Azerbaijan for his studies and for a better life.
He married and had 4 children. The youngest was my father. My grandfather, Aron, supported his family by working as a technician on ships.
My maternal great-grandfather, Grisha, was captured and tortured during the war after the revolution but escaped through the sewage system.
On his way home he wanted to kill himself due to the pain he had endured. He felt he had nothing left for which to live. He found a hospital with infectious disease patients and ate the food from the garbage hoping he would catch something that would kill him.
Yet, he did not get sick. This made him realize that maybe there is a reason he should continue living.
He finally made his way to Kuibyshev City, now Samara, in the southeastern part of European Russia. He married a lovely Russian lady named Maria, and they had 3 kids. The youngest of them was my grandmother, Galina, the guardian angel of my life and the person who influenced me the most.
My grandfather, Alexander, was a very talented painter. He married my grandmother, Galina. Alexander’s family were extremely wealthy before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. They owned a chocolate factory in Samara and ships on the Volga River named in variations of Trofimov – Alexander’s family name.
During the revolution the factory, ships and all their possessions were seized.
Alexander never formally studied painting yet he could perfectly replicate any piece and had an opportunity to study at a prestigious arts academy in St. Petersburg. This was a great achievement since most professional painters could not gain admission to Russia’s top school for painters.
Yet, his father forbade him from attending, stating that this was not a job for a man.
Alexander listened to his father and went to work at a factory instead. He worked in factories his entire life until his death.
He became an alcoholic shortly after joining the factory and by the time I was born he was drinking himself to an unconscious state on every payday. This was the only day of the month when he had money.
He would spend most of his salary on alcohol and the rest would be stolen from him while he lay unconscious on the street. My grandmother’s pension was the only money my grandparents had left over on which to live.
What made it worse was that Alexander’s possessions, such as a winter hat or shoes, would also often be stolen or he would lose it, which necessitated buying at least one expensive clothing item every month to replace a lost or stolen one.
Galina and I used to go out and look for Alexander on the streets of Samara and carry him back home. I was about 5 years old at the time. My grandmother would not let me help her carry Alexander because he was very heavy.
So I would carry her handbag, making sure his feet didn’t get caught anywhere, while my grandmother would carry Alexander on her back with his feet dragging on the ground.
Sometimes we would find him quite far away and it would be so hard to drag him back home.
This is when I learned that people should always do what they think is right for them, even if it is against the wishes and opinions of others. If my grandfather had ignored his father’s advice and went against his family wishes to study painting, with his talent his life most likely would be shockingly different from what it turned out to be.
Galina and Alexander barely spoke to each other. I only saw them talking to each other once. I walked into the kitchen and saw them fighting. As soon as they saw me, my grandmother immediately stopped talking and my grandfather walked away. My grandfather slept in a storage room, the tiniest room you could ever find, and I was instructed by Galina to never talk to him or bother him in any way.
Galina and Alexander lived in one half of a tiny house. The other half was occupied by another family. Their half had just one room, the tiny storage space where my grandfather slept and a narrow hallway that was also a kitchen. There was only cold water available from one basin in the kitchen and a hole in the ground in the backyard that was used as a lavatory.
There was no shower or bathtub.
When brushing my teeth, my grandmother would take water from the kitchen basin, heat it up on the stove, as it was ice cold, and bring it to a little pot we used to wash our hands.
Yet, the times I spent with Galina are the best childhood memories I have.
Despite all the poverty in Russia, it was a wonderful time. My grandmother loved me unconditionally. If it was not for her, I don’t know who I would be today. She spent a lot of time with me, while my parents worked very hard trying to find their feet and raise 4 children – I am the oldest.
Galina died of cancer when I was 14. She forbade me from visiting her when her cancer progressed to a terminal stage. It was important for her that I didn’t see her in this very ill state. This was a very early lesson for me in taking care of those you love, in a selfless way.
However, I decided to go against her will.
My grandma and I loved bananas and ice cream. But it was a luxury that we could rarely afford. Yet, it was something we often dreamed about. Before she became sick, during lilac flower season, we sold lilac flowers, from our backyard, at the bus stop.
After a few hours of selling we would usually make enough money to buy two ice creams or two bananas.
So when my grandma became ill, I collected money over a month by looking for coins on the street and I also tried not to pay for the bus when I was going to and from music school, by hiding from the conductor. Eventually I had enough money to buy one chocolate ice cream and one banana.
I, thereafter, visited my grandma bearing gifts.
She finished both the ice cream and banana, to make me happy seeing her eat. She was happy to see me but I was strictly instructed to never do this again. In fact, she made me promise to not visit her again, until she asked me to. I did promise, which is something I regret to this day, and she was alone through her suffering.
Only on her deathbed did she ask for me. We only got to spend a few minutes together as she was unconscious most of the time. During the few minutes that we had, she made me promise that I would not go for Shaping, a type of exercise that was popular at the time. That was her death wish and I never went for it even thought I really wanted to.
To a stranger it may seem like an odd request. But I think she was trying to show me that I did not need to “run an extra mile”. I was already special.
After Galina died, Alexander realized he loved her, but it was too late. Funny thing about life is we rarely appreciate what we have until it is gone.
One year after her death he decided to go out for his first date, as he felt lonely. It was minus 25 degrees Celsius and he waited for his date for a few hours on the street. She never showed up. He caught a bad cold waiting for her and died shortly thereafter.
I was the last person he spoke to. He promised me he would stop drinking and went to bed. It looked like he was getting better. Yet, a few minutes later my father noticed that Alexander was not breathing.
Ever since that moment when I see or talk to someone I love, I know it may be the last time we have together.
The sad stories of my family, passed down from generation to generation, were always a glowing reminder why you should not take what you have in life as given.
You should fight for more. It will not be given to you. You will likely not luck out and get to where you want to go by chance. You need to have determination to fight, to do what you believe is right even if it is against the advice and wishes of those around you.
Never ever settle for a miserable life without purpose.
Being a Minority
My father was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. My mother was born in Samara, Russia, the daughter of Galina and Alexander.
My father came to Samara after university. At that time, to keep a more consistent demographic distribution across the country, the former Soviet Union required that people reallocate wherever the government chooses for 3 years after university. My father was assigned to move to Samara.
They met as students on a trip to dig out potatoes in the village. It was common during the time of the former Soviet Union for organizations to send their workers to villages to help collect produce; a type of volunteering for the common good. So a lot of people went away for a few days to a remote location to dig out potatoes. Both of my parents worked in factories at that time and both were sent to that same village.
One night everyone, including my parents, was sitting around the fire. My mother recalls at one point in the evening everyone, except my father, looked behind her, screamed and started running away.
Before my mother had a chance to turn around and see what had scared the crowd, my father grabbed my mother, lifted her and ran. She turned and saw an angry bull chasing them.
That was May 22, 1979. They married 2 years later on May 22, 1981 and I was born 7 months later on December 22 when my mom was 22 years old. My mom always told me that the number 22 is a special number in our family.
Ironically, number 22 also features prominently in my life in other ways, so maybe my mother was right about the importance of this number.
Both of my parents worked incredibly hard, as hard as it was humanly possible, but we were quite poor. I remember a day when the landlord unexpectedly asked us to move out by the end of the day. I recall us walking through the snow. My parents carried my twin newborn brothers on the sledge along with our belongings.
I was trying to keep up with them but it was hard walking through the snow that was above my knees.
Yet, they could not help me since their hands were full and there was no space for me on the sledge. I remember really suffering but trying to put on a brave face as I knew my parents were devastated at being thrown out of their rental just that morning, with no time to find another place to stay.
I was around 3 years old at the time.
We were homeless for a while, asking people if we could spend a few nights in their homes. The last resort was to stay with my grandmother but her house was so small; there was no space for 5 additional people.
From an early age I noticed many people treated us differently, because my father was Azeri, had an Azeri name and all the children had Azeri names as well. My name was Gyulya.
One evening, when I was around 8 years old my father went outside to take out the garbage and came back with blood all over his face. He said he fell, which was clearly not the case.
Later, my mother teased out an explanation from him. Our neighbors beat him up. When they finally let him go, they told him that we should leave Russia. Otherwise, next time, they will finish him off.
There were many other similar incidents. Like any great and wonderful country, a few nasty people could make the lives of many intolerable.
I was urging my parents to move out of Russia when the former Soviet Union collapsed and many people immigrated. They always told me we couldn’t because it was too hard. They also told me that it would not be better elsewhere. They said that the grass is always greener on the other side.
I changed my name to Kris (Kristina) just before it was time to get my Russian passport, around the age 18, as I did not want to carry this burden of discrimination for the rest of my life.
Those were tough years.
As a child I used to search for coins on the street. Usually after a few hours of searching I could collect enough to buy a cheap ice cream from the street vendor. Around ten kopeks for milk ice cream and 20 kopeks for cream ice cream. If I would collect 20 kopeks I always went for the milk one, so I could buy two and take one home.
The transition times from the former Soviet Union to Russia were even tougher. I remember standing in lines for hours to buy one pack of margarine. I was around 10 years old at the time. People were given tickets for the amount of food they were allowed to buy.
Stores were mostly empty. If some food items suddenly became available in the store, the line would spill out onto the streets far from the shop doors and people would stand in line for hours in the hope of getting 1 pack of margarine.
How is this productive use of human potential?
While going through school, I was in parallel attending a music school. I learned to play the classical piano.
When I initially applied to the music school at the age of 6, I was rejected. According to the music teachers who tested my abilities, I had a fantastic sense of rhythm but I could not identify notes very well. After I was rejected my mom left me in the hallway and went back to reason with the teachers into admitting me.
I saw my mother not taking “no” for an answer, and I realized then that “no” often does not mean never. Sometimes it means maybe or not now. If you keep on pushing, you may very well get what you want.
I ended up studying in that music school for the next 7 years. It was on the other side of the city and I took two buses to get there, a trip over one-hour each way. Because my parents had 4 children and my grandmother fell terminally ill, from an early age I took this trip by myself.
I got lost many times by boarding the wrong bus or missing my stop and ending up in an unknown part of town, sometimes after sunset. Yet, it thought me to be independent and resourceful.
By age 13 I was selected to represent the Russian Federation as a “gifted child of Russia”. I performed in Bulgaria, France, the Czech Republic and Germany. I was an official cultural ambassador of the Russian Federation. I was so proud of myself. Those trips opened my eyes to the world and opportunities outside of Russia.
I also wrote my own music. Once when I was playing my own composition a famous Russian composer, Mark Levyant, overheard me play. He made a point to contact my parents and insist that I continue my musical education because I was very talented. This is how I ended up in DG Shatalov in Samara, where I spent 4 years after school perfecting the art of the piano.
I had a 100% scholarship but still needed money for food, clothing and medical expenses. I wrote songs, performed at events such as weddings, at restaurants, in nightclubs, in casinos and one of the songs I co-wrote with a friend, and performed, even made it onto the local radio playlist.
Despite this, I would only earn about 100 Rubles (2.5 dollars) per day and sometimes people did not pay me. The most difficult part was to get home in one piece after the performance because I was not making enough money to take a taxi.
The Low Points of My Life
On one particular night, the most esteemed regular client of the restaurant where I worked, and a well-known businessman in Samara, asked if I needed a ride home. I agreed as I thought I would save the 7 rubles that I would have to pay for a bus home and it felt safer compared to walking through dark alleys from the bus stop to the apartment building where my family lived.
He brought me to his apartment instead and locked me there. Bodyguards with guns surrounded him so I just walked in without a fight. I made an excuse to visit the restroom and locked myself there for the entire night. They banged on the door but never broke it. They probably just assumed I would eventually come out.
I sneaked out in the morning after it went quite for a long time, so I was relatively certain they went to sleep. As I was running down the stairs I could hear someone running after me screaming, “Where are you going bxxxx? Do you think you can run away from me?”
I managed to run away and I never showed up in that restaurant again, even though it was my most stable gig.
Another time I was walking home at around 4pm. A man stepped out of the car as I was crossing the road and started walking towards me insisting I get into the car. I started running and he ran after me screaming at the top of his lungs, “Stop fxxxxxx bxxxx!”
As I was running, I passed an apartment building where my friend lived on the first floor. I saw her mom standing near an open window and she saw me running. Talk about a guardian angel moment!
I asked her if I could run in and hide. Fortunately, I made it to her apartment and was hiding there until that man left. She later kindly walked me home, as I was terrified and shaking.
Thereafter, every time I walked out of the apartment I would wear the most ugly and bulky clothes, no make up, and I would cross the street to avoid men and any further lunatic experiences.
And there were a lot of violent experiences like these, one of them was not very far from rape.
Apart from assaults by “interested” men, the crime situation was also bad in Russia. One day when I was walking home at around 6pm I was robbed and violently assaulted on the street near my apartment by two men. I had a ring on my middle finger that was very dear to my heart. My mom gave it to me and it was my most precious possession.
It was a simple golden ring with no diamond and it was very tight. They could not pull it off and wanted to cut off my finger. I begged them to allow me to take it out myself. They said, “Take it off in 30 seconds or we are cutting your finger off” and I pulled it out with my teeth while taking out a large amount of flesh in the process.
This happened right next to a police station so I ran there, as I was terrified to walk home. A few kind policemen drove me home but could not walk me to my appartment as they got a call that someone was just robbed and fatally wounded. They told me I was very lucky I was not killed and hastily drove away.
When I came home that night I was shaking and terrified. I called a friend who insisted I call the emergency services. The emergency services arrived and sent me to the hospital for a check up.
Yet, the doctor in hospital was not very interested. He rudely asked me why I was there. I explained the reason.
He asked, “Did they beat your head against the asphalt?”
I said “No”.
He said, “So, why are you wasting my time?”
I left without being examined and went home promising myself I had to change my life.
My passport, with my address, had been in my handbag taken during the assault. A few days later a group of men came by my apartment stating they had found my passport and would “kindly” sell it back to me.
Those men were my neighbors from within my apartment building. They asked me a lot of questions about whether I remembered the robbers. I knew better than to say anything and they were pleased when I said I remembered nothing. I paid for my passport and they left.
Emotionally, these events took a toll on me and it took a long time to recover. Thankfully, my best friend, my sister supported me through this.
In the DG Shatalov Music College I immersed and challenged myself with complex pieces like Rachmaninoff’s musical moment number 4 in E minor, which alone required at least 7 hours of practice each day. I practiced this while working on a few other pieces at the same time. Yet, I knew the path of being a professional pianist for the rest of my life was not the right path for me and I chose not to go to the conservatoire.
I was not passionate enough about music to dedicate my entire life to it.
There was a particular event that forced me to pick my own path rather than follow the life that was unfolding before me. A few months after I started at DG Shatalov I woke up with my face blown up and swollen on the left side. My eye could not open. My family was joking I could play the starring role in a horror movie without makeup. I was 16.
After 3 days with no improvement in my condition I was hospitalized. The doctors diagnosed me with a severe and likely fatal allergic reaction. Yet, they were not certain what caused it but the most likely cause was the recent vaccination I had, which, as it turned out had not been properly tested. This is a great example of an unexpected negative externality of living in a developing country.
Various doctors came from other parts of the region to look at my special “horror movie-like” condition. They were not there to help me. They were there because I was “an interesting case.”
I remember being surrounded by doctors and they were saying, “She will not live until the next day. There is nothing we can do. As soon as this blown out part of her face will go down to her neck she will die.”
Doctors told this to each other in my presence over and over again, yet I was still alive.
Over the next few weeks the inflamed part of my face burst, and the swelling went down to my neck and eventually disappeared. I got out of the hospital with a big scar on my left side of the head next to my eye. I still have this scar.
This experience taught me that all we have is today. Any day something really bad can happen and everything can end. So you have to push the boundaries while you can, while you still have time. Now, I was even more determined to change my life completely.
I tried to improve my chances one last time before leaving Russia. I tried moving to Moscow to seek more professional opportunities.
I called Gyulya, the best friend of my father, the woman in honor of whom I was named. She lived in Moscow and I told her I wanted to try moving to Moscow for professional reasons. She said, “Come to Moscow and we will figure things out.”
Gyulya and her husband ran a very successful real estate business that included flipping apartments. When I arrived she allowed me to live for a few months in a derelict apartment they bought to flip. This apartment was unused as she only planned to start renovations in a few months time. And she could not rent it out because it was in an unlivable condition.
There was no bathtub or shower, no refrigerator, an old dirty couch with bed bugs and so much dirt and dust that only a major renovation could help. It was the kind of apartment you see in movies when homeless people occupy an abandoned house.
Prior to agreeing to stay in the apartment Gyulya was offering, I tried to rent a room with more acceptable living conditions. I went for help to a property agency to find a rental. They took my $50, which, given I was making $2.5 per day at the time, was a lot of money for me and they turned out to be a fraud.
I could not risk spending more of my savings on fraudsters so I agreed to stay in Gyulya’s place. I thought I was strong enough to survive that environment.
To bathe myself I needed to buy a plastic bucket and heat the water with fire. A tub in the kitchen, the only place to get water, was clogged and I could not unclog it. Living there was a fairly tough experience. I somehow expected more support from a close family friend. I was living like people you read about in the poorest developing economies.
Russian citizens outside of Moscow needed a special residency permit to legally live and work in Moscow. I did not have this and hence could not find employment. I eventually managed to get a paper that allowed me to be legally in Moscow. Believe it or not, even though I was a Russian citizen I was not allowed to be in Moscow unless I had a permit.
But the permit did not help with my employment prospects. Employers needed a “propiska” with one’s name listed as the owner of an apartment or a house. And I was in no position to buy an apartment. So I left Moscow after a few months and returned to Samara.
Moving out of Russia at that time was not an easy thing for a young woman. I had little money and a music diploma. It was not possible for me to get a visa to developed countries like Canada, Australia or UK without a sponsor. The US was completely out of the question.
Even though I left Russia and had plenty of scary experiences it is important to realize that I do not dislike Russia. I am Russian and I genuinely like and miss Russia. I also did not want to leave because of my family. My sister, parents and brothers are still in Russia. I am actually considering buying a summer home there so I can spend more time with them.
It is just that, at that point in time, very few opportunities existed there. The country was in financial ruin and it was very hard to move forward in life. I had tried to move forward and nothing worked.
After much research I realized it was possible to get a visa to South Africa. I received a 3-month visitor’s visa and arrived in Johannesburg with all the money I had saved, $1,000.
Initially I lived in a tiny room with cockroaches but I was happy, as I knew I was moving up in the world. I offered piano, Russian and singing lessons and provided Russian translation services. This generated enough income to pay for rent and food.
I chose not to try joining the local music institutions or orchestras because I had already decided that music was not for me. Business was my future.
The culture shock was considerable. Before arriving to South Africa, I had never seen an automatic banking machine and never been to a large supermarket. Samara at that time was a large but poor Russian city and we did not have many modern things.
I had also never tried cappuccino. In fact, the only coffee I ever tried prior to South Africa was instant coffee. The first time I tried cappuccino I could not believe that something could taste so good.
I also never had a credit card and did not know how to use online banking. When I was growing up my family and friends’ families stored money in the back of the refrigerator or under the cover of the kitchen table. Those were our bank accounts.
So I was learning fast about Western life, and I was learning English at the same time. My English was not good.
I struggled to find a legitimate job since I knew little about the West, I had no business skills, I did not speak English well, I did not have a car and I had a music diploma from an institute respected in Samara, Russia but unknown in the West.
I also realized that in the West, the word diploma is seen as less prestigious than the word degree, which made my music education even less relevant during my job search.
I tried to get my diploma accredited in South Africa but the South African accreditation body could not find my school in their database. Since it was taking between 5 and 7 months to get a response to just one written query, I suspected this could be a long process that may eventually never succeed.
So I tried to succeed without leveraging my piano background. I had little other choices.
After spending a few hours per day searching for a business job for 8 months, I had some very bad interview experiences that included being locked in a small room in the back-office of a gasoline station during an interview gone horribly wrong.
Just, at that low point in my life, things started improving just a little.
Despite being initially declined for the role, I ended up working as a front desk receptionist at a small manufacturing company that served the defense industry.
Yes, I was even declined for that role at first.
It was a pretty exciting place to be because we served very high profile clients such as the leadership of National Police and Armed Forces around the world. I learned to be very responsible and to work long hours.
After my day job was over, I took over other tasks such as renegotiating purchasing contracts and putting together product catalogs.
I approached that business as if it was my own. Whatever had to be done I did it, often without being asked. Everything from cleaning the office before client visits, to carrying heavy mail from the post office by foot since I did not have a car, to negotiating contracts with suppliers, to designing catalogs. I did it all.
I never behaved as if this small company deserved any less than the very best from me. I did not act like any role was beneath me.
The salary was not great, only ~$500 a month, but I had a foot into business and I was learning. I recall many days counting coins to decide if I should buy lunch. Some days I could only afford one piece of bread.
I learned not to be intimidated by my junior title and to always drive for results. I took the initiative of renegotiating prices with hundreds of suppliers, and driving the cost-of-goods-sold down by 25%. Within one year I became the owner’s right hand person with a much broader portfolio of responsibilities. He is a really kind and good-natured man.
I learned to respect my ability and believe in myself. I think this really helped me later on in my career.
While working for the manufacturing company, I started my part-time undergraduate degree in commerce and economics at the University of South Africa. I was 25 at the time: one of the world’s oldest undergraduates.
I knew that the only way I would succeed in business is if I had another degree, recognized in the West and in business.
It was sad to think that all my music experience, being an ambassador for the Russian Federation and attending an elite music institute were not going to help me much.
I studied at nights after work and a few hours on weekends, as I worked full time on weekends teaching the piano and translating documents into Russian.
I would study with my dictionary, as I did not understand most of the words. I still remember my first year economics book, with Russian translations written in pencil above almost every word. So reading and learning was very hard and time consuming.
Each task took me at least 3-4 times longer than my peers.
Exams were the worst. It would take me 3-4 times longer than an average person to read the exam. At the end of exams I‘d write, “I am not a native English speaker. Please excuse my mistakes.”
When I received the results of my first exams, I was very surprised. I was initially afraid I would not pass. Instead, I was at the top of the class of about 400 to 600 people.
By chance, I was invited as the guest of a guest attending a dinner sponsored by several companies, including a major international consulting firm. I was not directly invited despite my stellar grades since my undergraduate degree, which I was still to complete, was from a non-target school.
I just so happened to end up sitting next to the local managing partner of the major international consulting firm. We ended up having a conversation about my background. He was very interested in my music background.
This is ironic because my music background had not been useful at all in any prior job searches. I later learned that in consulting my strong music skills were seen as my spike. Consulting was the only industry that deemed this attribute to be my asset.
He asked me about my plans after university and I mentioned to him that my goal was to go into strategy consulting. He invited me to come see him to discuss this further.
I shortly thereafter met him in his office. He offered me a chance to start out at the firm in a junior research role, a non-consulting role with no route to the professional path. I still did not have a degree. I accepted on the spot. This was the best shot I was going to get in life.
There was nothing to think about or negotiate.
Next, I went through a slow and frustrating recruiting process. I had a second interview with another senior partner, which I thought was a formality. Then I did not hear from the firm for a long time. I was very disappointed when nothing happened.
I knew my lack of a degree and age was a problem. Despite being ignored, I persisted and kept following up with the recruiter.
Eventually, the recruiter returned my call and offered me a part-time temporary research role. I don’t remember the details of that job offer but it was so far and away from the research role I had discussed with the managing director, that I declined the offer.
I remember the recruiter telling me on the phone how unqualified I was with my music diploma, and partial commerce degree, for any consulting positions. She mentioned consultants have degrees from outstanding schools and usually join as analysts at the age of 20 to 22.
I wrote to the managing director explaining to him that I was very grateful for the opportunity to join, but I was only offered a temporary part time job and I was looking for a career, not to make some extra money.
I was very polite, respectful and professional, yet very firm about my worth. Moreover, I could not leave my full time job for a temporary part time job. I still had to pay my bills including my tuition fees.
He immediately got back to me, apologized for the recruiter’s behavior, and I was offered a full time permanent position to be the most junior person in the back office research team.
I was still trying to complete my degree.
Becoming a strategy consultant
I was as junior as anyone could be at the firm. Although it is rarely mentioned openly, no one respects the research department, relative to the consultants, and I was the most junior person there.
I did not join the main research team publishing studies and receiving media attention. This was a smaller local internal team producing desktop research to support consultants on projects in that one office. We would mainly review industry reports, summarize trends and produce fact-packs in word documents.
I sat in this tiny open plan office in the far corner of the building.
Consultants who attended the formal induction, an introductory 2 days for all new recruits, would try to avoid me when they found out I was joining this research department. One analyst would not even return my greetings in the hallway once he realized I was part of the research department.
Yet, I was happy because I was in. I knew I just had to showcase my abilities and I believed I would find a professional strategy career path to partnership.
Two weeks after joining I tracked down a partner who was helping a large multinational financial services company enter the Eastern European market. Knowledge of the Russian language and culture was the one advantage I had to leverage and I was going to use it.
I asked him if I could help him on this project, after my normal working hours and in my free time. Since I would work for free and he need not worry about having to talk to the research unit partner to pull me away from my current commitments, this made it easier for him. He agreed.
I worked at this during every free waking moment I had and was eventually leading big parts of analyses due to another consultant on the study falling behind on his work because of over-commitments from his side.
And I did a great job on the analyses, making the partner look good. A few weeks later he made me an offer to join his team full time. I was already running key parts and he could not risk me being moved away from his study.
I moved from being a junior analyst in the research unit to becoming a business analyst on the strategy study.
This project grew to become a pivotal study for me and the firm. And the analyst who started ignoring me after induction was reporting to me just a few months later. I was promoted from analyst just 12 months after joining the firm and then promoted again to a more senior role in 5 months, at which point I was at the same level as consultants joining with an MBA.
So I was promoted twice in 5 months and 3 times in 17 months if you count the transition from researcher to business analyst. In fact, after I was promoted I was on track to make project leader within a year or maximum two years given the success I was having on my studies.
This really taught me the importance of just getting the job done. This became a pattern for me. I would routinely be placed on tough studies and aim to do the best possible work. That is all I worried about. I rarely socialized and almost never networked. I mostly worked and that was my reputation.
I was probably one of world’s few consultants without a degree – I was still studying part-time. Luckily I still had my music diploma. That helped a little when people, especially clients, asked about my background.
Finding time to study was difficult. I would leave home at 5am, drive to the office to beat the traffic and study in the parking lot for 2 hours before going in. I usually worked late, sometimes until 2am in the morning so most of my studying took place during those very early mornings in the parking lot and on weekends, when I could carve out some time away from my project work.
What made it harder was my commitment to have a distinction in every exam. Ultimately, I managed to graduate with a distinction in every exam. I also received some personal letters from professors and department heads thanking me for my commitment and contributions. But it was a journey of blood and sweat.
The Eastern European financial services project was now gaining lots of momentum and was very important to the firm and senior partners. We went on a “road show” in Russia and South Africa to meet with potential investors and strategic partners, on behalf of the client. These included the former finance minister of Russia, CEOs and senior executives of major banks and other prominent leaders in Russia, the UK, Australia and South Africa.
Eventually, it was time to meet the client’s CEO. The CEO was one of the wealthiest men in Africa and the UK, an owner of multiple companies in various countries and a close friend of Nelson Mandela. They were so close that Nelson Mandela lived with the CEO at some point in his life.
The CEO invited us, and his entire executive team, to his hotel to discuss the project.
During that day, the CEO spent a lot of time with me. He, and his wife, invited me to come over for dinner while none of my colleagues were invited, and it was clear he wanted to build the professional relationship further.
I think he appreciated that I approached a conversation from the angle of what was important for him, and addressed his key concerns and the apprehensions of his team. I tried to be extremely professional and place the firm and client first.
I was 26 years old and I was at a point in my life where I wanted to be professionally.
Being a Woman in Business
The first time I delivered an important client presentation, I did very well. This was for a multinational financial services company trying to enter Eastern Europe.
When we walked in for this board presentation, the board of directors were unfriendly towards us. The board did not really think we were doing a great job and were openly skeptical of the advice we were providing the CEO and his management team.
One director, just before the presentation started, asked us, “How do you know the female market will want to spend money to buy our product, which would be considered a luxury good in Russia?”
The room went very quiet. Given the nature of the question and tone, no one knew how to respond. We were a little taken aback by the immediate and blunt questioning. Given the silence, I took a risk. I looked at the board member who asked the question and said, “Have you seen my bag?” and I lifted my Burberry bag up. Everyone started laughing. That broke the ice and that was it. The atmosphere in the room completely changed.
The lesson here is not to become offended, hostile or try to educate the client. Not everything is personal and you need to lighten the mood. Rational answers do not always work. So I left my ego at the door and just tried to build a bridge to the client.
This was another moment when I realized that sincerity and honesty was my genuine approach to building strong relationships with CEOs and senior executives. I found it easy to do because I had nothing to hide. By making my flaws a central part of my personality, I never worried about my image.
Also, people respect you when you respect yourself. That was another important lesson I learned very early.
I was proud of my achievements because generally a business analyst, that was my title at the time, was not allowed to present to the board of directors of a major client.
I went on to deliver the first part of the presentation, which was the largest and most important part. I spoke about the opportunity, the industry outlook, incumbents and the female market segment we recommended the client to initially target.
Thereafter, the project leader took over to talk about the financial implications and the partner finalized the presentation.
The two partners who attended the meeting were thrilled. It was a very successful presentation. On the way back, in the car, one partner said that I am a great asset to the firm. The other partner said, quietly but I could still hear it, “Yes, with a great ass.”
The project leader was sitting with me in the back seat. The next day he asked if he could speak with me. He took me to a conference room and closed the door. He looked at me for a while and then said, “You need to take action. What the partner said about you was unacceptable. If someone said this about my wife, I would be very angry.”
I smiled and said to him that I appreciate that he is looking out for me but I like that partner and I will not take action because it will be bad for his career. Everyone makes mistakes. I am sure he did not mean to offend me.
I went on to work with that partner for the duration of my career at the firm. He brought me along as the only presenter to key meetings with high-level executives and supported me throughout my career with the firm. He was always professional. When I resigned, he wrote me a recommendation letter that many people told me was the best recommendation letter they had ever seen.
I had not gotten upset. I knew it was not personal. And my ability to not take to heart the occasional sexist comments that others may find offensive helped me focus on what mattered, results on projects. At the end of they day, the most important thing is that you deliver. If clients and leadership love you, you will rise in consulting.
I had made lots of mistakes too and was thankful others had not overreacted to them. It is important to think about the big picture and not throw a tantrum for every perceived slight.
There are also times when being a female gives us an advantage. I could get away with being incredibly honest since it appears to be easier to accept such feedback from a female. This is how I built my leadership style of being polite, friendly, hard working and never misleading. If I gladly accepted the advantages, I should not cry bloody murder about minor disadvantages.
Yes, some people discriminated against me, but other people preferred to work with me versus male colleagues. Later, when I became a banker, there were numerous times when clients would ignore the more senior banker on the team during meetings and would openly favor me. I think they liked that I was honest. I would never ever imply something that was not true.
Even when it could get me into trouble, I would not lie.
I think in life you have to play the cards you are given. Being a minority has its advantages and we should use it.
The Ivey MBA Experience
While I loved South Africa, I also realized that to move ahead I needed an MBA. I also wanted to work in a major Western economy and study at a major school.
I went to Canada and tried out some start-up ideas while still trying to wrap up my undergraduate degree. One business did quite well and after several pivots ended up thriving.
As soon as I finished my last five undergraduate exams in November 2010, I was eligible to apply for an MBA. I could not apply until I had the degree because it is a requirement to have an undergraduate degree.
I tried to write the online trial-version of the GMAT on the day of my last exam and scored around 350-360. The score was not a total surprise since I did not have a very strong math background and my English was weaker than average.
After 6 weeks of solid practice over December and January I nearly doubled my GMAT score. Colleagues tell me that, according to GMAT, I had the biggest improvement ever recorded over a 6-7 week period.
I do not know if this is true but since I was starting off a base of 350 it’s not something about which I feel especially proud.
I also started my applications to business schools while studying for GMAT and I was working full time at another consulting firm. So I had a huge workload with too little time.
Having been in consulting, I wanted to study at a school with a case-based model. The case method made a lot of sense to me because it forces you to get involved and to pay extreme attention so you can contribute and do well. It also forces you to make fast decisions with limited information and defend your decisions.
I also wanted it to be a one-year program. I had started too late in life to unnecessarily lose 2 years. I was now 29 years old.
Only Harvard, Darden, Richard Ivey and IESE Navarra offered 100% case-based courses. Yet, only Ivey offered a one-year program and I was not keen to live in Europe given the economic situation. Learning English was hard enough so learning Spanish did not seem appealing to me. I was still learning English. So I applied to Ivey.
I applied to several other business schools just to be sure of getting in since I was applying during the final rounds for most schools. Most schools offered me extremely generous scholarships but Ivey offered only a small scholarship for academic excellence since I applied so late that major scholarships had already been awarded. I still selected Ivey and joined the program in April 2011.
I selected the Ivey Business School because I wanted to work and live in Canada. The school had a reputation for producing most CEOs, bankers and consultants in Canada and it seemed natural to join such a leadership factory.
The case method turned out to be the right fit for me, as I predicted. I really enjoyed it. The most valuable outcome of going through a case-based MBA was honing of my decision-making skills.
As we got to the end of a case, professors would often ask students to vote on what they would do. We had to make quick and important decisions with limited information. I often held a minority view, sometimes I was just one of 2-3 people out of the class of about 60 people with this view. And yet I cannot remember one time I was wrong. This made me feel more confident about my business judgment.
My main worry going in was that my emerging markets background would not give me insights about Western business issues. Yet, that did not seem to be an obstacle for me.
At the beginning of the MBA my finance professor said, “We understand that it is humanly impossible to read everything we assign.” I decided that maybe it is humanly impossible for the average person, but I am not willing to settle for being average. I committed to reading and studying everything they assigned.
I was determined to make the most of that year and to learn as much as possible.
My English was still not as strong as that of an average MBA so this commitment was difficult. But I managed to stick to it. I read every case, book and article assigned to me. I never cut corners.
I, naturally, barely had a social life and probably attended three social events the entire year. I rarely networked and focused on grades and major leadership roles.
I was spending basically all my money on this degree and I did not want to waste it. There was a point during my MBA when all I had left in my bank account was $76. So I had to make sure I would get everything I could out of that MBA.
While at Ivey I was president of the public sector club and editor-in-chief of the public sector journal. The idea behind that club was to help MBAs understand the thinking and strategy behind how governments, and government owned organizations, could become more successful.
I was inspired by my interactions with the South African government, one of the friendliest and effective governments with whom I ever interacted. Many people are surprised when I say this but when you consider the daunting challenges they face and their incredibly limited resources, what they achieve is remarkable.
I also saw the power and tremendous positive influence some government run companies had and this made me interested in public sector best practices and how governments could improve.
I was very much interested in the leadership side: What does it take for a CEO to run a major company with limited capital and unlimited demands from citizens?
The biggest lesson I learned from my involvement in leading the public sector club is that leadership has to be done in a sustainable way. Because when I left, everything in the club died.
This is because MBA students do not want to join and nurture clubs that are focused on research and thought-leadership like a journal. They want jobs and will join clubs that will help them get jobs. I also found it hard to get support from the club committees. In many cases I just went ahead and did things due to the slow bureaucracy.
Sometimes in life you just have to do what you believe is right even if it makes others unhappy.
That is a lesson I learned from my grandfather.
Despite my still relatively poor English and having to translate hundreds of cases, I graduated with distinction in every subject and on the dean’s list. I was happy to have done so much in just one year. It made everything seem worthwhile. I remain a very proud Ivey alum and highly recommend the school.
It was hard to figure out where to go after my MBA. I was drawn back towards consulting because I loved my previous work.
Once again, a chance encounter changed things for me. I was leaving a class and my finance professor inquired where I was going after graduation. I said that I was planning to return to consulting at my original firm. He said that I should go into banking. He said that I have the mind to succeed there.
I respected this finance professor immensely. He was a really strong teacher, the head of the finance department, and an amazing person who cared about his work and his students. I thought to myself that when I was in consulting I enjoyed working on banking studies the most and maybe an MBA is a bridge to try out banking to see if there is a fit.
I interviewed with several banks. I remember in one interview with one of the largest banks in Canada the interviewer kept asking me if bank x, her bank, was my first choice. She kept coming back to this question because I would only say it was “one of my top choices.” I could not say it was my top choice because it was not true. I ended up not getting that role but that seemed fine to me.
I felt that getting this job was not more important than protecting my integrity. Marvin Bower taught us that there is no reason to have values if you are not willing to make sacrifices to uphold them.
I selected a rival bank and a role within corporate finance because of the Vice-President who interviewed me. I was drawn to work with him because he appeared to be, and he truly is, an authentic leader who meant well and who saw great potential in me.
I was offered the job during the very first interview, which was unusual and I accepted it, withdrawing from all my other interviews before even seeing the counter offers.
I never worried about completing the other interviews to compare salary offers. I was always judging the people and the opportunity. This is something I always do.
Banking turned out to be very process-driven and working with the senior banker who hired me, as well as with his outstanding deputy, was the only highlight of my time in banking. I learned much about financial analyses etc, but I missed being creative in solving clients’ problems. I had good relationships with my colleagues and clients but I did not enjoy the work.
Despite this, I did well in banking. I was promoted just 6 months after joining. However, when the senior banker who hired me left the bank to join a competitor, I knew it was time to return to management consulting, which I did just few months after he left.
Leaving banking was not as difficult as my first entry into consulting as a junior research analyst in the back office. At that time I had no degree and nothing much to offer besides my work ethic.
I now had 2 degrees and had consistently graduated with distinction. I had been promoted far ahead of peers in both consulting and banking, and had served as the editor of a journal.
I had a strong record with little to prove.
Shortly before I left banking, my earlier work for the Public Sector Review was starting to get more traction, especially my ideas on leadership issues. This was surprising since I never promoted the work or discussed it much after I left.
I generally tried to stay away from publishing things. However, it seemed that several professors remembered my work. I was invited to publish a paper that became the cover feature piece of the Ivey Business Journal. That led to more opportunities in strategy.
Yet, after banking I joined the consulting practice within an accounting firm. I assumed it would be interesting like my previous work in strategy. Similar to my previous experience, I was referred by a partner. I went through 4 interviews and joined that firm at the management level.
This was a bit uncomfortable since all my colleagues from my MBA class who were at the firm were a level or two below me. No one was at my level. I was never sure how to handle this during interactions with my classmates, so I was very polite but kept conversations short and focused on getting the work done.
I felt I needed to work harder to prove I deserved the larger title.
The firm was understaffed and I was assigned to a major project on my first day. Because of my banking background, I was assigned to the financial services team. My clients were major banks and other financial institutions.
My new role was far removed from my prior strategy consulting work, so while I genuinely enjoyed the culture and company of my colleagues, I missed working on more hard-hitting executive issues. You know, the issues that kept CEOs up at night.
At one point I was staffed on two projects at the same time since firm did not have sufficient resources.
This turned out to be a particularly stressful period, despite phenomenal leadership and support from project director who was running both projects. Due to years of prolonged stress and long work hours my immune system became particularly weak at this time. I have never actually taken a vacation, beyond just a few days off, in my entire life since I left Russia. Given how far behind I started, and with so many disadvantages, I generally worked through weekends, Christmas and so on to catch up. I still do that since the fear of failure is ingrained in my personality.
At this time, I became very ill. I had to take time away for treatments and it was a very difficult period for me. A part of my body was paralyzed, and I needed to recover fast or it could remain paralyzed forever.
It was the worst Christmas I ever had.
Although I managed to almost completely recover, due to the side effects of the treatment, my hair started falling off. I joked with people that unless the side effects ended soon, I would start wearing wigs and they would see a new hairstyle every week until my hair regrows.
The hair loss now mostly stopped and they are starting to regrow.
I responded to this situation by deciding I wanted to do more important things and actually work on issues that matter. It was a similar wake up call to the one I had at age 16. Both times there was a very big possibility that my life was over and both times I realized I was on the wrong path.
Some people work less after a health scare, but I did the opposite. I went looking for a more impactful role because when I got sick I realized that if my life would end there it would be a waste. I felt I was on the wrong path. I was not on the path that would help me evolve into a person I intended to be or which would allow me do my life’s work.
I admire Firmsconsulting for being a pioneer. Empowering anyone who is willing to become an outstanding strategist and business leader is a powerful way to change the world. Our goal is to help our clients solve mankind’s toughest problems. And that goal is unlikely to change since the problems keep getting bigger and more complicated.
An ability to think and communicate in a strategic, logical and clear way is a skill that sets people towards a path that they would never have otherwise had. Yet these skills are not readily available because former strategy partners don’t tend to dedicate their lives to passing along these skills. They usually dedicate their lives to advising a privileged few.
Most firms talk about making a difference, but when it comes down to everyday action you see them do the opposite. So this idea of making a deep impact resonated with me.
CEO & Owner
I sincerely believe women experience a glass cliff. I think this is a universal problem and a cultural problem. If you have read this far you can see my life was more of a glass abyss.
I say this because every time I was given an opportunity to do something in my career it was for a task that was likely to fail and nobody else wanted to do it. I have never been given a nice opportunity to lead that was pleasant and fun. In my entire life that has never happened to me. I have had to take failing initiatives and turn them around. That was my “opportunity” and it was the only time I was ever considered for promotions.
Many times I am not even promoted but because I end up leading so many initiatives there is no choice but to promote me.
At FC, even as CEO, I focused on the things that needed to be fixed. If a small task could generate a big change, I did it.
Our production teams have professional camera crews. Yet, I searched for improvements. When everyone was eating lunch in the kitchen I would take my salad to the studio and pull away the camera crew to offer suggestions. I had about 45 minutes to make changes that I felt were needed. When everyone came back from lunch and saw the changes they would ask, “Who did this? It is very good.” But usually, first, they would complain.
I found opportunities to do things that improved the overall experience. I was never given the executive producer title. I slowly earned it. It was a slow process of making numerous suggestions on costs, locations, partners with whom we worked, backups (big issue!), cameras, partner content, crew members, lighting and so much more, and getting lots of pushback.
I was so focused on getting the video shoots right that I once fainted 20 minutes before a shoot due to fatigue. When I was revived the team wanted to cancel the shoot. I insisted they either went to the shoot venue or I would go. There was no way we would cancel the shoot. It was very expensive and unprofessional to do so on such late notice. We compromised. They did the shoot and I went to a hospital. These things proved to the team I was committed.
I took on the task of editing all the content. There was a lot of resistance to this at first. I listened to every single episode we put out. Because I actively listened to every episode I could email a partner with suggestions on how to improve the content or ideas.
Keep in mind English is not my first language and you probably notice the mistakes I make. This did not stop me from sharing my views.
The first few emails were about technical suggestions like noise issues, breathing and background sounds. As I gained confidence I started making suggestions on the conceptual ideas in the episode. My intent was always sincerely about making the partners look good. Even when they disagreed I still went ahead and made edits.
As they found my ideas useful they started asking for my help to review their plans for future programs. And I would give thoughtful suggestions even if it meant we had to delay something. And we delayed many things since I would not rush my suggestions just to meet a deadline. This definitely caused some friction internally.
They ended up valuing my input so much that they would only start a program if I reviewed the outline, made changes and approved it.
A pivotal moment for me was when Bill, a contributing partner who ran McKinsey’s global marketing efforts, sent back an email saying we should only do it if Kris agrees. I was not even part of the conversation but he valued my views because I always placed his needs first. And I continue to do so.
So this is the value of listening to the programs we have. They work. They really teach you strategy and I applied all their thinking to the business and their own shows. I learned more listening to them than my entire MBA, and consulting and banking careers combined.
For example, after spending so much time working with Bill, I literally took his ideas and applied it the business. We created a new dimension for books with the Apps and 3D book (below). To my knowledge, that had never been done before in the history of books. The same with the other partners. They thought they were only teaching our clients but they were also offering free, albeit indirect, unfiltered advice to me.
I was always thinking about how to serve clients better.
Simple things like getting out the podcasts were a nightmare. Initially, the podcasts sat behind an online wall and clients had to email us and we would manually give them access. That was so time-consuming and new listeners could not find them. As an “improvement” the podcasts were thereafter placed on iTunes but a convoluted and complicated hand-coded system was used to push them to iTunes. This was before I joined.
When I joined, I had to literally add-in code and load an episode to Amazon to push it out. If I made a mistake and deleted one digit of one line of code everything would break down and I had no way of knowing what was wrong. That worked so badly that for a few months we stopped loading new episodes to iTunes. So that was not working and I set up a new system that does everything in just a few minutes.
As the content grew on the site, it became an ongoing task to update the website and figure out how to arrange everything neatly. The engineers were always making mistakes, coding things incorrectly and damaging the site. They once wiped out our entire Google footprint and traffic dropped to zero. Yet, they were still allowed to work on the site!
If they were asked to make a change they would try to code it out from scratch and they would never check their work. We spent more time checking their work than trying to improve the business.
Moreover, we were reinventing the wheel since we had to figure how to store, distribute, buffer etc., thousands of videos being streamed 24 hours a day in 150 countries around the world. The site could literally not experience any downtime and all the engineering mistakes were causing problems.
We initially had no Apps and the viewing experience was good but far from a proper streaming service. Our first Apps were really bad. We had an amateur look despite having world-class content.
I felt we needed to stop acting like a small training business and invest in a modern, sophisticated system like Hulu, HBO and Netflix. We had to see ourselves in their league but it is costly to operate in that space. It requires a commitment to the long term, a vision and a huge investment. It was hard to convince people to do it but I pushed through.
The change takes years to show through to clients. It means creating systems to build new and better training programs. Hiring crews to work in 4K. Working with the partners to discuss, plan and shoot the programs. Programs take many months to be done. The big programs can take years. The Corporate Strategy & Transformation program, for example, had to be redone at parts given our new strategy.
Once they are done these need to go into post-production and finally they come out on a new App. The App is what clients see but the back end stuff is where we needed to shine. I had to set that all up.
I set up a new system of Apps and a new website to fix all those problems. We now spend much less money on the system, which we can reinvest in the business, it works much better and it is completely stable and professional. Clients love the new system with its modern features.
I listened to clients. I read all the emails that came in, responded and started looking for patterns. I also set up a system to avoid getting bogged down with sending detailed responses via email. I took the criticism as advice and did not worry if a few clients became emotional.
One thing I noticed is that clients worked long hours and needed quick results. While the longer programs were very powerful, they only worked if clients got into them and most did not have the time. I would still encourage clients to use the longer programs. They will transform your career and life. Clients who follow the longer programs perform better in the long term.
So I started thinking about shorter programs. That is how we created the 21 Day format where one powerful concept/skill/tool is taught over 10 episodes with the steps to implement the idea within 21 Days. That took me many months to sell internally but is our most popular program. I kept bringing it up and it kept being shot down. I just kept bringing it up until I wore everyone down with my persistence. I was not insistent, which I think is a bad trait.
I feel the partners are like Michelin-starred French chefs. They want to produce the finest content even if the market only wants hamburgers. I feel my job is to convince them that they should see this as an opportunity to set aside the frog’s legs and elevate a hamburger. A 10-episode series does not need to dumb things down.
An HBO limited series is very high quality. Why can our 10-episode shows not be the same? A 300 episode series (most of our major programs exceed 300 episodes) is not better than a 10 episode series. They are just catering to different audiences but we must never compromise on our quality. Both are very good but different.
98% of all Insiders have used How to Develop Big Insights. The feedback has been incredible.
As we grew the subscription side managing subscriptions was a nightmare. It was all manual at first. A client would subscribe and we would receive an email notice. While the client waited for me to wake up to manually grant them access, they had to wait. I had to grant them access and then email them.
If their billing failed, I had to manually remove their access, then set it back when the charge went through. Automating that system was one of my primary goals and we did it. It changed the business.
I brought lots of discipline to the finances. I really felt we were overpaying our suppliers. In one example we ended up paying $20,000 for some bad editing work that, with the change of suppliers, now costs us $500 to do for much higher quality with a nicer team.
We were overpaying our production crews, design teams and engineers. I was shocked to learn we were booking flights/hotels on short notice and not using special promotions. Production crews were flying in support staff for training. Meals were being ordered for the crew inside hotels, at a huge mark-up and we were hosting expensive dinners for the crew. I could not believe the bills. And to sum up, lots of the work was not good.
I was really upset when a production crew visited a nightclub during a shoot and expensed us. I thought it was disrespectful. I was even more upset when a partner approved the expense.
That same production team helped us redesign our website and when the site went down on the day it was launched, a Friday, they did not help us fix the problem. As told to me since I was not with FC at the time, they were attending an NFL game that Friday and only fixed the problem late Monday. They then asked for a bonus payment for their great work and it was approved. I could not believe it. I felt suppliers were asking advantage of us.
So I radically changed how and where we made investments. As soon as people heard we were in Canada/US and focused on ethics they immediately overcharged us. One supplier said it was ethical to pay the fees he charged since he had a family to support. That is not ethics since fees are based on the original agreement and quality of work, relative to our ability to find similar suppliers in the market. I pushed back to focus on paying a fair fee based on where the supplier is geographically located and not where we are geographically located . I only allowed fixed-priced contracts.
My role was about bringing strict operational, financial and business control along with a strategy to the business.
These things matter to me since I never abuse the company’s finances and work very hard with sincere intent. I keep my commitments and believe in integrity. I am by nature someone who respects money and is frugal.
I never order takeout unless we absolutely have no choice on shoot or an engagement. I never eat out unless there is no other option. I would rather buy food from a store and eat it in my hotel room, and I have done this too many times to count. I even cut the video production meals to the exact number of pizzas and salads people actually eat.
Taxation, billing etc were all automated. One partner likes to joke that if I worked for the US Government Office of Procurement there would be no budget deficit. We have a very good financial system now.
I did not just cut costs, but invested wisely behind a careful strategy. When I talked to Bill Matassoni about publishing his memoir, the initial idea was to produce a memoir like every other memoir. A simple book. I did not feel this was right nor honored his great legacy. It took us two years of work but I eventually had the idea of building a custom App with the videos and this 3D limited edition version of the memoir that I designed (below). I definitely do not feel anyone understood what I was trying to do when I explained the idea of an App and 3D memoir with a house. I think they just went along with it.
My view is that everything we do must be unique and set a new standard. Otherwise we should not do it. The reviews of the App and limited edition book validated my approach. And they were expensive to do.
I felt there were no clients of FIRMSconsulting. Let me explain that.
Each partner who created a program was heavily promoted. People would sign up to work with that partner and only want to work with that partner. I felt the overall firm should be the primary focus and not the partners. I recall Marvin Bower having this strategy at McKinsey and it made sense. So, I worked very hard to change how we communicated and presented ourselves. I pushed the partners into the background. There is still lots of work to be done here. I wanted the firm to be out front. This freed up time for them to produce content versus writing to clients which take up a lot of time and is not a service we offer.
As I have become more involved in the training programs, and co-leading some of them with the partners, I have strived for more quality. I have played a major role in the Corporate Strategy & Transformation program and really like the impact that program has had.
I wanted us to produce more higher quality content and embarked on a big plan to get all the partners to commit to more programs. This was also good for them to share their best thinking and connect with clients. That was a huge success. It was also very costly and incredibly hard to manage so many video shoots around the world. I pushed hard to move us to 4K shoots. I also felt we could do more in terms of articles, podcasts, etc., and have pushed hard to make those things happen. On this front you will see many changes coming in the next few months.
I also pushed very hard to build a proper office that looked professional. I wanted an office that felt modern and resembled a home inside so people felt compelled to work. It was not for clients at all but the team. People tended to flee offices no matter how spacious they are but homes are different. Why can an office not have a fireplace, proper kitchen like a home and cozy workspaces?
I wanted an interior with a strong Nordic influence of simplicity. My goal was purely business-oriented. A better office would raise productivity and allow us to shoot more videos on site and lower our production costs. I was building for the long term and the business case was clear.
There was much resistance and I managed that entire project from start to finish. I literally managed every aspect as the single point of contact between the firm and contractors working on the new office.
I run the business by working with interesting ex-McKinsey, BCG et al partners, business leaders and global experts to help them find creative ways to get their thinking out into the world. I serve as their agent, publisher and/or friend and, primarily, as a network executive, because FC is a media network. I care about them and help them be the best they can be.
Intellectual Capital vs. Venture Capital.
Firmsconsulting is just getting started. I had this idea of exchanging equity in businesses in return for offering detailed advice to start and build a business. At first, many partners thought it was an absurd idea. Yet, it did not seem so far fetched to me. Clients had asked for our help in return for equity. After careful vetting of some ideas, we are now running an auto, mining and luxury brands business.
It made perfect sense to me. We already advise and develop strategies and create operational plans. We are known for this. The difference is we now get a controlling equity stake. And we document all our efforts which feeds our enormous strategy training library. This intellectual capital investment model is our future.
Yet, there is more. Books, podcasts, slides etc are all things we will develop as new platforms. It will be an exciting few years.
As you can see, it was not easy. I only moved forward when a problem occurred, it was important to fix, no one was fixing it and I found a way to fix it.
And I really enjoy the work. I would not change it for the world and I am looking forward to rolling out some big changes for our clients. There is no limit to what we can do. So take heart in knowing that even if you are 25 years old, with no degree and working as a receptionist earning $500, you can go far.
We get in life what we have courage to ask for. And I am here to support you in summoning the courage to ask for the life you want to live, deserve to live and are entitled to live, and then help you get it.
If I could do it, you can do it.
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5 Career Success Strategies When You Start From Nothing
There are 5 career success strategies you need to follow when you are building your career and life from nothing. Follow them consistently and you will likely see your peers trying to catch you by the tail.
In the recent article, we spoke about the confidence myth. We discussed why confidence is not a vital ingredient for success, despite popular belief. In this article, lets dive deeper into what is a recipe for career success, especially if you are starting with very little.
You cannot control the circumstances of where you started but you can make the most with what you have
First, let me share a personal story. When I was a business analyst I remember how uncomfortable I felt whenever consultants talked about where they studied or where they previously worked. I felt my background was embarrassing.
At the time, I was completing an undergraduate degree from an unranked university. I had to complete that degree part-time because my music diploma was not recognized in the West.
And my job prior to joining the consulting firm was a receptionist and an office manager at a tiny defense company because my piano degree was not recognized in the West and this is the best job I could find after 8 months of full time searching. This was naturally something I tried very hard to avoid talking about with my colleagues.
So my reputation with my colleagues was not built on brand names or paper accomplishments.
And initially, I did not have a very strong reputation. But I just got the job done as well as I could. And after a few months, people would say, “Lets put Kris on to this project. We know if we put Kris onto this, the job will get done”. And that is the way I built my reputation.
And that is what I want you to remember. Career success in large part is determined if people give you opportunities and want to work with you. If you want to succeed don’t be held back by where you start. You cannot control the circumstances of where you started your life but you can take control of making the most with what you have been given.
You just have to focus on being the best you can be in every role. Get the job done really well. And soon you will develop a reputation for that important ability and opportunities will open up to move to the next level. And career success breeds career success.
It took me just 12 months to get promoted because of my reputation. And then I got promoted again in another 5 months.
5 career success strategies
There are 5 career success strategies that I would give to people who have a background similar to mine, or worse.
Career success strategy #1 – Just do it
Number one is – just do it. It’s not an advert for Nike. But you just need to do things.
Don’t say, “I am going to do it only when I feel confident and only when I will have the right accomplishments under my belt” because that time may never come.
There are people who are very successful and lack confidence. It’s not as if being successful makes you 100% confident. And you certainly don’t need to be confident to be successful.
And if you wait for confidence you can end up waiting for most of your life or indefinitely.
If you take action now, before you think you are ready, you will learn more, you will develop your reputation for being reliable and more and more opportunities will come to you.
You will not be perfect, but you will be getting better every day. And that is what counts.
Career success strategy #2 – Be a life-long learner
Career success strategy number 2 is to be a life-long learner. If you go in knowing you don’t have the skills but you are still going to do it, you need to be prepared to learn as you go.
A lot of us want to go to some prestigious MBA program like Harvard, pick up the skills, enter the workforce, and assume the training period of our lives will be over. We assume we have completed our studies and we can now just use what we have learned to achieve career success.
Yet, I can tell you right now, when I went into banking very little of what I learned during my MBA was directly or even indirectly applicable.
So you can’t say I am going to finish my studies and I will go through life and apply those skills. You need a process for constantly learning and upgrading your skill set.
Career success strategy #3 – Focus on results
Career success strategy number 3 is focus on results. Many of you, just like I did, are starting from humble beginnings. If you are, don’t fall for the trap of thinking that you are unworthy.
If you look at my background I would not have had the kind of life I ended up having if I had accepted what other people said should have been my likely path.
Do things and get results. Even if it is a very small role somewhere, where you are sitting in a little shop selling handsets for cell phones or something similar.
You can do an amazing job, no matter what this job may be. Once you do an amazing job more opportunities open up. And eventually, you will get a breakthrough opportunity. You just need to be ready to seize it.
Career success strategy #4 – Don’t compare your profile
Career success strategy number 4 is don’t compare your profile.
Worry less about whether you have a great degree or impressive work experience. Because the reality is that there is always going to be someone with a better profile than yours.
If you worry about your school not being ranked high enough and not have experience working at major companies, you just focus on what you do not have. Remember that if you are good you will be successful regardless of the ranking of your school. Let this give you some comfort.
Career success strategy #5 – Be ready for hard work
Career success strategy number 5 is to be ready for hard work. If you build a career on a foundation of getting things done, you have to work harder and it may take longer.
I remember when I went onto my first study in consulting l couldn’t really talk about my background because I did not have a suitable background.
It was terribly embarrassing. This was one reason I did not socialize as much. I had a reputation to protect.
In the short-term, all the consultants with better backgrounds who went to great universities appeared to do better than me. That was quite depressing.
But as I focused on the work and got things done every time, pretty soon people did not worry about my background. I just received promotion after promotion ahead of people with great degrees.
But this takes hard work because you cannot rely on your resume. You need to constantly demonstrate your competency.
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