Having decided academia was not for him, Tom Gladstone explored opportunities in the commercial sector and found management consultancy as an industry which provided opportunities to work on varied and challenging projects.
As I was coming to the end of my PhD in Materials Science at Oxford, I realised I didn’t want to go into academia. What I did know at the time is that I wanted to do something commercial, something with variation and intellectually challenging. With this in mind, I visited careers fairs and company presentations across industries and realised that consulting fitted the bill. As someone who, at the time, hadn’t yet settled on one long-term career, I felt that consulting would give me flexibility and increase my long-term career options.
A question I am often asked is ‘Why did you choose OC&C?’ My reasons for choosing OC&C were that I really liked the people I met and the culture of the company was great. In addition, it appeared to offer both great work opportunities and experiences (such as ambassadorships and secondments).
I would advise anyone making the choice of what firm to go for, to choose on the same criteria. Even though the type and the quality of work might be similar, each firm has a slightly different feel about it, which will appeal to different people. Go for what is right for you. It is important that you feel you will enjoy it there.
During my first couple of years at OC&C I gained a very broad experience working in different sectors, with different clients and on different project types. My projects ranged from improving a pub’s performance, acquisitions for an engineering company, optimising a store portfolio, improving the promotions offered on a confectionary business in Canada to a go-to market strategy for a fertiliser company.
There was some travel involved, but not as much or as arduous as I expected.
Every project offered me the opportunity to work with different people and develop different skills. The variety and short duration of the projects meant that I went through a very steep learning curve, which resulted in quick progression in the firm. Looking back at it now, the recruitment pitch you’ll hear – that consulting gives you a great grounding in business fundamentals – really is true.
In order to succeed early on in consulting it’s useful if you have an analytical brain. It’s not really about deep mathematical knowledge, it’s more about applying a thoughtful and logical problem solving approach. Another thing I have learned is how important communication skills are. You will work with many different colleagues and clients.
It’s important you are able to get on with a wide variety of people. And then there is ‘learning’ itself. As a consultant you learn something new every day. You need to have the willingness to learn.
It is also useful to be adaptable, you must get excited rather than daunted by facing an unfamiliar situation or problem.
My career path
I was promoted from Associate Consultant to Consultant after two years, at which point your role expands and you start managing junior staff. A year into my Consultant role, I was offered the opportunity to go on a six-month ambassadorship to our US office. Spending time in another country provided me the opportunity to experience a different culture.
Being able to not just work on a short-term project, but spend a longer period of time with the US office, gave me a great chance to see a different way of working. Within a year of returning to the UK office I was promoted to Manager. Consulting offers you a structured career path and the opportunity to be rewarded for your success by the fast track career progression.
Most generalist consultancies have you specialise at some point in your career. The specialisation allows you to build up an area of expertise in a specific area or sector and changes the relationship you have with a client. When I was promoted to Manager in 2006 I chose to go into the retail sector, an area that had always interested me and one that I could see plenty of opportunities in.
A couple of years later, I had the opportunity to reinforce this by spending nine months on secondment at a clothing retailer. Secondments are one of those great experiences that consulting can offer and it offers you a chance to get your hands dirty. A secondment is useful to get additional experience and build expertise.
After spending so many years in consulting, it allows you to see a business sector from a different perspective.
Why I still enjoy consulting
After eight and a half years I am still in consulting and still at OC&C. Why? At the end of the day it’s still giving me what I want from my career:
- Developing rapidly and learning every day.
- Intellectual challenge and variation.
- Working with a great bunch of very talented people.
- It’s still fun.