Unlock Your Potential for Growth: the Rewarding and Multifaceted World of Management Consulting
Picking the most suitable career path in university can feel like an expansive voyage into the unknown. With so many different paths to choose from, each exciting but also obscure. As a fellow traveller on this journey, I’ve always been intrigued by the mystified path of management consulting - a career known for its ability to accelerate personal development.
Together let’s explore the management consulting industry through the lens of the work, the people, and its unique positioning in the wider corporate environment. Looking beyond its reputation with a seasoned insider - Sam Bourke, an Associate Director from KPMG.
But firstly, we have to address the age old question: What does a management consultant actually do?
Without having worked with or as a consultant, it can be difficult to understand the role. My attempts to describe the profession to my family always seem to be distilled to “so, like meetings and PowerPoints?”. I believe that this difficulty lies in the multifaceted nature of the work. In a crude simplification, the core role of management consultants are strategic problem-solvers. They reside at the intersection of various industries, thus reading the pulse of a whole sector to navigate a wide range of business challenges.
Perhaps using Sam’s experience in KPMG as an example might shed light on this broad description. Sam has narrowed his focus into the asset and wealth management sector, working alongside asset managers, diversified financial institutions, and superannuation funds. Though specialised from a sector perspective, he still operates broadly on strategy/growth opportunities, M&A opportunities, and also operating model design process optimization.
It is much more than solving problems.
Though consultants often navigate through complex, deadline-driven problems, the resultant solutions are not merely about solving problems but crafting innovative strategies that align with a business's forward path. The high-impact work in consulting is difficult and rewarding, demanding a blend of thought leadership, creativity, and analytical prowess. The inherent complexity of these issues highlight the rationale behind why corporations invest in external consultants. This is one of the reasons why Sam enjoys his time at KPMG, as the complex work gives more opportunities to learn from different people within the firm. The consistent involvement in organisational transformations becomes a platform to expand expertise and enrich the professional narrative.
It is also a dynamic consultant-client partnership that requires skill to uphold
Due to the unique consultant-client partnership, embarking on a consulting career path inherently fosters the development of interpersonal skills. Clients regard consultants not just as external advisors, but as vital collaborators in their strategic journey. To facilitate these relationships, Sam stresses the importance of working with the client on client sites. The distinctive dynamics of the consultant-client partnership can be demonstrated in the end-of-engagement celebrations which, as Sam affirms, often involve dinner and drinks alongside the client team. Thus, the intricate dynamics of consultant-client interactions place an emphasis on refining interpersonal skills to adeptly navigate these symbiotic relationships.
Stakeholder management also plays a larger role than outsiders may think. Consultants are frequently working on problems with multiple stakeholders, such as C-suites and senior leadership teams. Thus, presenting opportunities to master the arts of negotiation, relationship-building, and communication. A poignant skill that Sam honed was the ability to distil and translate complex concepts into clear, comprehensible messages and solutions. Not only does each slide require an explicit message and takeaway, each aspect of the whole slide deck is examined holistically to ensure the underlying message is delivered in a manner suitable for the particular client. Such an environment ceaselessly hones a blend of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, moulding consultants into not merely adept problem solvers, but also skilled collaborators and communicators.
As iron sharpens iron, one driven mind sharpens another
In a team of equally ambitious colleagues, there is a natural inclination towards continuous learning and betterment through mutual feedback. The environment promotes empowerment as individuals are encouraged to suggest areas for growth and equally celebrate successes. As Sam points out, celebrating with colleagues both significant victories and smaller milestones is crucial, instilling a shared sense of achievement and positivity. This feedback loop is valuable and commonly seen in consulting, hastening both professional and personal growth.
Working in a fast paced team offers opportunities for friendships and life-long lessons
The pace of work in consulting is undeniably brisk, something that Sam genuinely cherishes. He speaks fondly of its "fast-paced nature" where multitasking becomes second nature. Sam’s most treasured moments arise when he's in the “trenches” alongside his team, forging close bonds. However, burnout is possible during these phases of a project. In order to prevent this, consultants rapidly learn the art of upward management, balancing stakeholder expectations and the needs of their teams. As Sam candidly notes, there's a need to "manage your time effectively and avoid burnout." This experience also serves as lessons in boundary-setting and prioritisation; as Sam shares, the tendency to say 'yes' can sometimes yield negative outcomes, an inclination he admits he's had to manage. While the long hours can indeed be a double-edged sword, they present opportunities for deep immersion and fosters an accelerated learning curve. Most importantly, it teaches an important life lesson of resilience - to stand back up and take action when faced setbacks.
Consulting is one of the best places to start a career with its flexibility and optionality
Consulting offers a distinctive vantage point that few professions can match with its multi-industry perspective, hence, it is a great graduate career option. Such an environment, especially at the outset of one's career, fosters rapid adaptability and broadens one's perspective exponentially. This unpredictability, as Sam aptly remarks, means "you don't know what each day or week is going to hold." Sam expresses that if you’re unsure about which way to go in your career, consulting is a suitable option as the skills learnt such as “technical skills, communication skills, and relationship building skills are all really important and highly transferable” for future careers and can “set you up for success”. It also provides exposure to a range of industries to find what interests you the most.
Both internal and external networks offer boundless opportunities, allowing individuals to craft their unique journey
Consulting is like a choose-your-own journey book, giving you different paths to take while opening many doors of opportunity. Within the firm, Sam points out that it's a regular practice to connect with colleagues who have expertise in a specific domain, have worked with a certain client, or are spearheading new opportunities. There are a lot of learnings through conversations with this extensive support network, that ultimately empowers individuals to choose and strive for the path that suits them best. Moreover, Sam notes that after spending three to four years in the profession, many consultants explore global mobility opportunities that large firms offer, allowing them to broaden their international perspective. Additionally, the consulting landscape presents numerous exit opportunities. From Sam's perspective, it's not unusual for consultants to transition to client firms they've previously worked directly with. Hence, consulting networks provide the ability to drive your development and career path.
Some closing remarks
“Take every opportunity you get in consulting as a learning and development opportunity.”
The advice Sam has for those starting in management consulting is to have a growth mindset. “No matter what project you're on, no matter what client you're working for, you will always find an opportunity to learn or strengthen a new skill to learn a new industry to learn a new capability to build a new relationship” I believe that this mindset could be used in all aspects of life, to find the learning opportunity in everything.
Embrace the uncertainty of the journey; it's in the unknown that we find the magic of possibility and the joy of discovery
Personally, my advice is to not be too hard on yourself and enjoy the journey. With the vast array of opportunities, feeling daunted is natural, but as evidenced by Sam's diverse career journey from General Motors to management consulting and industry roles, there's no singular 'right' trajectory. As Sam wisely recommends, “take everything very positively, and throw yourself in the deep end as much as possible.” Let your natural talents shine and your path will find you.