• Bio: Paul Cook knew he was good at maths, it was only while working at a national newspaper he discovered his passion for implementing change. A chance meeting with a partner opened the doors to a career in consultancy.
  • Role: Consulting Director

Paul Cook

Why did you choose a career in the industry?

I started working in the civil service and received fantastic training but knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever; I enjoy change and variety too much. I started working in systems and people change at News International and worked for and alongside consultants. I enjoyed the work and that was what made me decide I should join one of the big consultancies. The rest is history. If you thrive on change and helping influence people to deliver tangible benefits, it’s a great career.

Describe a typical day

My role involves marketing Challenge, selling new business and delivering consultancy. I could be meeting a client for the first time and trying to understand their problems. I might be working with my team to write a proposal and work out how we’d help a client and what it might cost.

I may well be meeting the team on a client site and discussing the progress they’ve made and helping them with the difficult problems. I might be tweeting or writing some thought material about something I’ve seen in the news. I could be working with my colleagues to shape the future of Challenge. Or I might be producing the bills! When you’re part of the leadership team of a small firm, it’s hugely varied and certainly never dull.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety. When you think about the list of things above, it’s just never boring. Even the billing is important! You’re constantly thinking about ways to solve a problem, for clients we could be working with or issues facing people in industry. Social media has opened up a world for us to test out views instantly and see what people think. Deep down, I love solving problems for clients.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’m a firm believer that the niche companies have a role to play and provide an alternative way of working to the big firms. I’d like to make sure small firms remain competitive and are a sustainable alternative. We’re working hard to grow Challenge and that’s where my immediate sights are set. Beyond that, I’d like to repeat the process perhaps in another niche.

Are there any current threats to the industry?

At the moment, I think the big threat comes from clients wanting and perhaps thinking they can do what we do. Everyone has read a change management book, how hard can it be?

Our approach is to work alongside the client, help them do what we do, lend our experience but quite quickly, leave them to manage the change themselves. But I do think they benefit from some help along the way.

Obviously economic conditions are tough but this has always been an opportunity for our industry to change the focus of our propositions and continue to help companies manage their way through crises.

Any advice?

I loved my spell at PwC, they gave me a great training and I worked with some very smart people. I think everyone has to spend some time working in a big firm.

  • I think you have to look for development in everything you do. To some extent you may not be able to control which roles you do, but you can always maximise the lessons learned.
  • Never stop asking questions, be persistent and look to improve everything. Keep asking why.
  • Everything you do has to enhance your CV, you’ve got to keep learning and developing as an individual.
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