My consulting experience has been pretty atypical so far. Most consultants rotate between cases and roles every couple of months. Me? Up until about a few weeks ago, I had been doing corporate strategy work for the same technology client for 18 months (which is a long time – hence the picture of the old man – I know, I’m clever).
And, although many consultants (yours truly included) entered the field to experience as many industries/functional roles as possible within a short period of time, I’ve found that spending this much time on a single client in a single functional role has benefited me greatly by letting me build:
- Depth of expertise – Simply put, there’s no way that a consultant who’s constantly changing functional roles and clients to develop a deep expertise on the same level as a client’s employees. I can’t say I have the same level of expertise as someone who lives and breathes the stuff, but given the technical knowledge and understanding of the broader industry that I’ve picked up over the past 18 months, I’ve become knowledgeable enough to see connections/moves which people with less experience have yet to be able to see.
- Deep relationship with management – Having worked 18 months on a case, I’ve built up a level of rapport and trust with the technology industry partners/managers at my firm. They now routinely include me on emails about tech industry developments, and don’t hesitate to put me on special projects. It is a position which grants me greater input and exposure than most people of my tenure, and it is one I am very grateful for. It is also good from a professional development standpoint, as I now have partners/managers whom I respect who will be in my corner.
- Perspective on corporate strategy – I think very few people (even those in the technology industry) understand how corporate strategy at large companies is done. 18 months of watching a firm chew over the same issues again and again gives one a unique perspective on the pace and process of major strategic discussions, something that a consultant who’s rapidly rotated in and out of cases is unlikely to develop.
Several of my coworkers have asked if I’ve felt like I’ve missed out because of being on only one client. My answer is a no for three reasons. First, I am deeply interested in technology so being on a tech strategy case was like a dream come true. Secondly, as corporate strategy is an ongoing process which looks at a wide range of topics, I have had a wide range of topics ranging from premium branding (where I actually went to a Safeway’s to see how Procter & Gamble price their products relative to others), to emerging computing trends, to mobile convergence, to manufacturing outsourcing strategy, and even to formulating a process for the client to actively monitor and evaluate acquisition opportunities. Lastly, although I came into this job hoping for one thing (wide range of diverse case experiences), I believe that experiencing the exact opposite of what most consultants do see has given me a unique perspective on the corporate world – one that I would not trade away.
So, to all the new consultants (or even to the old ones), don’t knock the long-term client engagement path. You’ll be surprised at how valuable the experience can be.