The ANALyst

Leverage, optimise, synergise

Airline Rant


There are a few industries where consultants are really able to help out. No not through our provision of professional services, but merely as a result of our existence. One of them is the airline industry.

Consultants travel a lot – typically flying out to the client on Mondays and flying back home on Thursdays or Fridays. After about two years in consulting, you have flown almost all the airlines in the country (yes including WN) and you typically have Gold/Platinum/God status with all the above airlines. Here’s my gripe – in spite of having God status with the airlines, you are subjected to the following:

  1. You are made to bear the indignity of standing in line with others at security.
  2. You are given the same puny little seat as the ones given to the lesser mortals.
  3. You are usually allocated the middle seat with two grossly overweight buffoons on either side (there goes your armrest).
  4. Although, point 3 can be negated by securing an aisle seat when checking in online, you do not have any control over the pesky little kid sitting directly behind you (can’t they have a separate, sound-proofed, kid’s only area).
  5. The FAs know and greet you by name (sometimes even with a smile), but they hesitate to give you the full can of coke or an extra packet of nuts on a transcontinental flight.
  6. Airline food sucks! Whether you buy it or get it free, it sucks! It is too bad to make you sick; even bacteria do not thrive.
  7. Time spent on the plane is time wasted; you can’t sleep as seats are too narrow and don’t recline along with the presence of the aforementioned Pesky Devil sitting behind you and you can’t work on presentations/spreadsheets because the tray table is too small to put your laptop on (anyway my laptop battery doesn’t last more than twenty minutes).
  8. You can’t watch movies because, hey, domestic airlines do not believe in inflight entertainment – how cool is that!
  9. The ratio of toilets to passengers in cattle class is a 100 to 1. You don’t need a PhD in mathematics to figure out how absurd this is.
  10. 10. On 3 out of 10 flights you are stuck for hours at some god forsaken airport because your connecting flight has been delayed.

To sum up airlines can often be like consultants in their genuine love and concern for their clients. Feel free to add to this list, I am sure this is not exhaustive.

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Travel | 5 Comments

Creativity


“…all progress must depend on the unreasonable man” – George Bernard Shaw

I had heard about this website called twittershouldhireme.com, but never bothered checking it out – until today. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s Jamie Varon’s unconventional attempt at getting hired by Twitter.

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. In tough times, when conventional methods do not yield dividends, those who manage to think out of the box and use their skills creatively, usually end up successful. This raises a question – why are we not creative in our daily lives? Why do we tend to follow established processes irrespective of whether they maybe the best way of doing things or not? Is it fear, insecurity, lack of interest, lack of time or just laziness? I don’t know. But I do know that it can change and should change – unless of course you are an auditor.

August 2, 2009 Posted by | General Rambling, Life | Leave a comment

The Eternal Truth


A few consultants-to-be have been asking me a lot of questions lately; “Is consulting really that bad? Surely there must be some good sides to consulting! Can perception (of students) really be that different from reality?” etc. etc.

This post will aim to provide an objective view of what I think about consulting – both good sides and bad sides. Before we delve into it, let me reiterate that this is my personal opinion based on my experience and may differ from the opinions of others.

1. The Consulting Industry

The Good

The concept of consulting is a noble one. Consulting originates from the Latin word “Consultare” which refers to “giving advice”. In its purest form it refers to the process of giving unbiased advice to your clients based on your knowledge and experience. Clients have typically been in their business for many many years, and know it a lot better than any consultant ever will. However, the client can often not look at itself from an outsider’s perspective. It’s akin to visiting a doctor when you are sick. Your doctor probably doesn’t know you as well as you do yourself, however he/she is able to diagnose your illness and suggest remedies based on his/her experience and skill. Consulting is very similar. The consulting firm typically includes people who are experienced in diagnosing problems in a particular sector through their previous experience in the same industry – either as a consultant or employee within the industry.

The Bad

The execution, in real life, sadly does not mimic the concept as well as it should. For starters, the “experts” may not really be true experts. This is much more common in the larger generalist firms as opposed to the smaller boutiques. This is equally true in strategy, operations and technology houses. The generalists typically have a model, whereby they recruit college students as Analysts/Associates etc. These college students are typically expected to move up the ranks to partnership level (sometimes an MBA maybe mandatory. College students typically have no experience of the industry; hence for a consulting firm to be credible advisors, it needs to have lateral hires from the industry throughout its hierarchy. This does not happen as much as it should. Typical project teams consist of far too many “career consultants” and new college hires. Industry experts are often not seen after the project has been sold.

The Ugly

Giving unbiased advice to a client often means sometimes the advice maybe counter productive to the consulting firm. For example, there maybe two options that the consulting firm is in a position to recommend and theoretically, it should recommend the option that is best for the client, even if it comes at a cost to the consulting firm (through the lack of follow on work). However, overzealous partners in their quest to attain/beat targets often recommend options that may not be optimal. We haven’t even discussed cases of cost overruns due to misquoted and wrongly resourced estimates in large business transformation projects. This results in the client ending up on the losing side.

2. The Work

The Good

As an Analyst/Associate straight out of college, you are generally not aligned to an industry sector. This means that “you get to have a play around”. In your first two years, you typically get projects in different sectors so that you get a fairly broad experience. You learn a lot about how different businesses operate and about working within a client environment. The work is typically fast-paced and you move onto a new project every couple of months.

The Bad

You work long hours – very long hours! Before people cry foul, I do know that this varies by the firm and the client, but here I am just talking about my experience. Not only do you often work weekends, it is usually quite a stressed out environment where you are always rushing to meet deadlines and mini-deadlines. Projects are often short staffed with very optimistic timelines, hence, you the analyst, get to bear the after effects. Now, if you are in college, you are probably thinking “yeah whatever, that’s fine”. After two years of this, I doubt you would be singing the same tune.

The Ugly

You will often find that the work you are doing can be classified as “grunt work”. Making excel models and power point presentations. Not exactly what I would call rocket science. Contrary, to popular perception, you are not really thinking about the client’s problem and trying to innovatively resolve it. You spend most of your time researching on your firm’s internal resources and copy-pasting it to a new slideshow. Combine this with the possibility that the partner may have asked you to create the slideshows based on the wrong options anyway.

3. Travel

The Good

Firstly, you get to travel all around the country and even internationally. Therefore, you end up visiting a lot of places you perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise visited. In the process you rack up plenty of airmiles and hotel points – more than you will ever need. You also get to sample some of the best hotels in the country.

The Bad

As a consultant, it is possible that you end up travelling on all your projects. Which means, flying out on a Monday morning and flying back on Thursday evenings. There goes your personal life. If you have a family, you see them only on the weekends. Secondly, you can’t choose where your project is going to be. It may not be in a big city – it is quite possible that you get sent to the middle of Kansas for six weeks. Happens all the time. Moreover, just because you’ve spent six weeks in Kansas doesn’t mean you get to go to Vegas next time. You may end up at Montana for another six weeks.
Next comes food, your eating patterns and diets are completely ruined. Food is like an afterthought really. You eat when your EM or client says you can eat.

The Ugly

No, you do not automatically travel first class. Domestic travel is by coach, unless you have racked up enough miles to get a status or mileage based upgrade. You invariably have a screaming child next to you on most of your flights. Everything that can go wrong with connecting flights, usually does go wrong.
The hotel situation is slightly better, although I have been through an instance where I came back from the client at 10 pm to find out that my room has been allocated to someone else and my luggage put in the store room. No kidding – this has happened!

4. Networking

The Good

Working with different clients and on different project teams affords the opportunity to meet lots of different people and all the associated benefits that come with this. This is one of those aspects with no real negatives, at least none that I have encountered. I have met many amazing people through my time as a consultant and is probably the one aspect of the job that keeps me going.

This was my attempt at giving a realistic picture of life as a consultant in as concise a manner as possible. Please feel free to share your own experiences and/or disagree with mine should your experience be substantially different.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 11 Comments

What do you want?


For those few who read my blog regularly – you know who you are – I have a question. I want to know what you want to see in this blog henceforth.

1. Continue with stories from my life as I transition into the new world.
2. Post anecdotes from my past.
3. A bit of both.
4. Close the blog.

Please post your replies as a comment. I could have created a poll but I didn’t for the following two reasons:

1. I tried to, but it failed miserably.
2. I’d rather get complete opinions.

So “feedback” please!!!

July 23, 2009 Posted by | Admin | 6 Comments

Inclusiveness


Consultants are often hated by the clients. Now I am not talking about the CXO level people but the ones below them. It’s true – either we exist to deliver bad news or we exist to mess up their comfortable existence with our “best practice.”

These aren’t exactly my words, but those of the engagement manager for one of the projects I worked on last year. Above engagment manager felt he wanted to change the perception the client had of consultants by “working with them and being inclusive”. This was a short six week needs assessment project for the client’s supply chain system. To show “inclusiveness” the EM decided to invite mid-level managers from all the business units to comment on our preliminary ideas (do not ask me why). Why exactly the call centre manager needs to know about needs assessment for supply chain is beyond me. So I decided to shut up and watch the fun.

Scene – One of the boardrooms at the upper floors of the corporate headquarters. Beautiful 19th century furnishings, paintings that I assume cost above a million dollars each and a view to die for. The room is immaculately set up for thirty people – in board room format. At the end of the table with the city skyline as the backdrop is seated the CEO. To his right are the CFO and the COO. To his left, the engagement Partner, EM and the three of us that make up the consulting team. The rest of the table is filled with departments heads and mid level managers from the business units.

Time – 830 am

CEO: (condensed version) Thank you all for coming in. As you know Project XXX is critical to our organisation. By revamping our supply chain system, we hope to achieve massive gains in efficiency and save X million dollars a year. Project XXX team have worked on a needs assessment for the organisation and has come up with preliminary recommendations which we would like to discuss with you and get your opinion on. So without further ado, I hand you over to EM.

EM: (Tries to repeat exactly the same thing that the CEO has just said)

He is interrupted by one of the middle level managers (MLM 1).

MLM1: Why the f**k are we in this meetin again? What am I to do with your supply chain systems???

MLM2: This is a waste of our time!!! (Looks at the CEO) You will get a lot more efficiency out of us if you stopped calling us to stupid meetings of this nature.

MLM1 and 2 walk out of the meeting room, followed my most of the remaining mid levels. Our EM is left standing, looking totally stunned. CEO (with a smirk) offers a glass of water to EM, who at this point is shaking.

8 40 am – Meeting over.

Inclusiveness – Yeah right!!!

July 16, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 2 Comments

Guilt?


The after-life was running its merry course when suddenly a friend dropped a bombshell! Seeing me indulging in Facebook at all hours, she casually asked, “How do you have so much free time?” Little did she know how devastating the effects of her question were going to be! Guilt surrounded me immediately! How could I allow myself to be free??? Time spent doing nothing is time wasted. And guess what, time wasted is time lost.

When you follow an 80 hour-a-week routine, ladies and gentlemen, every second counts. Every second needs to be optimised. Work constantly needs to be reprioritised. The only rest allowed is that required to keep working. When work suddenly stops, it feels a bit like an animal that has forever been kept in captivity and suddenly let out. At first the freedom feels refreshing, however, as time progresses a sudden feeling of loss sets in. Questions arise in your mind constantly. Doubts, second thoughts, regrets – you name it.

Does this mean, I am regretting, absolutely not! With each passing day, I feel more glad about the move I have made. But the feeling described above serves as a reminder – take your time off, but use it to get your life back on track; do not forget or alienate the bigger goal; do not get carried away.

So to my friend who asked the question – yes, I am free, but my mind is working!

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Life | 2 Comments

Contemplation


For those of you still stuck in the rat race, may I suggest a week in the sun and sands of the Carribbean! Life just comes to a standstill. No meetings, no emails to reply to, no presentations or models to be created, no bull crap to be spewed (oh yes, no cellphone either!). It’s akin to living on another planet really. A week spent befriending tranquility will also allow you to spend large periods of time contemplating – something I suspect not a lot of you have time for.

So, whats happening to me now. Well as promised, I have chosen a rather unconventional route and decided that perhaps it is time to explore an emerging economy. Not just to travel, but to actually live and work. Friends from those regions compare the mood of the people to that of the US in the 60s and 70s – where growth and development as opposed to cost cutting and efficiency is paramount, where ambition combined with grey cells and hardwork can lead to unique opportunities. An aspirational society that is determined to show the world that it belongs on the world stage. And it is there that I shall head to “seek my fortune”.

What exactly I will do I don’t really know. I am seriously considering the technology sector with a view to start something of my own within the next two years or so. I do have offers from a couple of corporations in various capacities, ranging from the corporate strategy departments of various business houses to consulting – all in the technology sector, as that was the focus of my search (apparently people from the west looking to spend a few years there are welcome with open arms). Basically, I am leaning towards something that will enable me to start out on my own soon-ish. Anyway, more updates on that will follow as I start to shape my thinking and planning.

For now, my immediate worries range from setting myself up in a new country, living with new people, getting used to different customs to understanding how business works there. It is very risky, but I’d rather take risks now especially if it means I am doing something I enjoy. I might fail miserably, but then again I may prosper. Either way it will be a good learning experience. And without risk there is no reward!

Will keep you guys posted as things move along. Aah…the joys of life after consulting!!!

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Life | Leave a comment

Time for change……Yes we can!!!


Apologies for the delay fellow enlightened souls. I was so so so busy satisfying the most demanding of clients that I almost forgot I had a blog to “own”.

But to fill you guys in, a lot has happened since the time I last posted. After spending 80 hours a week in the office for just over two years making presentations that will put Picasso to shame when it comes to artistic value and make a caveman feel like a prize winning economist when it comes to content, I decided to end it all. The prospect of wasting my youth (and the rest of my life) doing something utterly meaningless that makes no positive tangible difference to anyone’s life was certainly not appealing. A decision had to be made.

Don’t really know what I will do next, but a wealth of opportunities have suddenly opened up. In no order of preference, they are,

1) Go travelling.
2) Become a tour guide (options 1 and 2 maybe combined)
3) Work in an oil rig (for some reason this sounds really appealing)
4) Become a standup comedian
5) Become an actor (anyone know how to go about doing that)
6) Start something of my own

Aah, the possibilities are endless and to contemplate I have a one week holiday booked in the Carribbean beaches. Bliss!!!

What will happen to this blog you ask? I think I will keep it going, with anecdotes from my past life and future life. After all I may just return to consulting, you never know. But either way I will always need an outlet to release my frustrations.

So now I am off to enjoy my new found freedom. Until next time….

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Life | 5 Comments

Consultionary


Welcome to a series of posts entitled Consultionary. As the name suggests the purpose of these posts are to enlighten you lesser mortals about some commonly used words in the consulting cosmos. So here goes..

1) Value Add – Originally used to describe the value a consultant brought to a client through his or her knowledge and expertise and the advice the consultant gave to the client. In contemporary times however, it has become the most overused phrase in consulting with almost every interaction with the client being dubbed as “value add”. Said phrase is also used to hide the layers of horse manure being delivered to the client. Infact, this phrase is so imbibed in the minds of a consultant that subconciously it becomes a part of your daily vocabulary, with the result that it is often used with disastrous consequences. I did ask a former girlfriend once about what value she added to my life. Needless to say, the girlfriend became a “former girlfriend”.

2) Leverage – This word ranks up there along with the previous phrase as the most overused word in consulting. In theoretical consulting terms, the word leverage refers to using the firm’s resources, expertise and experience to “add value”. In practical consulting terms, it refers to claiming someone else’s work in some obscure part of the world to be your own and using that to show the client you are an “expert” in some area. Given that the person in question also probably did exactly the same thing, it really is no more than a pyramid (or shall we call it Madoff) scheme.

3) Optimise – A glorified term for cost cutting i.e. laying off people. Why companies hire consultants to do this is beyond me. This requires absolutely no mental exercise. You just pick a dollar amount that sounds good. See the number of people you need to cut to achieve that dollar amount and you cut. Oh there is some effort required in the build up to releasing the news and “change management”. In all it seems to be a highly profitable exercise for the consulting firm and a pointless one for the client. But then again it’s almost half a century since the time hiring consultants was a purely business decision – so no surprises there. So if you are laid off don’t blame your CEO, he wasn’t even capable of that much. But then again you will quite often find the CEO with consulting firm partners at posh golf courses so maybe you can blame them a little bit.

4) Expert – In normal English an expert refers to a person who has deep knowledge or experience in a particular field. It’s fairly similar in consulting – except that the depth of the knowledge probably extends to just one day. Sometimes even one hour. Here’s what happened with me. Project manager comes to me and asks me to do a bit of research on automotive industry in emerging markets. Next day, in a meeting with the senior management of the client, said project manager looks at me and says, The ANALyst is our expert on the state of the automotive industry in emerging markets. WTF!!!!!

Coming up in the next post Utilisation, Synergy, Budget and whatever else I can think off.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 1 Comment

Please Sir, may I not have anymore! Ever!


Apologies for the delay in posting. The last ten days have been abnormally busy with a major client deliverable due this morning. Last night was super busy, even by consulting standards – I finally got to leave the office at 1 am having spent a nonstop 19 hours in the office. A splitting head caused due to the work, hunger and lack of fresh air did not exactly make the situation anymore pleasurable. To compensate for the last two factors I decided to walk back to the hotel and grab some grub from any open 24 hour eatery. The first such eatery was the brand with a big golden M. So revolting is the sight of it, that inspite of my famished state, I chose to move on. A few blocks down the road I spotted a KFC. Now, I don’t normally eat fast food, haven’t in a long time, not since my college days. This is due to a variety of reasons which may (or may not) include image, both literal and metaphorical.

But today was different, somehow the sight of the big red bucket aroused an almost irresistable urge for the eleven-spiced wonder. My steps quickened; I almost cursed myself for not patronising KFC more often. After all, the KFC chain was actually created with food in mind. I walked in to the most delightful aroma. I stared at the menu for what seemed like ten minutes; reacclimatizing myself with their offerings. I decided on a family box, with a few pieces of what looked like hot heavenly chicken and chilled fizzy coke (oops I mean Pepsi).

After an eternity, my tray was handed over to me. On other days, such a sight would make me feel like someone standing on the social welfare queue. But not today. I walked to an empty table, intentionally ignoring the dirt and the grime on the floor, a couple of dead cockroaches, littered tissue paper and torn newspapers. Having sat down, I slowly opened the box, taking in the smell. I picked up a piece of chicken and slowly bit into it, hoping to savour the taste. Yuck!!! Yuck!!! Yuck!!! I spat it out. It felt like raw, cold, slimy meat wrapped in aluminium foil. Disgusting! I can barely ever remember feeling so disgusted while eating. I was about to puke but the sight of the grime on the floor did not permit that. I decided to gulp down some pepsi, after all that is a standard offering. Wrong move! I assure you water from the sewers would probably taste better. I ran out and into the nearest gas station and bought two bottles of water.

I don’t know if this was a one off or if this is a regular occurence. Something tells me it’s the latter. I can’t understand how people bear this nonsense. How do they make their money? Who buys this crap regularly? Have they never tasted real food?

The next time I get to interview prospective campus hires, this will be one of my interview questions and they better not answer they like KFC, if they know what’s good for them.

I walked back to the hotel, still fuming. I wanted redemption. I needed to cleanse my body and my soul. I ordered caviar and a bottle of Dom. Thank God for small mercies.

Moral of the story: KFC – Kentucky F**ked Chicken

April 20, 2009 Posted by | General Rambling | 5 Comments