• Bio: After studying Biochemistry at Oxford, Alex realised he wanted to work in a business environment. He has worked in a variety of different business sectors and developed his career at Marakon.
  • Role: Associate Principal

Alex Formstone

It’s fair to say I didn’t have a long-term plan to get into strategy consulting, however after a couple of good discussions at a careers fair I applied, accepted a job at Marakon, and after five years I’m still being challenged and learning every day. Before joining Marakon I spent almost eight years in Oxford, initially doing a masters in Biochemistry and then staying on to do a PhD in Molecular Microbiology. With a keen interest but no direct business experience, I was looking for a fast way to gain experience of how companies make the big decisions. Working at Marakon has helped me do just that.

Why did you choose a career in the industry?

After three years working towards my PhD I came to realise that there were three things I was looking for in a career:

  • Opportunities to work on challenging problems where there is no obvious answer.
  • Work as part of a team.
  • Research solutions and ideas that will have an immediate impact.

While I felt academia could satisfy many of the above, I was becoming more and more interested in how to turn a commercial idea into reality and alternative career paths related to this idea. After talking to peers who were working in strategy consulting I felt that it would be a very fast way to understand how businesses make the decisions that shape what they will do in the future i.e., where they participate (customers, product markets, geographies) and how they compete (offer, pricing, operating configuration)

What is a typical day like for you?

As an associate principal my role now involves five elements:

  1. Client – ensuring we engage the right people and building alignment on the answer.
  2. Content – what we need to develop to engage the client.
  3. Project process – when we will engage the client as an internal team.
  4. Our team – ensuring everyone has a clear role and providing guidance.
  5. Partner – keeping them up to speed and getting their input on the big decisions and implications of the work.

The biggest factor in what my day looks like is who the client is, how close we are to the next big meeting and where they are located. We typically spend three days a week at the client site and Monday and Friday in the London office. I’ve spent about 60% of my time in London, 30% in Europe and 10% in the USA. At the moment my client is based in San Diego so I will typically travel out for the weeks when we have a series of meetings with the executive team.

To use today as an example:
08.00: Team call to align on how we would run today’s meeting with the executive team.
09.00-12.00: Travelled to the client site and discussed the materials we are creating for the next meeting.
12.00-13.00: Grabbed lunch and made notes on what I was presenting.
13:30-16:30: Meeting with the executive team.
16:30-17:30: Debrief on the meeting with the team.
17:30-19:00: Back to the hotel and working on documents for the remaining meetings this week.
19:00-20:30: Hotel gym then dinner.
20:30-22:30 Finalise what I need for tomorrow’s discussion.

Outside of my client work I also head up recruiting for London. For me it’s something I enjoy doing as we are small firm so everyone we hire is a really important addition to the office culture.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

I really enjoy the variety of work that we do and the fact that we are typically working with the CEO and their executive team on the biggest strategic questions facing their business today. I also enjoy the tailored approach to development that Marakon has together with our open culture of feedback. As a meritocracy, progression occurs at your own pace and, with regular reviews, this can be very rapid.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

I think there are a number of things that are important:

  • Talk to people who work in the industry today and particularly those in the companies that you are most interested in applying to.
  • Tailor your cover letter to the company you’re applying to and make sure your CV is well structured and easy to understand.
  • Practice interviewing with friends. There are generally two types of interviews, ones based on the CV and ones based on business cases.
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