MANAGEMENT & STRATEGY
The name Rajat Gupta conjures up the image of a dream career in the minds of most Indians. An IIT student with no work experience who was first turned down at McKinsey after an interview, yet after his HBS Professor told them to reconsider, he went on to create and run a global icon. Many Indian MBAs end up in consulting. Dilip Jain, Dean of Kellogg was another McKinsey consultant, who at one time was Rajat Gupta’s boss.
Management consultants work with a company’s senior management to solve a problem. Often working really long hours and traveling for days a time to plant themselves at a client site, management consultants serve as industry or process experts. The management consulting business was born in the academic world and brought cutting edge management techniques from the academic world out to practioners.
“Consulting” covers a broad range of positions including those specializing in strategy, operations and technical fields. Consultants often focus on a given industry and work with clients within that industry to analyze a problem and then develop and implement a solution. Organizations might hire a consultant for their specific area of expertise, to focus on an ad-hoc project or to gain an external professional’s perspective on the firm’s business or challenges. The world of consulting is very broad and covers many areas of expertise including organization management, leadership development, technology, strategy and operations. Each consulting firm brings a slightly different approach and often brings their own framework to the project. Consulting is becoming increasingly accepted in non-business industries as well. Not-for-profit and governmental organizations work with consultants to solve a variety of problems including development efforts, strategy and organizational management. The “consulting” that most Indians are familiar with is IT Consulting – where thousands of Indian students are hired initially to write or test code, later to run projects, and eventually to design and develop systems.
Positions within a high profile consulting firm (McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Booz Allen, ATKearney and PRTM being just a small handful of these firms) are among the most sought after at business school. Not only are these some of the highest paying post-MBA jobs but they are also launching pads for impressive post-consulting careers. Consulting experience generally provides a consultant with strong strategy, analytical and communications skills – all incredibly valuable for someone who might want to move from consulting into industry. The hiring for these positions is very competitive and follows a rigorous recruiting process. Future employers regard this screening process very highly and having one of these names on one’s resume is an indicator that you’ve passed. Generally, consulting firms are the only ones in the MBA recruiting process who ask candidates for their GPA and/or GMAT scores. The interview process almost certainly includes case study interviews. In those cases, the interviewer will present a business case (problem, challenge or opportunity) to the candidate to see how well they develop a solution. Key to this winning this process isn’t necessarily the end result (though, clearly, that helps). The key is in how you think and approach the problem. Using frameworks, asking the right questions and identifying drivers are critical. Hiring managers are looking for very smart candidates who have demonstrated the ability to solve problems, communicate effectively, learn quickly and present ideas in both formal and informal settings. As consultants spend a great deal of time with clients at the client site, consultants must also be willing to travel frequently – and sometimes for long stretches.
Consulting is not without controversy. The common joke goes: when you ask a consultant the time, he’ll ask you for your watch. The other common refrain is that consultants tell you what you want to tell your board or boss, but don’t have the guts to tell them yourself. While these are themes that are not always untrue, a multi-billion dollar industry with billable rates of $3,000 – $10,000 per day cannot be created on such flimsy grounds. Consulting has morphed as well. In the 90s when consulting was growing, the focus was on generalists. Now the trend has shifted to specialists. CEOs and Boards are more demanding now; they want to know what they cannot buy in a report or read on google scholar. As the bar for knowledge has been pushed higher, consultants are hiring MDs (doctors), PhDs, and long-time industry veterans to bolster the traditional hires who are trained in traditional tools and methodologies.
This industry is usually a means, not an end. 1 in 10 consultants will usually reach the Director level. The others will fall by the wayside, or leave for other, greener or more interesting pastures.