Careers in Management Consulting

Hi and thank you for tuning into this podcast by vCoach Academy. vCoach Academy is an initiative of IIT Delhi and Lady Hardinge Medical College alumni. We're trying to create impact and unlock true potential through holistic mentorship. In the session we plan to uncover more about the world of management consulting, including career choices, lifestyle and the essentials of recruitment. Joining us is Yashomati Bachul Koul, a Principal in Kearney in the San Francisco office and Board Member at Lyric, a non-profit organization meant to inspire positive social change through inclusivity, diversity and equality.

So, thank you for joining us in this podcast with vCoach Academy. We're very pleased to have this interaction with you. How are you doing in this pandemic and how is it like in the US right now?

Bachul: Yes, thank you for having me, very excited to be a part of the podcast today. Yes, very, very interesting times here in the US on a number of fronts. From a professional perspective, my main client right now is actually in the healthcare space. So, as you can imagine, we've been very busy trying to help them pivot and address patient needs all over the country. Yeah, so it's been busy, I think, where everybody expected a slowdown, we're actually seeing an increase in our clients needing our support to help them be there for their employees and their customers.

All right, that's quite interesting. And what about your family, are they all alright during this pandemic?

Yes. Fortunately, we're very fortunate. My mother and father actually live here in San Francisco with my wife and I. We get to keep an eye on them and my sister is safely sheltering in her place in Los Angeles. So not too far. And then our extended family in India's all thankfully safe.

That's good to know, and I want to start off by discussing a little bit about your life and career in management consulting and at Kearney specifically. So, you completed your undergraduate degree from Amherst College and followed this with an MBA from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Now, given that, you know, you would have had a lot of diverse options and B school, what motivated you to join management consulting and specifically Kearney?

Bachul: Yeah, that's a great question. I think a lot of people have interesting stories of how they ended up in consulting and hopefully mine is no different. After undergrad I started working in financial services. So, as I'm sure you all remember in 2008 there was quite a shake up in the industry and, you know, I found myself having to reinvent my career in my late 20s early 30s. So, going back to get my MBA felt like the right step to figure out what I wanted to do. I really loved Georgetown's international approach and just the student base and the access and opportunity to take classes in Georgetown's other programs was really appealing to me.

When I got there and I explained my work history and what I had done, which was when I look back on it now, it was really transformation focused and a lot of internal consulting roles, even though I didn't know it at the time. As I described the work that I had done, the Career Services lead at Georgetown said have you ever considered management consulting? And you know I hadn't up to that point. And so that's when I really started to look into it and it really feels like something for someone who's reinventing their career or for someone who has a passion around problem solving, or, you know, improving efficiency or really driving change and who also enjoys variety in what they do. Consulting just felt like the exact right next step for me.

Oh, all right. And now to know your principal at gardening. So, you spent eight years in the firm, and this is obviously a very high leadership position, and how do you see yourself creating impact with your work in the organization now and I'll say within the organization as well?

Bachul: Yeah, so maybe after that ties a little bit to why I chose Kearney even in the first place. You know, I did my summer internship with Kearney. And what I really loved about the firm was that it you know it's a top tier management consulting firm, global in nature, but the size of it still enables us to maintain a very entrepreneurial spirit. So what I realized is even as a brand new associate out of MBA, I could make an impact and I have access to leadership and if I had an idea it was mine to run with it. And so you know what drew me to Kearney was the was quite frankly, and I know this is a bit of a cliché, but it was the people throughout my summer and then throughout the remainder of business school, just the number of people who were really felt personally invested in my success.

It was really powerful to have that support especially coming in as a little bit, you know, I was 32 years old when I started as a new associate and I have had a whole career before helping me make that transition, you know, helping me find my niche and consulting and the Kearney. And that's why you know, I look now and I just hit the eight-year mark and what's kept me here is exactly that the impact that we drive for our clients. A lot of our consulting projects are relationship based. And when I say that, I mean, these are relationships that we've developed and built and maintained over times we work with the same people as they transition throughout their career. So, I think, you know, when you think of impact, there's really two ways to think about it - the impact that we drive for our clients and helping them advance their careers and be successful in what they do. And then I think there's also a lens that we like to take, which is what's the impact that we're driving, not only for the company, but for the communities in which that company operates. And so, you know, we take we bring a lot of interesting perspectives around sustainability off transformations and, you know, we take a customer first lens with our retail clients and just really, it's really satisfying to see the impact of what you do in the marketplace and to see it driving improvements and just better quality experiences, no matter what industry you're in.

Very. I think as you mentioned that, you know, what drove you towards Kearney was the people. I think it's a popular view here as well that Kearney is very people centric. Yeah, you know our CEO, or global CEO, Alex Liu, you know, you'd envision this is a global CEO. This is someone who is busier than probably anyone I've ever met. And yet he still makes time to get to know people. And he's someone that you can email and he'll respond and he’ll really read your email and he'll provide guidance and support. And I think that that kind of flows through our leadership team and through the firm as well. It's something that we all take very seriously mentorship apprenticeship sponsorship and support for our consultants.

Yeah, and I think that really would drive the tone throughout the employees in the sense - if your CEO actually writes back to you on email. I think that's as people centric as one gets.

Bachul: That's right. You know, and one more piece on the impact. So, you know, we are very much focused across client impact, but we also have a global business policy council which is looking at macroeconomic issues globally, whereas strategic partner to the World Economic Forum. And we also have an internal global social impact group. So, I think what we're realizing is, you know, people want to be able to do well but they also want to do good. So, finding ways for consultants to work on projects that they're passionate about professionally and personally to just, you know, drive that triple bottom line that you care about. So, it's, you know, I think that's a lot of a lot of avenues to drive value, I think, which is which is really wonderful.

Yes, that sounds wonderful as well. So, I actually wanted to discuss a little bit about getting into management consulting itself. And so, in your opinion, when you interview candidates for Kearney, what are the key attributes that you look for in them and other any attributes that you think Connie emphasizes on board compared to other management consulting firms.

Bachul: Yeah, that's a great question. Um, so I'd say so. I do a lot of interviewing. And I, you know, here's the case interview and then there's the behavioural interview and what we're looking for. So, I'll start with the behavioural – we at Kearney really emphasize on a few key points. We want to get a sense that who you are really aligned with our values. So, values around generosity and goodness and you know the apprenticeship and sponsorship that I was talking about. So, we want to get a sense of you as a whole, when you bring your whole authentic self to your job that you align with the culture and the values that we try to maintain at Kearney, we also like to see intellectual curiosity. So you know one question I always like to ask people, especially in their CV is, you know, if it's all in one field, I'll ask them, what is something that you've learned, you know, over the course of your career or your education that has nothing to do with your degree, nothing to do with, you know, consulting or economics or engineering or whatever it is, just because I like to see if someone's eyes light up. And as they get passionate talking about something that they care about. And it may be something in the art or it may be something and music or could be something completely outside the realm of consulting. But we look for that that intellectual curiosity is absolutely critical to success and consulting because you're moving from project to project where within a very short period of time, you have to have that curiosity to drive you to learn about a new industry or company or problem or challenge. And so, if you don't have that inherent desire to learn and grow it can be quite challenging. And then on the case interviews, you know, I think I always tell people before they start to just take a deep breath and just remember that at the core of it, we're just asking you to solve a problem. And so what we're trying to see is how did, how do you approach, taking a question right so a problem statement, and how do you approach talking through how you would address that because it helps us understand it's a little bit of like, you know, yes, there's, there's a lot of frameworks out there. And, you know, there's a lot of different approaches. But having us here. You talk through how you would structure that approach is almost as important as the framework that you're structuring. When I was preparing for case interviews and I took one of those books, I actually had the book, Case in point, and there was all these sort of like elemental frameworks and it was really helpful for me to sort of create flashcards and be able to recognize in the question, what type of problem. They were asking me to solve really gave me a lot of help in structuring my approach because I came from more of a non-traditional background.

Right.

Bachul: Um, and so in the interview, I'd say prepare for the case interview. Know your frameworks have a structured approach in the behavioural interview just be your authentic self. You know, we can tell when someone is forcing a good answer to a question that it may not match. And what we're really trying to do is get to know you. So, the more you can bring your individual style and personality, the more memorable. You'll be to someone who's doing interviews all day and then has to do a debrief at the end of the day, right.

Right. Yeah, and you just mentioned diversity and thought, along with structuring it and diverse thinking. And along the same lines we've seen that management consulting firms now want to recruit from outside the typical talent pool as well. So, you have PhDs or medical students or even lawyers getting in, and do you think there's a reason for this trend specifically?

Bachul: Yeah, absolutely. It's a combination of diversity of thought, you know, we're in all of those fields are in all of this educational study, your, your brain is trading the different way to approach, problem solving, right. You know, my wife is a physician, so I see how med school has trained her thinking, you know, my sister has an attorney. So, I've seen how law school is shaped curve thinking and I think it's a combination of - are we coming at our client’s challenges holistically from all the angles to make sure we don't miss something. And then it's also a piece of, you know, the clients are paying for our expertise and so having experts and having expertise in multiple areas is really powerful. And so, I think just having that having that expertise across, you know, multiple backgrounds, not just MBAs. It's just beneficial for our client’s outcomes as well.

Okay. And do you have any advice for such candidates as well when they looking to get in? Or if they want to get into a consulting firm?

Bachul: Yeah, so, you know, the there's what I found is there's a few, sort of, classic ways to get into consulting. Right. There's folks that join right out of undergrad. Right, and there's folks that join right out of business school. And these are sort of where the core recruiting channels are built around. But then there's industry hires. So, you know what I would say is if you're not coming out of undergrad, if you're not coming out of business school or, now, as you mentioned, you know, PhD programs or law school or something, some firms are expanding that recruiting channel. The other avenue is through your expertise. If you've worked in financial services, for example, or if you've worked in healthcare or, you know, any retail any number of industry industries, and if you can shape your story for the experience you've built and the expertise that you can bring to that practice. That's another angle, right. So, you know, we see a lot of hiring into our digital transformation practice people who have, you know, loads of experience of the digital space. And are you know have learned about more leading or bleeding edge technologies and can bring added value to our clients because they're bringing in a knowledge base that we don't currently have, or that we're building on and so I think those are a few different approaches and what I'd say is, you know, and most people do is reach out to people at the firm, get to know the people at the firm. I would say don't email every single person at the firm, you find on LinkedIn, but select a good handful, small handful of people to really get to know and then that's always a good way to get plugged into recruiting channels as well.

Great. And so, I'll just touch back on the on an earlier part of the discussion where you know you told us what has kept what has motivated you when allowed you to work at Kearney for eight years. Now what it is about management consulting that attracts people but people notice that a lot of undergraduates typically have higher attrition rates than MBA graduates and do you think again that there are specific reasons for this of water, you know, differentiates a typical undergraduate joining a management consulting firm from, you know, one of the MBA graduates.

Yeah, absolutely. Um, you know, I always comment to the analysts on my team that I wish I had known more about consulting when I was an undergrad, because it is a fantastic first job from a skillset building perspective. And so, you know you graduate college or undergrad and you enter the working world. That first job really helps frame your skill set and gives you the tools to be successful. And so, I think at the at the analyst level so pre-MBA level.

Bachul: That high turnover is because there might have been an interest in something, you know, maybe in the tech space of product management or maybe in marketing or but you just don't even have the basics of business, right, or the basics of analytics. Or even PowerPoint or Excel or whatever, it ends up being. And so, you know, we see a lot of analysts come in they build the skill set. And then they want to they want to get some real-world external consult outside of consulting experience. So that then they either choose to come back after business school, or they go into industry and. And so, you know, I think one of the things at Kearney, we have a scholar program. So, for our high performing analysts, we support them, we send them back to get their MBA. And we pay for them to go back and get their degree. And so that's just an investment that we make in people whether they come back to us full time or whether they, you know, come back for a period of time and then move on. Every, every consultant that comes through our doors, is a part of our family, whether they stay and they go all the way the partner. That's fantastic. Or if they stay for a period of time and then they leave and become a client. That's also something, you know, we're here to support our alumni. We're here to support our consultants. And so, I think that the turnover rates, you'll also notice, are probably different in different regions, depending on the job market. And the types of jobs, too.

There used to be this big challenge in the human capital space of, oh, you know, how you were seeing the millennial generation move from job to job every couple of years. How do we address this? Ad I think it's a matter of you don't even have to address it. You have to maximize the time that you have someone with you. Um, and so I think a lot of firms are taking more of that lens, rather than, you know it's not a problem. It's an opportunity. So, let's maximize it.

Yeah. And so, what I gather from this is that undergraduates are open and looking to explore or just build a basic business skill set before they actually venture out into industry.

Bachul: And that's right.

And as you said, it's probably important for management consulting firms to maximize the impact that they can have in the time they spend in the firms, rather than trying to maximize the time that they spend itself.

Bachul: That's right, yeah. And also think about this way so you know when you're 22 years old and you're coming out of undergrad, you may have no idea what you want to do. And so, consulting enables you to experience different industries, you know, different service practices do I enjoy. You know, one industry over the other one type of roll over the other. And so, it's almost like you get this fabulous, you know peek into all the jobs out there while you're building the skill set that is transferable across industries so, you know, I think for people who join after undergrad. It's a win-win if you stay or in consulting, or if you don't

And, you know, along the same lines. We wanted to know how could someone really figure out if they're a good fit for consulting just out of undergraduate degrees, especially, I mean, given the vast experiences you have, is there something that you can do to try and understand whether or not you'll actually fit in, well, or could gain something out of it?

Bachul: Yeah, I mean I think the classic traits, you know, if you're trying to evaluate is consulting right for me consulting is something where you know your degrees of freedom increase exponentially as soon as you are a known quantity. So as soon as you get your first project and you perform well, your freedom to do passion projects and other things increases and it's every step of the way. But if you're someone who, if you're someone who needs a lot of structure and you need to know exactly that I'm going to be doing 1, 2, 3, 4 years down the line and I know exactly what I'm going to be doing and what I need to do and it's all very clear. And, you know, I go to work at 9 and leave at. And you know, I know what my job is, then maybe consulting will be challenging for you because there's a lot of ambiguity right in the type of people that I see thrive and consulting are people who like a challenge people who don't need all the pieces of the puzzle to solve it. And if you, you know, if you enjoy variety and I'd say, if you enjoy real variety, not only in what you do but it's who you work with and you're able to sort of build networks and relationships with people, even if you don't work with them every day for a year or two years or three years, then consulting is likely a good fit for you.

Right. That makes sense. And if you do understand whether or not it's a good fit. And then let's say you actually get into the firm. What do you think are the right expectations to have, let's say, in terms of your exit opportunities two or three years down the line? As you had mentioned that you're really developing the skills that a consulting firm to do well in the industry.

Bachul: I think the exit opportunity. I've seen people exit consulting almost at all levels, right. And you know, people want to hire consultants, because as soon as you have consulting on your resume. They know that you have a good work ethic, that you are going to be able to take on any challenge that comes your way, and that you have that core skill set that I was talking about from an analytical perspective, from a communication perspective, from a people engagement and stakeholder engagement perspective. And so, you know, I've seen even during the pandemic, you know, we've had a few folks leave the firm, you know, such a classic exit point as a Manager right -you make manager, you maybe stay for a year, and then you go somewhere else. And I remember thinking, wow, this is a challenging job market. It's an interesting time to choose to leave but you know you're a good manager at a good firm, and you will get, you know, grabbed up by somebody. And so exit opportunities - I've seen everything from joining a start up in probably a role above where you would get, you know, had you not come from consulting, to people who have left, you know, at the Partner/Principal level, and our CFO roles or SVP/VP, you know, really across industry is I think the exit opportunities from comes from consulting are quite expensive. And yeah.

And so, not just in terms of industry, as you mentioned, you can actually exit at any point of time in your career at the consulting firm.

Bachul: That's right. That's right, because you never know when opportunity will present itself. And you know I know someone who had just gotten elected partner at this amazing transfer executive role in an industry that they had worked in, came across his desk. And, you know, you think, Wow, you've worked this whole time to get elected partner, but you're going to leave out, but it was the right move, you know, and so I think that's where Kearney’s approach to, you know, treating people like they're part of the family, whether they're with us or even after they leave us, it has been really beneficial for us.

Right. So yeah, so that makes sense. And so, we've had this entire discussion so far on life and consulting and getting into management consulting, as well as what sort of expectations, people should have been consulting. And to sort of sum it all up - do you have any advice for people who want to prepare for consulting at the moment for management consulting firms and then looking to actually perform well after they get in as well.

Bachul: Yeah, absolutely. I say, you know, get to know what drives you, what are you passionate about. Get to know, you know, get to know who you are and the value that you bring and, just try and be as authentic and genuine as you can be, when communicating and when going through the interview process. And I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Right. And we say, okay, well, if we don't get, you know, if we don't get this job, or if we don't get this promotion, then you know somehow it's an element of failure or something around that, what I'd say is, you know, we are all very too hard on ourselves. So, I think consulting is something where – do your research on the firms. So, you know, pick a firm where you can see yourself thriving, get to know the people, go beyond the name right, go beyond what people are telling you, go beyond everybody else's opinion, and find the firm where you can really see yourself being happy and driving impact. You know, again, our CEO has this whole podcast about joy at work. And honestly, you know, there are going to be ups and downs in your career, but if you can find a firm where, net-net, you feel good about the work you do. And most importantly, you're happy about the people that you get to do that job with. Then for me that was like success.

Right. I think that's, that's great advice, even at a philosophical level almost. I just wanted to take a minute, finally, before we conclude this, to know your thoughts on diversity and inclusion, diversity in the workplace, and as a as a follow up to that - do you think the consulting industry sets an example for other industries in this, in your opinion?

Bachul: Um, honestly, no I don't, I don't think we do. I think we're trying. I think a lot of the firms are really understanding that diversity is, at this point, table stakes, meaning that diversity is absolutely the least that you can do and that you must do this push to really understanding what it means to have an equitable and inclusive workforce. I think is still a challenge for a number of firms which is how do you ensure that you're not only creating opportunities for all of your consultants and improving the access to those opportunities, but that you're - this is something that all companies are dealing with. So not just consulting, but I think we have to look back and understand the systemic biases that have been embedded in some of our systems like performance management, and you know evaluations and things like that. And so the sooner that across all industries and especially in consulting, we can eradicate that bias, I think the better, the more will see that pipeline of talent of equitable inclusive talent reach all the way to the top to the leadership teams to the board of directors, across the board. And so, you know, we're very focused on that right now. And I think part of progress as admitting where are you still have to learn.

Right. And, so thanks for that. I think especially in this region like India, this is not something that is often touched upon, or touched upon with the same sort of enthusiasm as it is out in the West and we felt that it's important to take a couple of minutes to talk about it. And so, yeah, I think in this discussion we've received a lot of very useful insights. I think people listening to this in their undergraduate degree or during their MBAs, or just out there in the world would have learned a lot about what life in management consulting, so thanks to you. So, you know, once again, thank you so much for having this interaction with us.

Bachul: Now, thank you. I'm really excited. I'm definitely going to be telling all my relatives back home in India to keep an eye out for the podcast and thank you for having me.