Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Consulting - the good memories I take with me

As most of you predicted, my nostalgia has disappeared very fast and I'm enjoying my spare time . I sleep till 10 or 11 every day, then hang out at the public outdoor pool for hours swimming and sun bathing, visit my family for dinner and watch football matches in the evening, not a bad start of my two year holiday from work :-).

But as I promised, before I leave for holidays I want to share some of the good memories I take with me from consulting. As most consultants will tell you, the best memories are usually from the people and from the trainings, for some reason the combination of the two is the best - the people you meet at trainings. I don't know why this is, but people are different in a project setting, while during trainings you realize how nice and fun most people are.

In my case, the first training was a 3 week "Mini-MBA" near New York in September 2004. This is a great training for all "advanced professional degree candidates", i.e. all non-MBA hires. So it is a training that unfortunately none of the MBA graduates receive. It requires about 70h self study in advance via books, phone conferences and one excellent online course provided by Tuck called "Business Bridge Online". It was so good that I tried to convince my learning department to let me take that online course again now to prepare for the real MBA but unfortunately they said I cannot take the course twice :-(. Interestingly enough, on September 11th 2004 I flew off to New York to meet my future colleagues.

The Mini-MBA is very much organized like an MBA, you get assigned to a study group and have core courses in Finance, Accounting, Marketing, Strategy and Operations taught by business school professors. Two of the professors were excellent and entertaining - Finance professor Artur Raviv from Kellogg and Phil Parker teaching Marketing and Strategy from INSEAD. The other professors (all from Kellogg) were a bit disappointing to be honest, but it was also a tough setting - we had class every day from 8 am to 8 pm with only a 1h lunch break in between and were supposed to learn the whole core course curriculum of a normal MBA in 3 weeks. So I just got tired of listening to all those professors, especially when it came to subjects I don't usually like (especially Operations!). You can imagine how intense it was! One negative side effect of this intensity is that by now I've forgotten everything they taught us there :-).

My first study group was excellent - one Jamaican lawyer, one Iranian lawyer and an Austrian neuroscientist. We had a lot of fun, never finished our cases in time for the presentations and composed a lovely song together based on "the sound of silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, it was a very creative and supportive study group. The other colleagues were equally cool - we had a former human rights lawyer who had mainly worked in sueing oil companies for environmental crimes in developing countries, a guy who had sold satellites to Eastern European defense companies, one Russian and one Polish Physics PhD from Caltech, several female Chinese computer scientists, a Mexican philosophy PhD... overall a group of 30 crazy people from all over the world.

One especially fond memory I have is from the first weekend which we got to spend in New York. I went to Central Park and Fifth Avenue and also to visit Columbia University and Chinatown, unfortunately there wasn't much time to see everything but maybe that will change once I go on exchange to the US. On the picture a bit further up you see two of my best friends at the training, one Jamaican, one from Hong Kong - both have left the firm by now, as it often happens. I think the annual turnover of staff is about 20% so no wonder a couple of years down the road many of the people I started with have left already.

When I came back for our local introductory training, I was in for a shock. It was cold and grey back home and suddenly I was in a group of 30 ambitious German new hires in black suits, most of them engineers and business majors, 80% male. It took me a while to adapt to this new environment after the lovely training in New York. Luckily, there was a new training awaiting me called "Basic Consulting Readiness". This is a training all new hires do, including MBAs. This training is usually local or at the most regional (within Europe).

In our case it was held in a beautiful location in the Austrian Alps (view from my balcony on the left). It lasts 5 days and you learn the basics about dealing with clients, how to do relationship building and interviewing and some other more technical skills for problem solving. To sum it up, it is hours and hours of role plays, group observation and feedback from 8 am to 8 pm and lots of partying till the early hours of the morning every day. It's a lot of fun and it helped me look beyond those black suits of my new German colleagues and start liking many of them.

Once back from the introductory training, we were assigned to our first projects. This is were my bad awakening started, though the whole staffing to projects deserves a post on its own. To sum it up, what happened was that I had begged them to assign me to any project except for one in the healthcare sector (I was ready to do oil & gas, defense, finance, whatever, the only thing I did not want to do was healthcare). Then they call me in the evening to let me know that they have found a project for me - in healthcare! I couldn't believe my ears. Unfortunately back then I didn't know yet how things worked and thought that's what I had to do now. So there I was assigned to help a bankrupt hospital chain back on its feet. Two days into the project, it turned out they had overstaffed it (there were 20 consultants running around) and I was taken off the project again. I was overjoyed of course by this divine intervention - the only problem was: by now all the other open projects had been assigned and there were no open spots left for me, so I had to join an internal project for the first 3 months. So overall my first months at work were very disappointing.

Luckily, that time passed and after that a very happy albeit stressful time followed. I worked with a lovely team for the next six months, along with one chaotic engineer as our project leader and another crazy but very good guy who had studied philosophy at Harvard (he has since left to set up his own investment fund in Russia). Looking back now it was the best team I ever had, unfortunately back then I was impatient and curious and I was eager to do new things, work with other teams with other clients in other industries, so I decided to leave the team after six months, go on an extended holiday to Uzbekistan and then searched my luck in a 4 months project in retail banking followed by a 3 months project in private equity.

After 1 year in consulting, it was time for another big international training, one that people often consider the best training of their time in consulting. It is a 2 weeks long training in leadership. So you can imagine even more role plays and even more feedback than in the introductory trainings :-). Our training was supposed to be in Miami, but just a few days earlier hurricane Wilma destroyed our hopes and it was suddenly relocated to a much more shabby location about 30 miles North of Chicago. This relocation to a 3* location from the 70s along with bad weather put a very depressive mood on our group. Everybody felt deceived - 1 year of hard work and then this? So it turned out more than half of the people talked constantly about leaving, about how unhappy they were, about how much they disliked their jobs - it was pretty grim.

The training itself was great though. We did a lot of useful role plays involving personal conflicts (open and hidden), disruptive behaviour, personal attacks, difficult announcements etc., it was very useful not only for the job but also for my personal life, I really enjoyed it. On the weekend, we went to downtown Chicago which was great, I never knew how beautiful Chicago was, but I loved it. To be honest, and hoping not to offend anyone here, I liked Chicago more than New York. It seemed much more relaxed and easy going, there were street musicians everywhere and the whole Lake Michigan and the architecture are just fantastic. So since then the University of Chicago is also my top choice for an exchange term in autumn 2007 (as you see I'm planning ahead!). I knew it was great academically but I hadn't expected the city to be so beautiful and cool.

I was also very much impressed by Chicago nightlife. I don't remember all the places we went but I definitely remember I had some incredible Sashimi in a bar called Sushi Samba Rio (the best sashimi I had in my life - I'll be glad to join the LBS Japan trip to try something even better in Japan, but till then I think that sashimi beats everything I ever tried). I think we also went to the Sound Bar and then some more clubs that unfortunately I don't remember the names of, but we had a good time. We had an especially good time on the last night, partying late into the night as we all dreaded the flight back home, back to our respective projects the next morning.

These are two friends I made over the last two years, on our last night in Chicago. The guy on the right is leaving for the IESE MBA and the girl is headed for the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. So I have friends now in Barcelona in New York, as well as Rome, Miami and San Francisco, which is great, and I hope I will finally have the time during the MBA to visit them!

So all in all, in terms of the training I received as well as the people I've met, the two years of my life I invested in consulting were definitely worth it. I'm glad I have two years off now to think about how much time I want to invest after the MBA, and what is the best field to spend my time in! Luckily it turns out we have some interesting profiles in the class of 2008 - former banana farmers, DJs, physiotherapists (!!!), entrepreneurs - so I'm ready to be inspired :-).


StressTensor said...

Nice post. I am sure it feels good to talk about your *former* life, now that you have quit the job.

Enjoy the vacation, Cheers!

Anonymous said...

What advanced degree do you have?

angie said...

thanks, stresstensor!

anonymous, I have a master's degree in international relations and international security.

MGalBlue said...

Nice post. I get the feeling that you were tired of consulting but your posts are making me more excited about consulting. I am hoping I can get a job in some good company. Pray for me!

Moe said...

Another excellent post. I think anyone who needs an honest consulting insider info should read your posts.

Venturello said...

Thanks for the post, very interesting - being experienced in industry, one of my hopes after doing an MBA at IESE is working in consulting for some time.

Would appreciate, if you have the time, a post about the pros and cons of consulting life. I've followed your blog for a while now (thanks! been great reading, enjoyable, and happy all is working out for you) and read a few things about if, but would love a post like this one, now that you are out :)

Enjoy the vacation!

Juan Miguel Venturello

karibu said...

Hey Angel,

Great post... I'll try to write about my job as a consultant as well but I guess time will be an issue

T-Moor said...

Nice blog, obrigado for putting link back to my blog:, will do the same and yeah, I think I will keep posting in English ,as wel as in Russian and Uzbek languages :)

Ciao and good luck in UK

Benny said...

Exceptional post. It sures deserves to be in my 'favorite post' list!

If I may ask, in the future, can you post about the job market in london and germany for us mbas?

sghama said...

That's a wonderful post - love the pictures. Here's to even better times ahead!

angie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm actually applying to insead fon Jan 2007 start and i plan to work a few years in consulting post-MBA.

I've read on bw-forum (from LBSGrad I think) that after 2 years people are either promted or forced out of consulting. Is that true? Have you seen it?

angie said...

anonymous, it happens all the time and depending on the consultancy you work for the cycles are shorter or longer.

But let me explain a bit because it sounds worse than it is. For each position, there are "promotion windows" so to speak. It would mean that if everything goes well, you are promoted to the next level after 12 months, if you're a superstar, it can happen already after 9 months, if there are problems, you will not be promoted after 12 months. However, it means you will be discussed again 3 or 6 months later and have another chance to get promoted.

I know several people who weren't promoted when they should have been (but also I know lots who got early promotions) but most of them then get promoted in the next cycle. If again it doesn't work, some can even get promoted in the next round.

If you want numbers, I would say about max. 20% get promoted late (this can also vary according to the economic situation), and of those I'm confident half make it the next time. At least at the lower levels, it is rare for someone to be forced out within the first two years, though I've seen it happen, especially in 2003/2004 it was still common.

But as a conclusion, what you have to see is that when you join post MBA, you will most likely not have any problems rising for the first 3 years. When I say 20% leave each year, I'm confident right now at least half of those are voluntary, and at the associate/project manager level probably 70 or 80% leave because they want to leave.

So I wouldn't see it as an issue in terms of being forced out, one problem that it creates is that people become too streamlined, because as soon as you get into problems with someone or say you're not going to do something, they can screw you in the next performance review, so you have to be supernice to everyone all the time and that creates a weird culture, I said "no" a few times and saw very surprised faces, some people high up just never have any resistance from below because of this constant performance monitoring.

From what I've heard it differs though, only from personal observation and conversations with friends who work at other consultancies I think McK is the toughest and Bain/Booz I heard are much softer.

Decristo said...

Thank you very much for the reply. I more and more think I'll go for Consulting.

Anonymous said...

Hi Angie, read your consulting life story, very interesting. I am working in management consulting as well (not the strategy house though). After several years, I am actually thinking of moving to industry. As I felt consulting gave me a wide range of "superficial" knowledge (i.e. wide range of companies/industries but not deep enough). I don't know whether this is just my feelig or something shared by other consultants?

I am thinking of doing an MBA, since I have been in London for 8 years now, I want to get one in US. The reason being after 5 years working, I felt a bit lost as to what I want to do and hope a break can open up more opportunities for me. Is this commone among MBA applicants and how would admission consider this? (i.e. would this lower your chance of admission)

Thanks for advice.

Anonymous said...


You do a great job on this blog. You really take the time to explain consulting, and in my opinion are very fair in describing your experiences at the firm. However, the one thing to think about is that you worked in the German office, which throughout the firm is known as the toughest office by far. So maybe your experiences while are truthful, may not be representative of the average firm experience. I am not going to get into specifics as to how this affects me =), but I think I stayed pretty true to our feedback model. For disclosure purposes I am still with the firm.

angie said...

Dear anonymous, thanks for your comment, you are absulutely right, the German office is not known as the nicest one, thats why Ive always enjoyed international trainings very much!