Unlimited expense accounts, first-class travel, 7-star accommodation, fortune 500 CEOs eating out of the palm of your hand…those are the images associated with the most sought after profession on any B-school campus. No wonder that most other career choices pale in comparison. Combine that with the exalted Day-Zero status…and you have a heady mix. Nay…this is not a rant against management consulting or even against the <insert day 0 firm here> of the world, but a different perspective…from that of a management consultant with a firm, the mention of which causes the listener’s eyes to narrow as they do a mental search to make some kind of connection by way of reference but fail. Given the number of ‘day in the life of’ sessions conducted by the usual suspects and the fact that these guys are also the most articulate you’re likely to ever come across, it’d be an achievement for any B-school grad to not know everything that happens between the moment the sharply dressed MC shrugs on his Savile Row jacket to the power handshake with the client CEO as he and his team marvel at the slick ‘deck’ you just presented.
So, what’s the same profession like when shorn of its splendour? When you’re rooming at hotel Staywell instead of ‘The Oberoi’…ok I made the hotel up but you get the idea, when you have to convince your client that flying budget is just not the way to go and when you gotta stand in line to get into a beatup ol’ black-and-yellow to get home after disembarking from that hard-earned ‘full-service’ flight?
Do-it-yourself : Small clients => smaller budgets => (much) lower billing rates => smaller teams. So, a lot of grunt work that might otherwise have been smoothly delegated to that lower life-form know as analysts, you do yourself. This includes calling your respondent group to setup appointments to preparing that industry pack for the first internal brainstorm session with your principal.
Primary Research travails : small firm => lean staffing => lots of pillar-to-post. When one of the ‘key value propositions’ of the firm is in-depth supplier/buyer behaviour by doing in-person research, means umpteen 1-2 day trips to random-ass cities with meetings lined up (by you). Am only guessing here, but an MC from a top-tier firm could possibly get away with a ‘robust methodology’ applied to a ‘dipstick’ survey
Unassigned? what’s that? : You’ve huffed and puffed to send the report to the clients post the final meeting…with all those extras the client wanted (some that your client couldn’t care less for but your boss wanted)..including that sensitivity analysis on the financial projections that took into account armageddon. You hit send and even before the length of your back comes in contact with the backrest of your chair, a principal strolls in saying “you’re done with engagement xyz, right”…rhetorical question really…and you’re off…to the kick-off meeting for the next project. And then your buddy from <insert day 0 firm here> calls and says how he’s been home for the past week coz he’s unassigned…you start fantasizing about that last scenario you modeled
High-profile PIA (pain-in-the-ass): When a habitual consumer of MC services (read any multinational or Indian company featuring on any forbes list), all hell breaks loose. The story usually is that the company isn’t chuffed about their last encounter with <insert day 0 firm here> and hence is looking to ‘de-risk’. What it actually means is to have your happiness sucked out of you for the duration of the engagement….with review meetings aplenty, you work and rework your deck till the project folder has more versions than windows has bug-fixes
But all said, you’re still looking to answer questions that someone who runs a business has asked…and to see even a portion of your recommendations implemented is the high that makes most of the above worth it… of course, that doesn’t mean I have anything against travelling first class 🙂