I’m an associate in Marakon’s London office and since joining in 2014 I have worked on strategy development and organisational design projects in the UK, Ireland, and India. Prior to that I did work experience with a UK political party, a start-up in Jordan, and an investment bank in London while completing my degrees at Oxford.
On leaving university I wasn’t sure the real world would match up in terms of having fun and being surrounded by interesting work and people. However, after a year with Marakon which has taken me from nights out in Miami, to downtown Mumbai with great colleagues, any concerns have completely disappeared!
How did you choose a job in strategy consulting?
I knew I wanted a job in which I would get to work with bright people on interesting topics. I initially thought that the public sector would be ideal for this, but after spending a summer working for a business support start-up in Jordan on a range of business issues across both the public and private sector, I realised that consulting could be a better alternative.
After attending various careers presentations, I narrowed my choice down to strategy consulting in particular. The major aspects that appealed to me were:
- Variety of industries and complexity of issues.
- Calibre of colleagues.
- Constant exposure to senior clients.
The variety and level of challenge in strategy consulting is, I think, unrivalled by other careers. The industry contains a lot of bright people constantly trying to find new insights and communicate them to executives to help their companies perform better. From literally the first day, you are expected to join in and constantly improve the impact that we have on clients.
What does your role entail?
The primary aspects of an associate’s role are generating insights and communicating them to the team and clients. These terms initially sounded a bit vague, but underneath them there’s a wide range of tasks such as:
- Analysing data (e.g. understanding a company’s mix of customers).
- Interviewing clients at various levels to dig in to the key issues.
- Discussing issues with the rest of the team to develop ideas and further the thinking.
- Finding and using data sources (e.g. identifying and interviewing external industry experts).
- Preparing materials and presenting them to clients.
In addition to project work, there’s a variety of firm-building activities that associates take on. Over the past year, for example, I’ve helped organise our training trip to Miami and develop a new way for our Oil and Gas Practice to use internal resources.
What skills are most important?
Developing the skills to be a good consultant is, of course, a constant work-in-progress and that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. Below are the two main things I think are important.
Firstly, very quickly grasping problems and developing ideas to solve them: clients don’t hire us to tick boxes. We are posed problems which the executives of the world’s most successful companies are struggling with, and have to understand the many factors and personalities involved to reach a practical solution.
Secondly, thinking and communicating clearly: this is related to the first, and is the skill I hadn’t fully appreciated before I started. One of the most valuable things which Marakon does for clients is enabling them to understand the issues and choices they face. This means creating simplicity without ignoring important complexities. Developing the right language and presentation methods to effectively communicate with clients is crucial.
There are related skills which feed in to these, of which the two most important ones are being a strong team player and decent numeracy. Everything we do is as part of a team, so you must be willing to chip in and play your role. In periods of long hours, the teamwork ethic is most important. Given the magnitude of the decisions that are made off the back of our work, some degree of quantitative analysis is essential.
The idea of developing these skills appeared daunting at first, but I have found our training fantastic in bringing me up to speed. I largely abandoned Maths after A level, for example, but the investment Marakon makes in training means I now even enjoy the analysis we do!
What kinds of projects have you been involved in so far?
On my first day, I was sent straight into a kick-off meeting with a global hotels brand. We were tasked with redesigning the central organisation to pave the way for a period of rapid expansion. My main responsibility was building the financial model which supported our recommendations. As the project was London-based, it was a great way to ease into the consulting lifestyle and, working with a very experienced team, gave me the space and resources to learn the basics of consulting. The client subsequently underwent a change of ownership and that forced a change of strategy. It was rewarding to learn, therefore, that a year later the only part of the old strategy that has been implemented is the work we did.
Immediately after this, I had very different responsibilities on a project with a research company headquartered in Edinburgh. We were advising on a new executive structure, which meant we had to understand all aspects of the business. I interviewed employees at a range of levels to question what worked well historically, and what improvements could be made to increase the speed and quality of their work.
The highlight of my project work with Marakon was an assignment with one of India’s largest companies, based in Mumbai. I had always wanted to go to India and the project was very engaging. We were supporting their strategy development out to 2025, which meant building a comprehensive view of the industries they are involved in, understanding potential disruptions, and building their investment strategy. The client was highly appreciative of our work, and using our weekends to visit places like Udaipur and the Taj Mahal more than compensated for missing the London summer!