In Conversation with Mary Wareing
What did you do previously in your career, and what made you choose the independent path?
I started out as an engineer officer in the Royal Air Force, working on Tornado fast jets and helicopters. I later moved into consulting with McKinsey, because I couldn’t decide which industry I wanted to work in next! After nearly four years there, specialising in operational excellence and organisation topics, I worked in a couple of corporate transformation-related roles – one in local government, and one with a food manufacturer. I came back to consulting because I love the variety and the challenge of solving interesting problems. Being an independent consultant gives me the flexibility to do this, as well as achieve a balance between work and my other interests (which I’d struggled with when working for a big, traditional consulting firm).
What are the main other activities you do alongside your consulting projects?
I have twin five-year-old boys, so I have no problem finding ways to spend my time – I’ve just taken the summer off to make the most of our first school holidays! At the moment I’m also studying for an MSc in Psychology, and I’m about to start a research project relating to leadership behaviours, particularly the leadership of change. Until quite recently, I was also a Non-Executive Director at an NHS ambulance trust.
You have a lot going on. How do you balance it all?
It’s incredibly difficult to achieve a balance that is consistent week after week in the face of fluctuating demands from both projects and other sources. I accept (and happily so do my family) that sometimes I’ll need to spend more time working, perhaps away from home – but the trade-off is that I have periods when I can give more focus to other activities, like spending time with my boys. As long as I achieve a balance on average, it works for me.
And what are the most fulfilling aspects of what you do?
I love the intellectual challenge of finding and applying the most appropriate tools to address a client’s problem. I also thoroughly enjoy building relationships with clients, working out how best to get things done in their particular organisation, and ideally leaving them feeling more positive about their working life than they did before.
As an independent consultant, why do you choose to work with Eden McCallum?
I’ve found that Eden McCallum gives me opportunities to work on fascinating projects which are well scoped, and with great support from partners, client directors and everyone else involved. There’s also fantastic access to a knowledge base across virtually all industries and functions. The Eden McCallum team members I’ve been fortunate to work with have been incredibly accomplished, knowledgeable and, above all, great fun!
What have been some of the high points in your work with Eden McCallum?
I finished a project which was a carve-out/cost reduction for a healthcare business, and one of the clients I’d worked with closely told me that I hadn’t been at all like any of the consultants she’d worked with before, and she would miss me being around! A couple of months later, I had a call from one of her colleagues asking if I was available to do some work in another part of the business. It was great to see that the original project left such a positive impression that they wanted me to come back!
In what ways is working with teams of independent consultants different from working in a traditional consulting setting?
I’d say there are two main differences: first, every member of an Eden McCallum team is probably at least twice as experienced as a traditional consulting team member playing an equivalent role. That means that as a manager I can devote more time to problem solving and client interaction, because I can be very confident of the capability of my whole team. Second, no-one is distracted by trying to tick the boxes required for progression along a “partner track” – which can cause conflicts for even the most stellar consultants.
What would you say are some of the characteristics of a successful independent consultant? Any advice for those considering this path?
Above all, you need to be flexible in your approach. Team members come from lots of different consulting backgrounds, and there isn’t one right way of doing things – everyone has to be able to accommodate different frameworks and viewpoints. It also helps your sanity to be very comfortable with uncertainty; projects do fall through at the last minute, overrun, start late and get rescoped part-way through…how you respond to those things will determine how stressed you become without the fallback of a big firm to manage your time (and income!). I always have a personal to-do list that I get stuck into whenever I find myself unexpectedly ‘on the beach’.