Friday, June 30, 2006

Consulting life is over... and I feel nostalgic already!

So, it's finally over. Two years of counting down the days and suddenly it's over. I thought I would feel very happy, but somehow I became sad and nostalgic yesterday.

It might have something to do with the lovely farewell evening my team prepared for me. First, an archaeology PhD team mate of mine who had worked as a museum guide before gave us a private guide through the Glyptothek, one of the most famous collections of Greek and Roman statues worldwide.

After that, we went to a cool Israeli restaurant. It's quite original, on the toilets they play yiddish language courses. I had a kosher t-bone steak and a lovely mint salad. Then people heaped presents over me. One present was a book published in 2006 "Cool restaurants in London", it looks very promising and I look forward to checking out some of those places.

We stayed there for 4 hours talking, laughing and drinking Israeli wines. It turned out 3 of the 5 I was with had studied in Chicago (two at Northwester, one at Univ of Chicago) so they were telling stories of Chicago, which gave me certain ideas for the exchange term :-).Then the client project leader who was also with us (he's our age) told of his cycling tour from Bolivia down to Chile, pretty impressive.

So obviously I was very touched what a nice evening they had prepared for me and got a bit sentimental. One thing was very sweet. When we said goodbye, I told the partner i was a bit sad to leave now, he said "Forget McKinsey, just enjoy yourself", which I found very sweet.

This morning I was supposed to go to the client's offices one last time to say good bye but a funny thing happened that prevented it. Just before the museum tour was going to start I went to the toilet and it turned out the zipper of my skirt had broken, so I couldn't close it anymore! After ten minutes of useless effort I called the archeologist girl who came down with safety pins. We fixed the zipper enough for me to participate in the rest of the evening, but I didn't want to show up at the clients offices with a skirt held together only by safety pins :-). They couldn't fix it in the hotel (at least not in the given time frame) so I went back to Hamburg in the morning, with the plane full of Italians (Italy plays in Hamburg tonight).

I'm curious about how I will feel the next days. I guess a mixture of nostalgia and relief.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Last night in the team room

So, consulting life is finally drawing to a close! This is my last night in the team room. Hopefully it is the last night in a long time that I'll be sitting in a remote office building far away from home at 10:30 pm. I'll be here till tomorrow but tomorrow we're having a little farewell party, one of my team mates is an archaeologist and is taking us to a collection of classical statues. Afterwards, we're off to an Israeli restaurant for some kosher food. Friday I have one last meeting and will use the time to say goodbye to some clients and then fly home, never to come back!

There were many moments that I thought I would never survive those two years till the MBA. Many moments.But I did and it feels great! Probably soon I will write some more posts on consulting life, now that I can be more open.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Diversity initiatives in employers as a symptom of decline?

I have been wanting to write this post in a long time. I still haven't reached a conclusive answer but there's one issue I'm thinking about a lot. It's about diversity initiatives of big employers, in particular women's initiatives. The truth is, I'm still not sure if they are such a good thing (though on the surface they obviously bring advantages to women working in those companies).

What got me thinking was a comment made by a senior colleague I've worked a lot with over the last years. Before becoming a management consultant, he worked for Hewlett Packard for many years. One day he was commenting how HP used to be a great company but that now it had lost much of its attractiveness. Then he went on to say that it was when more and more women reached the top levels of HP when things really started to go down. I was startled by the remark because he is a very fair and reasonable person who has enjoyed working with me and has respected and supported me very much over the last couple of years. So I concluded that his observation might have been correct, I think he just got the causal relationship wrong. Maybe things were starting to go down at exactly that time, but I believe the decline of males in the company was not the cause but the effect of the decline.

I have found a lot of evidence for this hypothesis. Doesn't it surprise you that investment banks and management consultancies are launching all these women's initiatives these days? Doesn't it surprise you that when things went badly in 2001/2002, these same companies fired women in droves, and now they somehow want to have a lot of women working for them? Obviously, they say they want "the best talent" and therefore can't focus only on 50% of the "talent pool". Though this makes sense, I think it is also a symptom of the declining attractiveness of an employer - for some reason, the top students aren't applying as much anymore, so they need to go fishing for applicants in additional "pools". For example, have you ever heard of any private equity firms launching "women's initiatives"? No? Isn't it interesting? They have not even got half of the female share of i-banks and consultancies, but they don't feel the need. The industry is booming but somehow they can hire more than enough people fishing only from 50% of the talent pool, because many guys who would have wanted to work in i-banks and consultancies in the old days want to workfor PE or VC firms nowadays.

This is one thing I observed at the admits weekend: lots of guys I talked to want to go to "Private Equity or Venture Capital". One fellow admit from India even joked at dinner "if I hear the word Private Equity one more time today, I'm leaving!!". Equally, my husband commented the next day that all the female partners he talked to during the partners' club event proudly declared "my husband wants to work in PE" and "my boyfriend wants to work in PE". So, interestingly, most of the guys now want to work in PE (=more money than IB/MC), while the women are happy and grateful that for some mysterious reason, the i-banks and management consultancies are hosting women's events and handing out scholarships.

So that is what I think about the whole issue. I think women should control their enthusiasm about these developments. We should think harder about what they mean. In the most likely case, they mean that there are more attractive and better paid jobs out there now, and that guys have higher aspirations/ higher self confidence and go for the most attractive jobs. At the same time guys start looking for other jobs to take, women are grateful to get the chance to work in very tough jobs that were previously associated with high prestige but have already peaked.

I know this post may be provocative or disappointing to some, but I think it helps to be realistic about what's going on in the job market. Also, I'm hoping to hear other people's thoughts on this issue, since as I said I haven't made up my mind yet about what to think about these developments.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The class of 2008 is complete - almost!

Just want to say CONGRATULATIONS to all the R4 admits and all the waitlisted candidates who have moved off the waiting list right into the class of 2008 until now! I hope all of you end up coming to London Business School!

So it seems the class of 2008 is almost complete now! I guess some of the admits will still end up going to other schools - which will be good for some of the waitlisted candidates who can still move up over the next weeks.

And then surely we'll see each other in August! There's not much time left now. Monday will be the last day (in my life?) that I'm flying away at 6am in the morning, the last week of sleeping alone in a hotel, and most importantly, the last week of WORK! So it's time to enjoy the weekend now and gain some strength for that last week :-). Hope all the recent admits will party too over the weekend!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Admits in the Biergarten

This Monday we finally managed to set up a get together of admits in Munich. Unfortunately we met just the day Jorge & Dani had left, but I heard they had met another admit the previous week so I hope they enjoyed their time in Germany. We were five people, two girls three guys, three Germans, one French and one Spanish, so not as diverse as Patxi's Bay Area meeting, but given the fact that we're in Munich that's a very good record.

We had a nice time chatting about moving to London and flathunting. At the same time, we were watching in the Spain - Tunisia match shown on a big screen in the Biergarten. Luckily Spain won so that our Spanish and hispanophile admits were happy. As it turned out, at some point one of the admits mentioned a friend of his would join us, and suddenly a colleague of mine is standing in front of me, and not any colleague but a "peer", a guy who started the same month as me and whom I hadn't seen in two years. So I spent lots of the remaining time talking to him, and then it turned out we were staying in the same hotel so we went back together, just in time before the rain started.

Only about 7 working days left here and things are pretty relaxing now. We have a new team mate (an INSEAD MBA) who will replace me, so I'm just doing the handover right now. It's very different from a few months ago, I get out around 8 or 9pm these days, we go for dinner or drinks once in a while and things are good. Still, I'm very happy it 's over soon.

These days several people have contacted me who couldn't decide between INSEAD and LBS. One guy I met at the admits weekend called me to ask my opinion, and to be honest I think there are people for who INSEAD makes more sense, or might be a financially more viable option. Then one day after that another admit emailed me and asked the exact same question. And an Arab colleague of mine wanted to go to LBS but his parents are strongly "suggesting" him to go to INSEAD instead. So somehow I got the impression there is good hope for R4 admits and waiting list candidates, there are still lots of admits pondering other choices.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Should I stay or should I go?

In recent days, I've become a bit unsure about what to do next year when my current contract runs out. Should I stay? Should I transfer to the London office? Should I never sign the contract to return and resign?

The reason I felt a bit depressed in my job in recent months was that I had the feeling many good people were leaving, and that this trend was stronger than ever. In conversation with others in recent days, I've realized that it might be a complete misinterpretation. On average, people stay in consulting for about 2 to 3 years. That's exactly the stage I am in now. So it is just logical that I feel more people than ever are leaving, because now is the time when the people I know best and feel closest to are starting to leave. Probably, the same amount of people (or even more) of my current tenure left when I joined, but I didn't know them so I didn't care about them. Maybe it's just a question of getting used to the high turnover (20%+)?

I guess this is a general problem about making decisions in your life when you're unhappy somewhere: is the problem just your attitude and how you deal with the situation? Or would escaping the situation make things better? To what extent can you influence how happy you are somewhere (in a job, in a certain city, in a relationship etc.)? And when is the time to move on? I guess the logical answer is "try to change it/yourself and when it still doesn't work, move on". But I'm not sure I've done enough actively to make things better. I've done my best to pick projects with nice and likeable people and reasonable workload, but the results have been mixed.

So I could talk about hope. Am I optimistic that the next project things are going to be better and I end up working with nice people in a nice environment? Or will I always be disappointed because I'm too picky and am going to moan about anything? Thinking of the times I was happy in my job (and there were times that I was), I think it is true that I'm a bit picky, but still I know I can be very happy and motivated if I'm with nice people, doing interesting things and getting some sleep. That's all I'm asking for.

One option I'm considering is, instead of leaving my job, transferring to the London office. The advantages would be a more diverse workforce, less travel, and less workload, while still having all the same advantages the job offers. I could better assess if with a bit more sleep and a bit less travel, I'll end up liking what I do again.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Stream of great news!

After a relaxing weekend watching world cup matches and lying in the sun, I'm back at work in Munich for the final 3 weeks of my consulting life. So far, this week has been surprisingly excellent.
  • I have been promoted with a 50% salary increase (which unfortunately I'll only enjoy in July since I'm leaving for the MBA in August)
  • I have been offered a contract to return as a Senior Associate after my MBA (as some of you might know, my inclination to sign it is quite low, but it's still nice to have it in my pockets)
  • I just received a call that I won the scholarship I applied for, relieving me of big financial worries (at least for the first year ;-) ). Thanks again to those who gave me advice for the application essay!
There's still one piece of news I am waiting for, which hopefully will also be good, but apart from that this week proves to be excellent. Now Germany needs to win tomorrow and we're all set!

On the holiday front, based on advice from Benny and others I've decided to go on two trips in July, one to San Sebastian (Spain) to spend a few days on the beach and another one hiking in Switzerland. I dropped the Portugal option because I used to go to the Basque Country many times and somehow I missed going to San Sebastian, it's such a beautiful place, so bye Portugal but hello Basque Country!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

World Cup Update

Those Argentinians sure know how to party! I had a great time in the city centre of Hamburg today. It was flooded with hundred of Argentinians, singing and dancing very cheerfully and peacefully. The day was beautiful and very sunny, it couldn't have been better. I think those guys had a great time. Check out the pictures, Hamburg was certainly white and blue today!

Interestingly, just when I was going home it turned out they were picking up the Argentinian team from the Park Hyatt Hotel, which happens to be the place I had my LBS admissions interview at. This time though, no admission for me, it was all sealed off by police :-). I knew the match would be spectacular, simply because Argentina and Cote d'Ivoire are two great teams with very active fans but I couldn't get any tickets. My sister and her husband were there, but not everybody gets lucky. At least I had a very good time watching the Argentinian fans today.

To be honest, I felt a bit sorry for the Cote d'Ivoriens, they were certainly in the minority today. I was hoping they would win the match today, simply because they were the underdogs, but it couldn't be. Now, the big question is, will they beat the Netherlands next week and still make it to the next round?

The inauguration match Germany - Costa Rica on Friday was also quite something, people were celebrating as if it was the final. It was interesting to see how many German flags were on display. Is Germany finally becoming a "normal country"?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Countdown to the World Cup!

Things are certainly brightening up here! Only 3 more weeks to go till I stop working, summer has finally arrived, and the Football World Cup is starting tomorrow! It's incredible to see it on the ground. I am following the preparations very vividly since my hotel in Munich is one of the hotels selected by FIFA officials for their stays (yes, players would be even better... but it's a nice start!). Yesterday morning for breakfast I was seated between representatives from Uganda, Tahiti, India, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar... you name it! Great atmosphere in the hotel lobby and lounges, different from the usual mix of pale consultants and business travelers!

But things are getting better. As you might have heard, it was impossible to get tickets for the championship (30 million orders for only 3 million tickets!), but lots of events are planned to keep those who are left out happy. My company has invited 60 of us to watch the Germany-Costa Rica match live on a big screen in this nice venue at the Hamburg harbour (champagne and canapes included), and on Saturday Argentina is playing Ivory Coast in my home town Hamburg, how great is that? I don't have tickets but there are tons of public places with huge screens, and I'm sure the African and South American population of Hamburg will ensure a great party.

So this blog might be redirected a little bit, over the next weeks it might be more of a World Cup and summer and holiday blog rather than an MBA blog! Now I need to rush down to the taxi to bring me to the airport, back home finally!