A finger in every pie
Management consultants begin young, many straight out of business school. They notch up frequent-flyer points as they jet-set to clients to crunch the numbers and spot the trends—never mind the stress or the constant travel. One day they may be advising an automotive company, the next they are presenting strategy to a luxury brand—which other profession can offer that kind of variety?
Though it’s a high-pressure career and many consultants do drop out at different levels, they often move to influential positions in industry, as heads of strategy, or even as CEOs—making management consulting a springboard for accelerated careers.
We spoke to three consultants and asked them to share a little of what it’s like to be the expert everyone listens to.
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Arindam Bhattacharya, 51
Managing director, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Gurgaon
Living out of suitcases is what a lot of consultants do and the India head of the strategy and general management consulting firm BCG is no exception. Arindam Bhattacharya is in Mumbai for a day. “I’d rather meet the client at his office, whether it is a factory or a mine in a remote district,” says the bespectacled, scholarly-looking management consultant. That is why he spends two-three days a week on the road.
How he got there: “I have had quite an unconventional route into consulting,” says Bhattacharya. After an engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, in 1984, and a master’s in business administration from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, in 1988, Bhattacharya worked with Eicher Goodearth Pvt. Ltd in business development and consulting till 1992, when he decided to take a study break. Most people join consulting straight out of business school but he joined the profession in his mid-30s, after a doctorate at the University of Warwick, UK (1992-96), which included consulting with car manufacturer Rolls-Royce and textile company Coats Viyella as part of his PhD programme.
“Working with companies was very exciting,” he says, explaining his move to consulting; he joined AT Kearney, UK, as a principal in 1996. He moved to BCG in 2002 as a principal and became the managing director in 2009.
A day in the life of a consultant: “There is no substitute for reading,” says Bhattacharya. He begins his day by reading six newspapers and magazines, as well as internal BCG reports that track trends and industries, while he is being driven to work. In office, his time is spent in meetings. BCG India’s 50 India partners report “nominally” to him and he spends time with them too, reviewing current consulting projects. There are administrative matters, pertaining to the firm’s 450-odd employees, that Bhattacharya must attend to as well.
That done, Bhattacharya might head off to Mumbai to meet one of the six-eight clients he personally works with, usually chairmen or CEOs of companies. For much of the drive to the airport, the managing director is on calls. The group has a relationship with 80-90 clients and Bhattacharya invariably calls a few of these clients to discuss news reports or other happenings that are of direct interest to them.
"The first four years are the most critical to find out whether consulting is the career for you."
At the client’s office, the meeting might go on for a couple of hours. “We speak about strategic issues like the next phase of growth for the group, given the change in the competitive intensity and the environment,” he says. The evenings could include dinner with a partner, to talk about the partner’s work and any support he might need.
A project he is most proud of: “We were competing in 2004 against other firms for a large, very prestigious project. The first set of presentations did not go well. Then I requested for a personal meeting with the chairman,” says Bhattacharya. It had been a difficult two years for the senior consultant, who had joined BCG in 2002, when the industry was just recovering from the dotcom bust, and the consulting industry was badly affected.
Determined to get the project, he went to the meeting armed with a battery of slides and case studies of a turnaround he had personally worked on. He was hoping to impress the company chairman with the expertise and enormous capability he could bring to the table. “The conversation turned out completely different. After the first couple of slides, we just talked—about the industry, why it was hurting, what his dreams and aspirations for growth were,” he says. BCG won that account, the first in a long line of accounts that Bhattacharya would win for the firm. Bhattacharya doesn’t want to name the firm.
What he loves most about the job: The opportunity to shape the thinking of very senior people in the industry.
What he would like to change: The physical toll that so much travelling takes on one and the time spent away from family.
Skills set: “Drawing insights from data that go beyond the normal solutions,” says Bhattacharya. He says the best consultants find patterns in data that others may have missed. Beyond that, it’s important to be an empathetic listener, and to know how to build relationships. “The first four years are the most critical to find out whether consulting is the career for you,” says Bhattacharya.
Work-life balance: “If I am excited by the work I am doing, work-life balance is never a problem,” says Bhattacharya. Quoting a consultant he recently met on a plane, he explains: “I look at it as three vertices of a triangle—one being personal development, the other is compensation, and the third, work-life balance. And if I get two out of three, I am happy.”
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Yaquta Mandviwala, 34
Principal, Bain & Co., Mumbai
“When you sit in a boardroom, it is not about making slides and presentations. It is about having been on the ground and talking to people—that makes companies actually listen to you,” says Yaquta Mandviwala, whose years in consulting have taken her from talking to tractor buyers in rural districts in Karnataka to a consulting stint as the guest of a royal family in West Asia.
How she got there: After graduating from Presidency College, Kolkata, with a degree in life sciences, Mandviwala was keen to join National Geographic. But after a postgraduation in business from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, in 2004, she joined retail banking at Citibank (2004-05). Though she enjoyed it, she realized that management consulting was the profession for her if she wanted to make a bigger impact. In 2006, almost two years later, Mandviwala moved to the consulting firm Monitor in Mumbai. In 2010, she joined the business consulting firm Bain & Co. as team leader.
A day in the life of a consultant: Most Mondays begin as early as 4.30am, as Mandviwala catches an early morning flight to a client site. Once there, the day is spent working with the company, in meetings and workshops, or in interviews with their management. Dinner is with the team and clients, and the conversation is a mix of work and other stuff.
Typically, the bulk of the week is spent travelling, to destinations in India like Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore and sometimes, to international destinations in South-East Asia like Bangkok, for internal Bain meetings.
On Fridays, Mandviwala tries, like most other consultants at Bain, to make it back to the office. Fridays at Bain is an initiative for teams to reconnect and time is spent in meetings at the office, brainstorming on projects, reviewing the approach and discussing solutions and recommendations.
"Since we are in the business of providing advice, you need to communicate in an articulate fashion."
A project she is most proud of: “A project I led, based on the automotive sector, that won the annual Results Challenge at Bain for creating the maximum impact, getting the best client testimonials and being a great learning experience for the team.”
What she loves most about the job: “The opportunity to be able to create impact fairly quickly through changes you suggest, since you work with people at the CXO (top) level. Also, being able to do lots of different things—in different industries and different geographies. You are also working with a bunch of really smart and ambitious people.”
What she would like to change: The constant travel can be challenging.
Skills set: A high degree of intelligence. “Also, since we are in the business of providing advice, you need to communicate in an articulate fashion,” she says. “After solving the problem, you also need to convince the client to come on board with the solution. Thirdly, it is important to come across as an interesting person, and to be willing to put in the effort to constantly connect and network with new people,” says Mandviwala.
Work-life balance: “This whole concept of work-life balance is made out to be a zero-sum game. That is, if there is more work there is less of life, and vice versa. Work is meant to enrich life. For me, at any given time, whatever is most important gets done. If there is work stuff I need to do over the weekend, I do it, and the same way, if I need to take a personal call during work hours, I do.”
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Kaustubh Nagarkar, 32
Manager, Universal Consulting India Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai
“While most consulting firms are generally small, Universal Consulting, which advises many smaller businesses as well, afforded me the opportunity to take on greater responsibilities,” says Kaustubh Nagarkar. The management graduate from the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, chooses his words with precision as he talks about what drew him to the strategy and execution boutique consulting firm.
How he got there: After computer science engineering from Mumbai University (2002), and an MBA from the ISB in 2006, Nagarkar joined Universal Consulting after a six-month stint at Infosys Ltd (2006) in Hyderabad and Bangalore. “You get to work across a wide variety of industries as a management consultant; the knowledge as well as growth you get is a good foundation for a career in any industry later,” says Nagarkar, explaining what drew him to consulting.
A day in the life of a consultant: Nagarkar is working on two projects at the moment. So a typical day might begin at 10am in the office of an automotive supplies firm in the suburbs of Mumbai, where Nagarkar and a colleague meet with their client to discuss progress on their consulting project.
Back at the firm’s Worli office, Nagarkar usually has a team meeting and uses the time to go through research papers and reports. Before the meeting begins, he reviews the analysis on the life sciences project he is working on at the moment, a mix of documents, Excel sheets and a PowerPoint presentation. At the meeting, chaired by the partner Nagarkar reports to on this project, the team reviews the research and the recommendations to be made to the client.
A project he is most proud of: Introducing new technologies to a construction and building materials company, giving it a competitive advantage. “The engagement required us to identify successful emerging construction technologies like roofing systems or wood panels and recommend the suitable use of these for the Indian market,” says Nagarkar.
What he loves most about the job: “Being able to make a difference. Seeing the benefits that a client gets out of your recommendations. And continuously moving around with a bunch of motivated, intelligent and successful people keeps you on your toes forever!”
What he would like to change: “The quantum of travel required is a bit of a challenge. Also, sometimes when the recommendations you make cannot be implemented due to factors outside your control, like the client’s lack of resources.”
Skills set: Sharp analytical skills are important, as are a good knowledge base and good communication skills. “In my six years as consultant, I have worked on projects in construction and building materials, consumer products, industrial products, automotive sector, telecom, life sciences and healthcare,” says Nagarkar.
Within consulting, from being manager you can go on to becoming principal and then a partner. Since most consulting firms are pyramids that get steadily narrower as they go up, only some consultants make it to partner or managing partner in the firm. But the skills consulting gives you at the start of a career, the functional depth and the exposure to a whole range of industries, also make it an excellent springboard to joining any industry at a very senior level.
"You get to work across a wide variety of industries ... a good foundation for a career in any industry later."
Work-life balance:“It can be a challenge, but learning to manage this is the key to a long and successful career in consulting; you learn to schedule all aspects of your life around important deadlines,” says Nagarkar.
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An industry estimate of what management consultants earn
Compensation levels are attractive, but exact figures are notoriously hard to get. All three firms featured in this story declined, as a matter of policy, to give any figures.
These are the approximate industry estimates:
Entry level: Rs.15 -30 lakh a year
Manager/case team leader: Rs.35-50 lakh a year
Principal level: approximately Rs.75 lakh–1 crore a year
Partner level: upwards of Rs.1.5 crore a year.
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three people at different stages in their careers.Tell us which profession you want to know more about at firstname.lastname@example.org.