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Perspectives on Consulting

To teach you more about the consulting industry, we have invited some of the industry's leaders to share original insider perspectives and personal anecdotes with you.  The excerpts below are taken from longer essays published in Management Consulting: A Complete Guide to the Industry.  Purchase Book >

What do consultants do?
Excerpts from Gary Neilson, Booz-Allen & Hamilton

"Consultants are problem solvers.  Companies do not bring in consultants for mundane problems... We are outsiders.  We are expensive, and we do not provide value if we are doing things that corporate staff members could do themselves, or if we are there to rubber-stamp management preconceptions.  We have to know what we are talking about, we need the conviction to speak our minds, and we must be able to bring our experience to bear on client problems quickly and effectively.  Our frameworks and platforms give us a ready-made set of standards to apply to each new situation and assess it expeditiously.  We have established ways of proceeding and a conception or best practices." 

"This is not the much maligned cookie-cutter approach.  We customize our work.  However, while every situation is unique in its particulars, in broad terms they may have much in common with many other cases.  Yet, the model is dynamic.  Each engagement teaches us more.  We are constantly refining our capabilities, improving our tools, and enhancing our practice."

Can consulting be a career?
Excerpts from Bill Matassoni, McKinsey & Company

"Management consulting can be an ideal starting point for young professionals, but the reality is that most people who join consulting firms leave in a few years and take jobs outside consulting.  Only a few stay long enough to receive more than one promotion, and even fewer are asked to become owners of their firms.  Consulting gives professionals experience - lots of it, fast - and flexibility.  It is an ideal professional development opportunity, but it is hardly a career."

"If management consulting is a professional development opportunity rather than a career, then ask yourself this question: as you think about consulting in general and about individual consulting firms in particular, what kind of development would be good for you, and where are you likely to get it?  To find your answers, consider the three elements that enable firms to help their clients: knowledge, skills, and people... Many consulting firms deliver on one or more of these dimensions of development, and that is what makes consulting so attractive."

What kind of consulting should you do?
Excerpts from Charles P. Hoban, Mercer Management Consulting

"My experience in the strategy consulting business has been extremely rewarding.  I am as excited and challenged by the work today as I was when I started with Corporate Decisions, Inc. in 1990 (we merged with Mercer in 1997).  Along with the many other attractions of consulting - rapid pace, smart people, learning about a variety of industries and issues - the content of the work has kept me motivated."

"As a potential consultant, it is important to recognize the type of work that you like to do, that you are good at, and that will get you out of bed in the morning.  Consulting of all types is demanding - clients expect excellence, energy, and a "pull out all the stops" approach.  For that reason, you need to get a charge out of what you do.  While many factors will determine the firm you want to join, the most important is the type of work they do." 

"Take the time to understand the content of the work at the companies you are considering.  Match that with the way that you think, the way that you learn.  The right match can be incredibly exciting."


What makes consulting exciting?
Excerpt from George Stalk, Jr., Boston Consulting Group

"The excitement of consulting is knowing that the patterns are out there to be observed, discovered, interpreted, and then transplanted.  This excitement keeps many of us in consulting much longer than we anticipated when we first joined the profession.  Now, as a senior officer of BCG, I am extremely gratified to watch the progress of the bright, young people who enter consulting each year.  As they develop tenure, their ability to innovate strengthens.  First, experience brings stronger skills for faster pattern recognition and interpretation.  Second, working with a client and an industry for a considerable period results in enhanced innovation.  Clients do not keep consultants around to help with the same challenges over and over again.  The bar keeps rising, and consultants must continually strive to hurdle it."

"For example, I have been working as a consultant for an automotive OEM since 1982.  I have worked in component manufacturing, vehicle assembly, product development, and parts and services, and am now deeply involved in the distribution and retail end of the business.  As I reflect on my years as a consultant, I realize that my tasks have become progressively more challenging.  This is frustrating and exciting at the same time.  The frustration is that the job is not getting easier. The excitement is that the next request is always a more interesting and demanding challenge that will require innovation."

Does consulting accelerate one's career?
Excerpt from Eileen Serra, McKinsey & Co. Emeritus

"A career in consulting can be challenging and rewarding, and it can also be a great way to quickly prepare for a wide range of alternate careers. The project-based nature of consulting engagements, the broad diversity of experiences, and the high caliber of the people you interact with all work to create a unique learning environment with an incredibly steep learning curve. While at McKinsey, I watched consultants learn the basic skills that I believe are critical for success in any career, and then move on to become leaders in fields outside of consulting.  Some of these fundamental skill areas are: 1) learning how to think; 2) learning how to communicate; 3) learning how to lead."

"I don't know where my career will lead next, but I do know that McKinsey was the best place for me to have started. My skill set increased exponentially as a consultant; the exposure I had to people and problems in my 11 years at McKinsey were equivalent to double or triple that of a more traditional corporate job. The intensity of the consulting work environment also fostered the development of extremely close working relationships. As a result, I have an incredible network of friends and colleagues that have provided support and counsel to me well past my McKinsey days. Lastly, it has opened up many doors of opportunity. Yes, consulting can help you get a "real" job, but the experience is so much more valuable than simply being a career stepping stone."

What is health benefits consulting?
Excerpt from Bruce Kelley, Watson Wyatt Worldwide

"The benefits industry has changed rapidly over the past few decades and, as a result, so has benefits consulting.  New regulations, more complex plans, and increased technological capabilities are just a few of the factors affecting the way employee benefits are administered today.  But, even though the emphasis and the means of performing tasks have changed, employers must still help their employees face the same contingencies - retirement, savings, medical expenses, and death and disability.  And now, more than ever, to help attract and retain employees, companies must provide competitive but affordable benefits.  The benefits consulting industry has evolved to help companies meet these basic objectives and prepare for the future."

"Health benefits consulting has been driven - and is even more driven today - by employers' need to recruit and retain employees and to motivate them to higher levels of performance.  At any point in time, the primary focus of health benefits consulting is influenced by the national economy and the economics of employers and health plans.  When the economy is strong and the labor market is tight, plan sponsors tend to enhance health benefits.  Periods of health benefits enhancement are followed by excessive escalation of the cost of health benefits.  The focus of health benefits consulting then shifts to benefit cost management."

What is digital consulting?
Excerpt from Glenn Cornett, Razorfish

"Digital consulting companies are known by many different terms: digital consultants, web consultants, eBusiness consultants, digital-solutions providers, and so forth. The proliferation of these terms is perhaps itself an indicator of the evolving and turbulent nature of this segment. The services each company provides is a function both of reputation (and the permission it affords) and capability, but tends to involve a mixture of strategy, design and creative services, technology, and project and delivery management."

How do consultants help non-profit clients?
Excerpt from Laura Freebairn-Smith, Good Work Associates

"To effectively help nonprofit organizations, we, as consultants, must have a strong understanding of the nonprofit sector and its typical organizational structures.  We need to convince our nonprofit clients that we have strong functional and industry expertise.  And we also have to prove that we understand the organizational behaviors arising our of the three economic sectors: private, public, and nonprofit.  Since organizations tend to experience similar issues regardless of sector, the solution to a nonprofit's problem may be similar to those for the private or public sectors."

What is IT strategy consulting?
Excerpt from Rudy Puryear, Accenture

"Information Technology has become a critical business enabler that is at the heart of every form of business consulting today... Bottom line, it is no longer enough for companies to use IT simply to support business strategy.  They must embrace IT as the means to create business change throughout their organizations.  Today's successful enterprises use IT to enlighten their strategy process and determine their tactics."

"IT strategy consultants are on the cutting edge.  Now that IT has become so tightly interwoven with business strategy, individuals who truly respect and understand the power and potential of technology have become extremely valuable business strategists.  Today, my colleagues in IT practices around the world work at the boardroom level with the most exciting and aggressive companies, assisting them in their quest to become market leaders in the e-Economy.  We are defining and implementing meaningful and distinctive Internet strategies; we are designing revolutionary technology-enabled delivery models that allow businesses to be conducted independent of time and location; and we are helping clients differentiate through creative deployment of technology."

"Working everyday at the crossroads of information technology and strategy, IT strategists possess the essential knowledge and skills to lead the changes demanded by today's complex marketplace.  We anticipate and monitor technology innovations that shape market trends and redefine entire industries.  We understand the vital role IT has in setting business trends.  And, most importantly, we help our clients anticipate and manage for these trends."

What is change management consulting?
Excerpt from Arun Maira, Arthur D. Little

"Change management consulting is one of the most important, and one of the least understood, services provided by management consultancies.  Almost everything that a consultant does for a client, whether creating a new strategy or reengineering a process, requires the client's organization to make some kind of change. I will illustrate..."

"'Why does change have to take so long?' This question came from a chief executive of a successful company in North America that was faced with new, low-cost competition from international companies.  He had sought help in improving his organization's production and distribution capabilities, and he had heard presentations by eight consulting companies.  The consultants all agreed that trying to introduce new ways of working would inevitably meet with resistance to change. They said the culture of the company would have to be changed - a complex time-consulting process."

"We worked with our client on the business challenge of improving operating performance and changing the culture.  At the same time, we examined the change models of all the leading academics and consultants and delved into the experience of our own firm with clients all over the world.  Together with our client, we developed new thinking, and we customized approaches for their organization.  They achieved what they needed: faster change than they had  imagined, and sustainable change.  They have used their knowledge about creating faster change to improve the performance of several companies they have acquired around the world."


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