With titles of CEO, VP Corporate Development and VP Marketing, former management consulting panelists at the 2007 Getting to the Top from Consulting career development programs at Stanford Graduate School of Business and UCLA Anderson School of Management not only highlighted advice to consultants looking to transition out of consulting, but also demonstrated the insight and depth that consultants add to a company’s talent bank. In this article, I summarize advice on making the transition, skills that management consultants find important in leadership roles, function-specific advice, and keys to these leaders’ success.
Transitioning from Consulting
In transitioning from consulting to industry, the panelists shared their views on when and how to make the transition.
Optimal Years in Consulting
Both sets of panelists tended to agree that there are two natural transition points when people are more apt to leave consulting: as a manager with 3-5 years of consulting or as an experienced partner. Avanish Sahai from McKinsey shared the importance of getting a year of experience as a manager, not just the first two years as an analyst, to get the benefit of consulting. Andrew Gengos echoed the sweet spot at McKinsey is after you have managed a few projects, in the 3-4 year range.
Alex Dodd who was partner at Bain said that if you wanted to make partner then it was important to see it through and commit to a number of years beyond partner. After consulting, Alex was then able to transition to a CEO role in a mid-sized company. Vikas Thakur, with over ten years at Deloitte Consulting, added, “Stay in consulting as long as you enjoy it.”
Making the Cross-Over
In making the cross-over from consulting to industry, panelists shared how to make the transition and how to decide what to do. Jim Clayton said, “Find someone who believes in you to help you with the cross-over, someone that knows your skills as a consultant. After that job, once you show you can get the job done then you’ll look like anyone else, but you’ll get it done faster.” Raffi Kassarjian from Accenture Strategic Services joined a client after doing a strategy project that resulted in a new management team to pursue the direction. Raffi educated the new leader on the strategy and then made a pitch to become part of the team.
Panelists agreed that it is important to pick a major in a general direction that you would like to pursue. Avanish said, “A consultant is a jack of all trades. Pick a major-- what you do well at.” Alex echoed, “Make sure your first move is in a general direction you would like to go, especially if it is later in your career.”
Jim added that in your career, “You have only two degrees of freedom to pivot around, role and industry. You can be business development and high tech then move to CPG, or stay in high tech and move to product management.” It is important that you choose a general direction that you are interested in and follow it.
Skills Important in Leadership Roles
I found that in addition to being educational on leadership skills required at the top, the insight and perspectives made by the panelists showed the depth and rigor that management consulting backgrounds provided in shaping these executives. CEO Jim Clayton shared his perspective, “You do not appreciate the skill sets from consulting until you hire people not from consulting.”
“In consulting everybody is self motivated,” said Alex. “In industry you can have a meeting and say let’s get back together in two weeks with the answers and nothing is done. The lesson is that not everyone is self-motivated and you need to change behavior.”
One of the important skills Andrew has utilized as he climbs higher in corporate America is self-awareness. “None of us are full and complete. You need to know your weak spots. There are parts in your career where you can fix some weak areas. As you move on, compliment your talents with others to fill in.”
Communications and Influence
Andrew pointed out in M&A that communications, influence and people skills, “Are incredibly important because convincing people in your company to spend $2 billion on an acquisition takes persistence, influence, patience and sometimes stubbornness.” He added about communications, “It is remarkable how poor people are at communications at all levels of a corporation. It is easy to distinguish yourself by demonstrating you can think clearly and talk clearly.”
“Right after an MBA, you use a lot of the statistics you learned in business school. Ten years after an MBA, you use economics. Where is the market headed? Fifteen years after an MBA, it is organizational development. How do you move the organization to change?” Vik shared his career perspective. “It is all about working with people. When you are an external consultant, you know you will leave the company and can call BS. When you are an internal consultant, you need to maintain relationships so you need different skills to move an organization to change. How do you work with an organization and influence people to your side?”
“Sunshine,” Andrew said is another communications trap. “As you get more senior, you get more sunshine from people that share information with you. You need to do a reality check and really listen to people, especially when you are the boss or the boss’ boss. They may be trying to tell us that something is wrong but if you are not listening, you will just see the sunshine. Listen hard and watch body language; ask the right questions. Then have the composure that if they get honest and deliver a controversial answer, that you do not shoot the person or you will continue to get more sunshine.”
Avanish shared the importance of learning sales skills. “In consulting we called it client development. In the rest of the world we call it sales. The first two years of consulting are deep down in problem solving and analytics. The second two years of consulting are managing the team, developing communications skills and presenting. The last two years before partner are client development with new or existing clients. In industry, whether you are in marketing, business development, CEO, raising money, selling product, even selling your experiences, you are selling.”
“As CEO of a company,” Jim Howard offered, “If you cannot sell what you have, you do not have a company.”
Decision-Making and Execution
Jim Clayton learned from a mentor, “Whatever you do, make a decision and then you have earned the right to make another decision, to unwind it if you are wrong. If you have not made a decision, you do not have the right to make another decision.” He shared an example of a superior not making a decision that made the company come to a dead stop for a couple weeks until the decision was made. “Coming from McKinsey, you can do more and make more decisions in three hours than many can do in six months; just pull the trigger.”
“If you are going to make an investment decision, especially one that depends on operating data,” Alex said as he shared a valuable lesson, “Test the operating parameters with those with experience.” As a consultant, if you think you know everything and do not rely on those with industry experience you could make costly mistakes for the business.
Lisa Leight offered her perspectives, “Ditch the imposter syndrome. Roll up your sleeves and execute to generate results. When you take a new role, you need to have a 30, 60, 90 day plan of what you need to accomplish. And remember, professional development is up to you.”
Jim Howard reflected on the importance of patience with execution. “Execution is different between consulting and a job in industry. In consulting, you do sprints. In a job, you are doing a marathon.”
Hiring and Managing a Team
“The role of a CEO involves recruiting the right people,” shared Jim Howard. “If you recruit average people, the results will be below average. You need to recruit the right people even if you need to wait.” When queried about what Jim looks for in hires, he gave the following three non-negotiable traits: “1) Very bright. If you hire average employees, it is easy to breed mediocrity into an organization. 2) Hard working, with a proven history of getting the job done. 3) Nice people. It only takes one disruptive person to start having new HR rules. This causes trouble if you don’t catch it early; fire the disruptive person--quickly. I want someone ethical who will do the right things for the clients and fellow employees.”
Andrew would add, “Hire complementary skills. It would be devastating to have clones in my group. This means that I have someone with a science/biotech background, someone with accounting/mathematics/modeling/statistics, someone with good team/network/project management skills, etc.” Andrew shared that he also looks for someone with a demonstrated record for delivering results, ability to work and listen to the team, influence skills for selling an idea, and good balance of competence versus humility.
“Teamwork is important,” Avanish said. “A good team with a bad idea will fix the idea. A bad team with a good idea may screw it up.” Lisa added that with people management skills, influence is also important because people may not be reporting to you.
Andrew shared a 9-block framework used in the successful development of management in large corporations. “Many people begin careers by individually delivering results. Working on getting from 80 to 100% in delivery is a diminishing returns game, especially when neglecting the other dimension of the framework, the ability to lead and manage people. It would be more effective for someone to put time into this part of their career to advance.”
Andrew also added the perspective of being able to play at multiple elevations. “You need to know when to manage and go deep down to the guts and role up your sleeves and when to elevate and delegate. Knowing when to do each level comes with practice.”
Jim Clayton on CEO: “A CEO is about building a team then providing focus and direction. You have to give them enough room to let people do what they are good at to make your numbers.”
Raffi Kassarjian on P&L and Corporate Development: “Whether you are managing a P&L or doing Corporate Development, negotiating skills are important, both internally and externally.”
Andrew Gengos on Mergers and Acquisitions: “The only way to learn is by doing, as an apprentice. Find an environment with more than one person and taken an entry level position.”
Avanish Sahai on Marketing: “In entrepreneurial marketing, you need to link strategy to marketing execution. The core to marketing is being creative.”
Lisa Leight on Marketing: “At the Red Herring CMO conference I learned that the CMO of today is 1) not just about brand and advertising campaigns but about strategic direction–-be proactive where the company and product should go; and 2) execution. The average tenure of a CMO is 23 months.”
Keys to Success
A majority of the panelists had similar keys to success: set goals on what you would like to accomplish and stay focused as you move in that direction. Panelists shared winning attitudes of “I work harder,” “I do not like losing,” and “Be committed to the fact that you can make a difference,” that continue to lead them to success.
I would like to thank the Getting to the Top from Consulting panelists for their time and insights on leadership skills needed for success:
· Jim Clayton, President and CEO at SymphonyRPM
· Alex Dodd, President and CEO at M Squared Consulting
· Andrew Gengos, VP Strategy & Corporate Development at Amgen
· Jim Howard, President and CEO at CrownPeak
· Raffi Kassarjian, VP Innovation Management at Fair Isaac
· Lisa Leight, Partner at Stanton Associates
· Avanish Sahai, VP Marketing at BDNA
· Vikas Thakur, SVP Business Transformation Group at Countrywide Financial