How to make the move from industry to management consulting

21 February 2023 7 min. read

What makes a good management consultant, and how can someone forge a successful second career in such a dynamic industry? Julie Neal, Director at Vendigital, discusses how she made the leap herself, and made the best use of her experience of managing projects in industry to help clients optimise productivity and efficiency in the consumer sector.

What is your career history? 

My career history has been varied and driven by my desire to not only challenge myself, but also to invest in developing teams. I started off as a management trainee at Marks and Spencer and spent four years working in their different departments across multiple disciplines, from finance to product development. From there, I went to Hilton International as a senior business analyst, where I developed the company’s supply chain strategy for the UK.  

My next role was with Sodexo, as a supply chain controller, leading sourcing teams across six different countries, after which I joined Aramark as a strategic purchasing director. My last move in industry came when I joined Burberry, where I was the director of commercial procurement and oversaw the company’s global procurement operation. 

Julie Neal, Director, Vendigital

What motivated you to become a management consultant? 

While I loved my last industry role at Burberry, the business was relocating the function, so I had to make a decision about what to do next. This was a blessing in disguise for my career as it gave me an opportunity to step back and consider where my career was heading, what was important to me and where the skills that I had developed over my career could be leveraged further.  

I knew that I wanted to work in a role that had an impact on people as well as operations and that I enjoyed managing and liaising with both stakeholders and clients; leading and getting the most out of high-performing teams and delivering large-scale change programmes. I began exploring what other roles might encompass those skills, and that is when I found Vendigital. 

Has the job met your expectations? 

My role at Vendigital has exceeded my expectations from the start. I feel as if I learn something new every day and I love that it challenges me to continually grow and develop new skills. The variety of my clients means that no two days are the same. I get to meet and connect with business owners and directors from many different sectors, and it is amazing how many of the challenges faced are so similar.  

I enjoy unravelling problems for clients and finding solutions that deliver results and make a difference to the success of the business. I especially value working alongside my amazing team, challenging not only myself to deliver, but also the client teams and my Vendigital colleagues in a way that gets the best out of everyone.  

What is the most rewarding part of your role? 

Working with people is a real passion of mine, and my clients and teams are at the heart of everything that I do. Developing my team is just as important to me as furthering my own career. I want to give everyone the opportunity to excel and I have taken part in initiatives such as chairing the firm’s Culture Champions initiative.  

I aim to leave a positive and lasting legacy of change for my clients, and it’s always rewarding to see that hard work pays off, delivering the benefits and return on investment that our clients are looking for. While it’s not always possible, exceeding client expectations is the best feeling and something that we should celebrate – it’s a part of the role that I genuinely cherish. 

Has past industry experience helped you to achieve better outcomes for your clients? 

My past experience has given me the knowledge and confidence to lead and connect with people at all levels within a client business and I have instilled this in the teams I work with too. It has given me the confidence to be agile in my thinking and get to the bottom of what motivates people and how I can then help them, whether it’s through problem solving or internal support. 

Communication is also vital to engaging clients and securing their support and advocacy at the start of their transformation journey. It also helps to inspire internal teams to carry out their role with confidence. Being sensitive to the needs of everyone, particularly when managing change programmes, is key to making a success of this role. My experience has enabled me to ask the right questions and get a clear understanding of the client’s problem, as well as ensure that the project team continue to learn and develop their skills as part of each client engagement.  

Do you have any advice for someone looking to start a career in management consultancy? 

Whether you have experience in other roles or come to management consultancy straight from college or university, it’s a really rewarding career. My most important piece of advice is to remember that consulting requires listening as well as advising, and it favours those who are ready to put their hands up and get involved. It’s important to focus on building your communication, critical thinking and leadership skills, as well as expanding your sector knowledge, and I always advise reading everything you can and being inquisitive.  

Management consultancy is the perfect career for anyone looking for a challenging role within a supportive team environment. My role has given me the opportunity to broaden my professional experiences in a way that other positions simply can’t. Working with multiple clients can be challenging, but helping them to achieve their goals is so rewarding – I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. 

Julie Neal is a Director and consumer and private equity sector specialist at management consultancy, Vendigital. At the start of 2023, the firm was acquired by Siemens Advanta. She was named the winner of the Experienced Leader Award at the MCA Awards 2022.