What did you do previously in your career, and what made you choose the independent path?
I’ve found independent consulting a very attractive post McKinsey career path, both in its own right and as an entry into a number of multi-year corporate roles (with the added advantage of a two-way “try before you buy” experience”). Independent consulting gives you the opportunity both to strengthen existing skills and capabilities and to experiment with new industries and challenges, including not just the strategizing but also the nitty gritty of getting things done.
What are the main other activities you do alongside your consulting projects?
Like most independent consultants, I see the added flexibility and choice as significant draws. For a number of years I have been involved with Eden McCallum’s excellent NGO partnership programme giving me access to some extremely interesting and challenging third sector projects. More recently, as a parent of young children, time seems a lot more scarce, though with a bit of planning the more focused approach of project-based work can work well with family responsibilities.
And what are the most fulfilling aspects of what you do?
While not quite a journey up the Amazon, consulting is a lot like exploration. You set out with your team and the clients in a general direction, not quite knowing what you are going to find and end the project – if successful! – with a clear sense of resolution both in terms of what needs to be done and why, and a clear plan and structure backed by energy and excitement to make it happen. A part of the satisfaction derives from the fact finding and analysis – typically Pareto variants of where value and difficulty sits – but often a greater part from the “unfreezing” moments, where clients feel that working with an outsider gives them the insight, structure and confidence required to move forward through the thickets.
As an independent consultant, why do you choose to work with Eden McCallum?
It’s a combination of many factors, but my experience is that Eden McCallum genuinely invests in relationships and the long term, rather than the more transactional approach characterising some players in the industry. The effects of this are apparent in a very strong client list, both blue chips and interesting new entrants, as well as in an excellent quality mix of work, backed by a very high average quality talent pool, both in terms of skills but also motivation and flexibility. I’ve also come to very much appreciate the mechanics, in terms of well scoped and resourced projects, access to industry and functional experts, high standards of billing and IT infrastructure as well as the community elements, such as consultant events and the NGO partnership.
What have been some of the high points in your work with Eden McCallum?
There’s been some very interesting projects over the years, but three that stand out are:
- Redesigning the programme development process of a large TV producer (including both literally going behind the sets on top rated dramas as well as seeing how the economics and politics of this fascinating industry actually work)
- Investigating responsible sourcing for a player in the global gold industry (including visiting remote mining facilities in the Congo)
- A high paced turnaround in the logistics industry (where missing a 4am deadline by 5 minutes can throw an entire month’s results into the sink)
In what ways is working with teams of independent consultants different from working in a traditional consulting setting?
There’s less of a set/ house approach, as you will typically be bringing together multiple consulting backgrounds and get to appreciate the strengths (and limitations) of each. While this does carry risks (Tower of Babel), I’ve generally found it a source of strength in being able to bring a broader range of experiences and approaches to bear. Another clear difference is that there is less pressure on you to sell follow-on work, which often makes for a higher level of trust in the senior client relationships.
What would you say are some of the characteristics of a successful independent consultant? Any advice for those considering this path?
One of the key things is having a strong core consulting toolkit. The ability to work self sufficiently is important, without the traditional support and overheads you would get as part of a traditional firm. Flexibility is also important as you will be working with people who have different skill sets and approaches. And finally, high levels of pragmatism and rolled up sleeves is vital: focus on the underlying commercial and political realities and simplicity of communication and implementation.