5 reasons why strategy consultants transition to a role in the industry

16 April 2018 Consultancy.uk

Every year, top talent from the likes of McKinsey BCG, Bain, Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger or Strategy& make the transition from strategy consulting to the industry. Despite all the personal and professional flavours out there, new research shows that, at the basic level, there are five reasons why consultants decide to leave consultancy to embark on adventure outside the industry.

For corporates across the globe, consultants that work in the top of the strategy consulting world are an in-demand commodity. Professionals that have built a solid base at firms bring analytical rigiour, demonstrated consulting and programme management skills and more to the job. They also have have knowledge of industries and change programmes, experience with operating at strategic level and other benefits of consultants.

For consultants, the move into the industry commonly occurs for several reasons. They can gain more line responsibility, and improve their work-life, dodging work weeks which often top 70 hours. The jump can also provide for a better salary package in many cases. While this has traditionally been a matter of speculation, however, new research has sought to provide concrete evidence for why some of strategy consulting’s top talent opt for a consulting-exit.

In a study performed by the River Partnership, the firm interviewed 250 participants from leading strategy firms, with all respondents holding a background with one of McKinsey & Company, The Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger or Booz & Company (now Strategy&). Of that pool of interviewees, 126 transitioned into corporates, 88 transitioned into start-ups/SMEs, 30 transitioned into private equity, and the rest opted for a self-employed career as an independent consultant.

The largest strategy consulting firms in the world

The majority of these each gave reasons for their shift which relates to one of five categories: salary, working hours, travel demands, personal circumstances and professional challenge (i.e. wanting a different role). Of course, there are plenty of individual situations which prioritise these factors differently, and personal developments which can change all the time and influence this, but these were always found to be the base “ingredients” by the analysts. While shifts in the personal circumstances of an employee are almost impossible to legislate for, the report was able to deliver some insights regarding strategy advisors’ routes away from external consulting.

Work life balance

One ex-McKinsey Associate Principal polled told the researchers, “if you want to be well-paid, stay in consulting; if you want to be well-rounded, leave.”

Despite being the most obvious material draw for people to typically change jobs, salary was found to be the least important factor in deciding to transition to industrial life, at 5.2 overall. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the generous packages offered at the top strategy consulting firms. The fact is that industry salaries remain largely competitive (particularly in Central Strategy functions), and most employers know what they need to offer, although interestingly the researchers did see this vary across levels of experience, with compensatory packages mattering more to individuals with between 4-8 years’ experience (69% more than the other demographics), suggesting groups looking to hire individuals with these criteria may still need to up their pay offers.

In contrast, of the 35% of the participants in the survey who had industry experience prior to joining consulting, 83% considered working hours at least “fairly important” when deciding to leave (compared to 45% of the rest of the group), highlighting a significant difference in priorities. This is most likely because line roles in industry typically demand fewer working hours than consulting.

However, these individuals are likely to get a rude awakening upon arrival in new roles, as strategy teams in industry will still demand high amounts of time. Of those who had already moved, barely 20% found much difference after transitioning, something which will no doubt impact job satisfaction in the long run.

How important are the following factors for a successful transition to the industry

Travel demands and professional challenge

Management consultants in general can spend up to 80% of their working time at locales away from home. High-intensity periods of travel are part and parcel of strategy consulting more specifically, too. As a professional’s career progresses, this is more and more likely to push them toward changing jobs. Individuals with between 1-3 years’ consulting experience were 72% less likely to be turned off by travel demands, compared to their more experienced piers, as the demands made by business travel become more tiresome over time. This, balanced with the growth of ageing consultants’ families, and the desire to spend more time at home, along with other changes in personal circumstance also play into the factor.

Meanwhile some employees simply take a change of role as a means to challenging themselves professionally. According to the study, wanting a new professional challenge may seem like an obvious reason to look for another job, but the strategy talent market is unusual as many job-seekers within it are not only looking for a different short-term challenge, but in most cases would seek a different role altogether, at least in the mid-term. This desire to have a change in working roles sees the strongest motivations for leaving consulting listed by participants as being able to execute and implement initiatives, and to take ownership of a functional area, P&L or team. None of these responsibilities are easy to get in the strategy consulting space, and in any case most individuals approaching the Partner level are disinterested in the addition of revenue-generation to their job description.

Interestingly, the data also revealed that strategy professionals do not often shop around, when searching for such a new challenge. Rather, over 70% of participants looked at three or fewer career alternatives, with younger individuals in particular being less likely to look at multiple options. Meanwhile, 37% of all respondents examined a single opportunity before deciding to leave their role.

The reason for this is likely due, in large part, to time pressure. The first years in consulting are arguably the most intense, with the workload being new and the challenge of managing the pressure being at its steepest, and eventually this combines with a 70+ hour work week and 80% travel burden. The fact is, then, strategy consultants rarely have the time to consider their next career step, let alone manage an extensive job search directly.

How do the following compare to working in strategy consulting

Growing appetite for start-ups?

Trends in the figures suggest that consultants are also increasingly interested in joining start-up or SME environments, believing that, perhaps with a less ingrained corporate culture, or fewer executives to answer to, they are more capable of making a substantial impact there. As with the perception of workload, however, this generalisation is often inaccurate, with 76% of the 88 individuals surveyed who transitioned to start-ups or SMEs saying that they felt they made an impact – barely improving on 72% of the 126 participants who joined  larger corporate firms.

When in the job, the data also seemed to reveal that it was of more importance for consultants to have good senior leadership than during their job searches (nearly 2 points higher overall). The reality for most consultants is that industry work – whether corporate, SME or start-up – demands very different soft-skills and relationship-building capabilities. As a result, most need help to adjust culturally, and in some cases become frustrated with the slower pace associated with longer-term “internal” projects.

Thanks to what they were used to in their project work as a strategy consultant, many also placed high importance on having a clearly-defined role. Meanwhile, despite having had the intention of moving into Line Management, some found the grass was not in fact greener elsewhere, and regretted pushing this too quickly. An ex-Bain & Company Manager, now managing a sizeable salesforce operation, told the researchers, “I became very bored very quickly when I joined a functional team directly after consulting. I missed the diversity of project work. My brain was not used to thinking about the same problem all the time.”

Related: Why strategy and management consulting are so popular among graduates.


Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.