• Bio: Sayeh works mainly with public sector clients, helping them with complex transformations such as setting up for the Olympics, preparing a response to Pandemic Flu and improving the processes, data and technology that monitor and control public spending.
  • Role: Director
  • Organisation: EY (Man Con)

Sayeh Ghanbari

Why did you choose a career in consultancy?

For me, this was a combination of what I am good at and what I wanted from my career. Firstly, I knew I was good at problem solving and that I was able to combine analytical and mathematical skills with an ability to work with and influence people. I could break complex issues into simple parts and then work with people on each of those competent parts to solve the overall problem.

Secondly, there were two key things I wanted from my career: variety, which I basically saw as exposure to different types of issues, environments and people, and rapid career progression, which to me meant meritocracy and an environment where performance and progression went hand in hand.

Management consulting seemed like the obvious choice and whilst I may have changed a bit in the last ten years, those basic principles haven’t, which is why this industry continues to be the right one for me.

The old cliché of no two days being alike in consulting is actually true.

However, whilst it can be difficult to describe a typical day, it’s easy to say what it is not. My days are not packed with meetings around meals: breakfast meeting, followed by a two-hour lunch, followed by dinner at a swanky restaurant. Nor am I in a new country every week going from one board presentation to another.

In reality, my time is spent with our clients, either in relation to an existing project or in discussing a potential opportunity where we could support them, with my teams, leading the delivery of a project or coaching them individually on their career development or with others in the firm, working on our own performance, strategy or direction.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

In addition to the points that made me choose this career in the first place, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed over the years is reading or hearing about the topics I’ve been working on in the news.

Whether it has been preparing for the Olympics in London, getting the health service ready to respond in the event of pandemic flu (such as the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009) or improving the technology and processes used to collate, analyse and report on the UK’s public spending figures and forecasts during times of economic strain, I haven’t been short of varied and interesting problems to solve.

Having these issues in the news and in the public eye just makes them more challenging and exciting; I’ve been very fortunate to have had a role to play in these events.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

I generally avoid having really specific lists of achievements to tick off because I find them very constraining. I want to continue to do interesting work, continue learning, developing and progressing and continue to work with great people. This gives me enough of a framework to guide my career and set some short-term goals that excite me along the way.

One of those goals at the moment is supporting a number of people in my teams with their next promotion steps. I am very lucky in that I’ve had a number of people be very generous with their support and experience in guiding me through my career to date and I’d like to be able to pay that forward.

What are the current challenges the industry faces?

In my view, there are three key challenges that the industry faces right now. Firstly, as our clients are becoming increasingly more global organisations that nevertheless want local input and insight, it is our job to be one step ahead which is tricky to do, particularly as many consultancies are not necessarily globally integrated or don’t have enough local presence themselves. Secondly, the buying patterns of our clients is changing as they are seeking more value from their advisers.

To be successful, consultants need to show increased skin in the game with their clients’ business and demonstrate tangible benefits from their involvement. If not, they risk becoming just temporary support, filling a gap in capacity rather than delivering any real change.

Finally, the challenge to attract and retain the best people is becoming harder. Not only do people no longer see their careers with one or two organisations, people switch careers more often and have greater opportunities to do jobs that did not even exist ten years ago (who ever thought setting up a website to connect students at Harvard could turn you into the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company?).

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

Irrespective of whether you are joining the industry as a graduate or as an experienced hire, as a consultant, you have to be comfortable with ambiguity and be flexible with your approach as things change all the time. Whilst this may sound straight-forward, it can be tricky if you are new to this sort of environment. This can sometimes make the transition from industry to consulting tricky or just take a bit of time.

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