Strategy Consulting: What are the options?
From the top tier firms such as McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc., down to the specific boutique firms, strategy consulting is one of the most highly regarded and sought of jobs in the world. However, instead of a life-long career, consulting is seen more as a launchpad into some of the top roles available in the strategy and commercial space. So, when consultants get to the point where they want to stop advising and start doing, we are constantly asked ‘What roles are available to consultants?’
It’s a tough question, not because there is a shortage or roles, but more because there isn’t a set path for any consultant to take once they decide to leave the advisory side of things. Instead of breaking it down by role, it is better to look at it from the perspective of the size of company that consultants are looking to move to.
We will start with large companies. Traditionally, large companies have well established group functions in many areas; commercial operations, corporate development, strategy, finance, etc. What this presents, is a great stepping stone for any consultant to make their first move. Depending on the area of interest, these group functions are set up almost seamlessly to facilitate the transition to a role that is a lot less about the theoretical outcome of projects and much more about converting the fancy market models and slideshows into tangible results. A great example in my industry is Novartis. Novartis’ central strategy team in Basel is packed full of strategy consultants, and is even led by a McKinsey alumni. The work done by this team is similar to the work done in consulting, but the addition is that instead of packaging off your recommendations and leaving them to the mercy of your client, candidates in these roles are expected to implement what they have developed with key stakeholders across the business. A great next step for those who are looking to get some true operational experience and ultimately move into a management position.
Moving down the scale, we next look at medium size companies. As a generalisation, these companies are fast-growing, agile but very lean. Their management team is probably made up of a handful of CxO’s and a small collection of business unit leaders. They don’t have the luxury of large-scale teams dealing with each stage of the product lifecycle. But the opportunity this presents to someone coming from consulting is not to be disregarded. As in consulting, roles at this level may be ambiguous, less defined, and constantly changing. But that is an opportunity for candidates to wear multiple hats and to get some hands on experience across a number of functional areas as the company grows. The ultimate positive these roles bring, is that whilst you can be active in setting the strategic development of a company, you are also heavily involved with companywide transformation or growth projects. The leadership opportunities in these positions are somewhat greater from day 1, but the career path can be less defined.
Now for the bottom of the pile, small companies. These can be start-ups, pre-commercial, privately held, you name it. But with these companies, it is hard to set a definition on the roles available to consultants. And the reason for this – these environments don’t necessarily present specific opportunities for strategy consultants to express their skills. Whilst there have been examples where candidates have directly stepped out of consulting and into these companies, it is often reserved for those who are more senior because what they then bring isn’t reserved to great strategic vision and project management skills, but a great network with the channels to attract investment and to put the company on the map. Instead, the sort of skills these companies require are usually more specific; acquiring investment, navigating regulatory approval, or commercialising their first product. The overall view is that more junior consultants don not have the operational experience these companies need in their early stages.
We must stress at this point that we have generalised here, but the purpose of this post is to act as an introduction to what we see as some of the main moves consultants can make when they make their first move to industry. As with anything, these are some exceptions!