Starting out in the Consumer Goods industry
There I was, in the lobby of a five-star motel in Curitiba, Brazil, thinking how do I explain to the nice man at reception that I am here to talk to housekeeping about soap…
That was my first job; the company I worked for had launched this great luxury aromatherapy soap for high-end hotels and motels in Brazil. Although a great success at the hotels, at the motels we were having no luck at all. As the new marketing manager, I was there to figure out why and do something about it.
I started my career in the Consumer Goods industry, first in finance and then moving to marketing and sales, spent some time working on transformation programmes and then finally helped set up a global organisation. This involved moving around seven countries and five areas, executing local, regional and global roles. I had a great time and loved it. But the feeling that I was no longer figuring out new things, or really thinking about what to do about problems, started to creep in. It wasn’t fun anymore. I wasn’t really learning and I was bored.
Ten years on and I am now a management consultant. I realised that I liked the ‘figuring out why’ and even more ‘what do we do about it’ part of business. Especially when it’s new, unknown, sounds like a challenge and, well, could be fun.
Gaining an MBA to progress in my career
I did my executive MBA at London Business School. Juggling full-time work and study was a challenge of course, but I managed, as did many before me. I met some great people, learned new skills and expanded my network immensely and made great friends to boot. At university I had read Politics, Economics and Philosophy so I guess I like to have more than one thing on at any one time.
Once I graduated with a MBA I was headhunted for a boutique consultancy firm in London where we did strategy execution advisory work for CEOs and Boards all over the world. I spent almost a year travelling from London to New York to Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt. I loved the client work, the challenge was great and kept me on my toes. I learnt loads as each project was different, each industry unique, each new country a (monetary economic and cultural) mystery in itself. However, I wanted a change.
Joining A.T Kearney and my current projects
In 2011 I joined A.T. Kearney and I love it. My projects so far have been varied, and I now have the opportunity to really apply the ten years of FMCG experience I have. I can also make a clearer and more considered choice about my career and to what sector I want to progress to and in. Consulting is hard work – clients are demanding, and generally speaking your working hours are not always sociable. But it can be totally, utterly and truly amazing. Imagine being part of the turn-around of a company on the brink; advising your client on whether they should buy that company they had any eye on; supporting a major transformation of an entire global supply chain; or setting up the marketing strategy to get the customer in a new market to try a product. All in a year – fantastic!
A CEO I have recently worked with said “in God we may trust, but the rest of you need to bring data”. As a consultant your job can be to bring that data, think about how to filter it, create the hypothesis, analyse it all, really understand what it actually means, and present the conclusions – in a way that it makes sense. But, here’s the catch; not only to you, but to the clients. It is, after all, about them.
I can tell you that some people are better at some projects than others. Myself included. And that is for me the whole point about consulting – it makes you learn and push yourself. It gets you out of any comfort zone and although you might excel at one thing you are sure to learn something else very quickly.
A little bit of advice for you
I’ve been asked to offer a few words of advice. So here goes:
- Learn how to do a case study. You may be smart, articulate and know what you are talking about. But you have to prove it and make sense to the interviewer and then to client and if you don’t make sense; you may be right, but you are not right for this job.
- Study the firm you want to join, what they stand for and who they say they are. Make sure it fits with what you believe and want to do. You will be stuck with these people when you are with the client, at the office and at the airport.
- Understand the sacrifices you are willing to make and those you are not. Compromise when you can, not when you are told you need to. Consulting is hard work. You need to be on the top of your game and know your limits.
- Women may think consulting is too demanding for families. I don’t think it needs to be – I believe that if this is the career you want, you can do it. It will be tough but it can be done, and done well. If you are clear on what is really important to you, make sure you choice of organisation is right for you. This is something that A.T. Kearney is very supportive of and if you are good enough to have made it to the top consulting companies, they will support their investment.
Management consulting is hard work but great fun. It’s not for everyone. For those who want it, it’s a competitive market. Use your network. Ask questions, explore, and get to know what it’s about. Prepare for the nerve racking case interviews and choose wisely who you work for.