How a management consultant utilizes his MBA education

I am a management consultant in the global services practice of my company, which provides a full range of consulting and professional services to our clients. This full-service approach complements our technology or product business and helps our base of customers take maximum advantage of their technology investments.

We frequently do management consulting as a stand-alone project (for example, to help our clients set their e-business strategy), and we occasionally partner with pure-play management consulting firms. We might also be part of a multivendor project that my organization is project managing. It depends on what services the client wants to buy in support of its business objectives for the project.

I am responsible for consulting engagements within the public sector—government and education and health clients.  On a typical client engagement, I work at client sites from six weeks to three to six months, as part of a small team.

I serve as the team lead to solve a specific business issue. To do this, we start up front by working in a little room and brainstorming with client contacts to set some hypotheses; then we set some data metrics to validate our hypotheses, and we organize focus groups to gather information. The goal might be process work (integration) or it might be to identify roles, responsibilities, and goals; it might be pulling together an integration or business transformation, or organizational change. A lot of this job is to take a whole lot of information that may be disorganized and feed it back to clients in a way that they can clearly see what is happening at their organization from our view.

From there, we try to meet or exceed the client’s expectations on the basis of the project parameters. We manage our projects in a very organized, time-boxed way, with activities and deliverables, such that we manage what is otherwise a highly charged, intense project in a methodical way.

What I Enjoy Most

I enjoy the challenge and variety. There’s an expectation that we come in with base knowledge but that we can solve a client’s specific problem. Not only do we have a short period of time to deliver a specific quality of work, we have to balance the interest of coming up with creative new approaches with the desire to reuse appropriate structural frameworks we have successfully used in other engagements.

The knowledge sharing and thought leadership within my own organization enable us to see the similarities in clients and industries and to build on what we know in a profitable way for us—and an affordable way for clients. We get smarter all the time. This work is exactly what I was prepared to do by my MBA. I sit down with a team of people I don’t know, isolate the problems in a room, and come up with the most creative and logical and efficient way to solve the problem. That process of taking the seemingly disparate information and turning it into something usable is what I enjoy most.

What I Enjoy Least

The flip side of excitement is stress. Long 60-plus–hour weeks are normal. In a world of deployment, where it’s a billable utilization model, you want to remain busy.  However, in a large organization, you can’t allow someone to watch out for your personal best interests, so staying deployed requires a lot of self-salesmanship.

Travel away from home is a reality. I was fortunate in two years to have some local projects, but I was still gone five months. On that particular project, I had a five-hour flight across three time zones every week; however, it was a project I wanted, with an opportunity to lead the team.

Why I Chose This Career

I had been working in the public sector prior to the MBA for more than six years. I went to business school because I didn’t see a number of opportunities open in the public sector without it; I could see that people around me who were getting ahead had master’s degrees (MPA, MBA, and others). I was working with Ontario’s Ministry of Health; there, I had exposure to consultants we had brought in. I noticed the intensity of people I was negotiating against and saw role models in them. I decided I wanted to investigate becoming one of them.

When graduating with my MBA in 2000, I joined this firm because I saw enormous opportunity to learn a lot and I realized my need for variety. I thrive on the stress and the challenge inherent in a job with variety. At the same time, the firm has been able to capitalize on my knowledge of the government, since I serve the public sector.

Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career

You should be good at representing things conceptually—drawing it, showing it on a whiteboard, brainstorming. I show people how I see their world and interrelationships. I often show this graphically to facilitate a brainstorming to come up with one page of tangible thoughts. The MBA showed me that I was good at these things internally, and I learned where these skills were valued externally—in consulting.

You must be able to be congenial and flexible and get along with people; this can be overlooked and undervalued and hurt client relationships.   If you are a financial wizard but you are unable to sell your thoughts because of weak social skills, you can’t succeed.

Work on communication skills—you are going to be standing in front of people and thinking on your feet every day as a consultant.

Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

This business is all about giving comfort to people who are running organizations.  You must become a trusted adviser.  They need to see you are confident without being cocky; you are a teacher some days, a coach others, and sometimes you are in operational roles. This requires the broadest possible skill set and the ability to be a leader or a player. Teaming means you don’t have to always be the expert.

What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)

I worked for six and a half years as a policy analyst in the provincial government of the Ontario Ministry of Health. I dealt with policy and operational issues associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible residents of the province and paying physicians and other healthcare providers to provide insured services. This experience provided good leverage for the vertical market I service—public sector—in my new consulting career.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)

MBA, University of Southern California 2009
Bachelor of arts, Queens University, major in English language and literature, 2004

In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…

For consulting, you probably need a full two-year general management program offering good, broad exposure to all MBA subjects.

Even so, I would like to have dived more into the quantitative finance courses, because showing the bottom line of value is the key in consulting. Look at key executives; you will notice that most have strong financial bases of knowledge.  One of my professors used to talk about the hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, noting, “Don’t skate to where the puck is now, but to where it is going to be.” I see the value of that advice applied here.

In addition, take chances to work in industries or functions that you know nothing about.  Even when specializing in an MBA, keep many doors open by avoiding a narrow set of electives. I already had some deep vertical industry experience (public sector/healthcare) and now I’ve been looking for horizontal opportunities—to stay utilized (billing) and to build a strong set of skills, as well. I am pursuing projects in customer value management, organizational change, and communications planning.

Build lasting relationships while in your MBA program.  One of my classmates in the MBA program had interned in my firm after the first year of study and recommended me for the job I now have.  So, I am a firm believer that the MBA alumni relationships you build can support you throughout your career.  I was the president of the MBA Association in my second year, and the relationships I built have been very helpful throughout the program and on a continuing basis.