Why I will not do management consulting

This post has been long due actually, but got delayed because of various other important (and unimportant) things that I got myself into. It’s placement season, and as per things go in IIT Bombay, we sign JAFs (Job Application Forms) to apply for jobs. I have quite the flair for doing things that defy rational thought, and don’t make sense to anyone else. But, I always remember when I do such a thing. One of those things was when I signed a JAF for this consulting firm, which I shall not name here. And that’s because the placement body might have a rule saying I can’t do that. Or they might come up with it when they read this post, if they do at all. So let’s call this company Suits and Sheets (for reasons that will soon be clear). For the record, I never wanted to join a consulting firm, ever. I don’t even like the kind of stuff they do.

So why did I sign the JAF in the first place then? In my defense, I don’t remember signing it. Which strongly suggests that I was either possessed or intoxicated when it happened. In any case, the big consulting companies are known to shortlist very specific kinds of students. In fact, most consulting firms have shortlisted nearly the same set of people till now. Happens every year. And I’m not one of them. So when I was told Suits and Sheets had shortlisted me (although for a slightly different profile than the normal one), it was a shock, and not even a pleasant one. I had no idea how it happened, and still don’t. I had despised these companies forever, so being associated with one like this didn’t really suit my image.

Then I was told the company was going to treat the shortlisted people to a dinner at a five star hotel. Free dinner won’t hurt, I thought. And I was going to use this dinner for gluttony and to get to know more about what these companies really do. And then really, who misses free dinner at a five star hotel? The dinner was supposed to get us to meet company people (read: suited up gentleman adept at throwing jargon that doesn’t make an iota of difference to the world), interact with them and generally have a good time. I did all three, and as a conclusion, here’s why I would don’t want to do a job in one of these companies:

What they do. What do they really do?

So from what I gathered, what these firms do is not much more than fitting data and parameters into known models, and then optimizing. For instance, a company. This kind of job isn’t pretty hard to do, and companies probably come to consultants only because they either don’t have time themselves, or enough people. Otherwise any half-intelligent person with a reasonable background can get that done.

Like consider this problem: A global packaged goods company saw that their profit were lower compared to their competitors. As a remedy, the CEO directed the CPO (Chief Procurement Officer) to find cost reduction strategies. The CPO did not know where to start and he asked Suits and Sheets for help, gave them some annual account details. How would you go about the spend assessment process and what spend profiles can you create to provide a good visibility to the CPO [is that kind of language really needed?]. What cost reduction strategies can you recommend? [I'd say shut the company down]

consulting

Exactly what I’m saying

What is to be also noted is that they don’t really care about optimal solutions to their problems. Any reduction in cost, or any additional profit, however small is just fine. After that, the scale and magnitude of the projects makes it look big. I mean that you bring about a 2-3% cost reduction, and just because the project has so much money in itself, this amounts to $50 million saved. That’s big money in absolute terms, but looking at it, you might not have done much that’s non-trivial. And then company X also pays you for helping them do what they could easily have figured out by themselves. Being research oriented and a math person, I don’t see how I can put up with this low-on-curiosity attitude. To quote someone from Suits and Sheets from the dinner

We don’t know what algorithm is used for the optimization. Actually, we don’t even care, as long as it works.

Very disappointing. And they’re not even fun. They said football was boring. And they were being too formal. I mean, when you’re done talking on a table, and want to break for dinner, you break for dinner. You don’t wait trying to cook up conversations just so that you look engrossed in your discussion. That’s like putting up a mask. Besides, these companies only provide analysis reports, aren’t liable for ensuring long term success of projects. And what prevents them from selling the same kind of stuff to multiple companies as “custom solutions”?

Don’t want to be playing with excel sheets all day

How is all of the above done? By designing complex systems? Coding? No, by playing around with numbers in excel sheets. I don’t have to explain to you why that is a stupid thing to do as a job, all day. My CS major and Math minor deserve better than that.

Suit up!

Well I love suits. A good suit is probably the sexiest dress out there. But no, I don’t want to look good all day, at the cost of comfort. They say you have to look presentable when you interact with clients. Maybe, but I can’t live in an environment where they think every client will be grossed out by sight of my legs in shorts. They’re immature to think that formal wear shows you’re serious about your work. I bet I can get more done by making my own choices. Besides, as Ravi says, “how can the mind be expected to function freely if the body is not given a reasonable amount of freedom?”.

Corporate bullshit

We continually engage our expertise to formulate backward-compatible meta-services that are focussed on synergizing the market positioning of enterprising quality vectors in niche markets and intellectual portals for client-centric and supply-chain efficient corporate deliverables.

Does it make any difference to anyone? Not to me, not to you, not to hungry kids in Africa, not to cash-rich Manchester City, not even to the clients of Suits and Sheets. The senior officials were good at doing this – throwing bullshit as if it were pearls of wisdom from Master Yoda. But bullshit nevertheless. No wonder companies pay so much to consultants. Actually, I’m good at bullshit, but it probably doesn’t sound much like wisdom.

A lot of what they say sounds like generic disconnected solutions, and might not necessarily be relevant to the specific problem. And they get to charge a lot of money for that. Not bad, but certainly not what I want to be known for.

There are better things to do anyway

I’d much rather be a student for a few more years.

That said, there’s only one thing good about this job – you get to travel a lot. You travel to new cities for projects that last a few months. New project, new city. But the whole deal isn’t enticing enough.

In the end, just to make it clear, I have nothing against consulting firms or people who work for them. It’s just that I don’t appreciate that kind of job. After all, it must take skill to con big corporations and charge them so much for doing what they could do themselves. If this offends you already, then I’m pleased I didn’t write everything I wanted do.

nRT

 

P.S.
1. I guess Suits and Sheets makes sense now.
2. The food wasn’t that good after all. I’ve had better buffets.
3. Being at a place with no expectations, and where you’re not trying to look good has its advantages. It is directly correlated to the proportion of starters you consume.

EDIT (September 9, 2012): I have been feeling for quite a while that this post was immature owing to the sweeping generalizations I made, and how I let my initial biases do the writing for me. While I still wish to stick with lots of the above ideas in a milder form, I can’t comment much unless I know more about management consulting. I still believe I wouldn’t want to do it, but the diction of this post misrepresents my usually mild stand towards this.

  • eviltwin33448

    Is this an attempt at making _sure_ they don’t hire you? You will surely fail any decent Background check.

    Also don’t you have any reservations about working on wall street?

    • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

      I’m still thinking about Wall Street.

  • SrujanMeesala

    Spot on about the language they speak. I’ve wanted to write about it for some time myself. In fact, I think they get all their lines from here – http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/examples/gobbledygook-generator.html

    • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

      @SrujanMeesala Take a look at http://www.booz.com/ for instance.

      They say: Booz & Company has developed a Supply Chain Strategy Profiler that lets you test the coherence of your supply chain capabilities against your defined strategy to ensure sufficient alignment for premium returns.

      And this is real!

      • antariksh.bothale

        It’s pretty straight-forward English man. Every field has its jargon. Ever looked at a technical journal title? Don’t make your fight a battle against jargon. It’s the last thing you want to hate consultants for.

        • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

          @antariksh.bothale It’s the last one on the list for sure.

  • AnkushAgarwal

    No better place to post this other than here

  • harshhpareek

    Devils advocate:

    @”…companies probably come to consultants only because they either don’t have time themselves, or enough people. Otherwise any half-intelligent person with a reasonable background can get that done”

    You don’t want to hire a person as an employee(or a team!) just to to optimize some small task for a particular project. You don’t need very smart people to run the company, and so, you don’t want to hire one full time. How do you get someone who works for just a few months? Hire a consultant, or a company of such.

    To me, the upside of consulting would have been the Suits (I less than three Suits! and you sit on a chair in the AC all day so it’s really not that uncomfortable).

    And the opportunity to work on a different project every few months.

    The downside is you don’t really make as much money as a Quant would.

    For my own future, I’m not opposed to working as a consultant lending ML services to people. Or a thinktank, which is a similar job. Check out @kaggle, their vision a marketplace where you can sell data services to companies who need it.

    • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

      @harshhpareek The suits part is about preferences, so I won’t talk about that. As for lending ML services to people, that might be a good job possibly. But what I’ve said is mostly a result of what I’ve read up on management consulting, and elaborate interactions with people involved with them.

  • randomnessRedefined

    Well, that’s true about Suits and Sheets. Now, coming to Wall Street, I am one of those guys, employed at a firm which does stuff to Wall Street, working crazy hours a day, doing HFT.

    What do we really do, mostly sit on both sides of the market and earn spreads. I develop some proprietary software, which are used by none but me, and in the best of cases, by 4 – 5 people. There are no Clients, no users, no benefit to the society (unless you count providing liquidity to the market as a service, I don’t). The problems are interesting, very interesting, but they aren’t really worth solving, although they at times make a lot of money. You can be creative, but there isn’t any one to notice your creativity. If S&S is accused of being way too formal, I can testify that the other extreme is probably worse. If S&S is accused of using language that doesn’t make sense, the do something to Wall Street firm doesn’t talk.

    So, if you are planning to join Wall Street, there are better things to do any ways too.

    • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

      @randomnessRedefined Here’s a point you’ve raised. Is solving stimulating problems that no one (or very few people) cares about, or is affected by, worth the effort? That really depends.

      Even abstract theoretical research in academia can fit that description. No doubt there are downsides to probably everything out there, but you want to pick something that gives you what you want most.

      And I’m not defending HFT on Wall Street here, because I probably don’t know enough.

      • randomnessRedefined

        @nRT Yes, you are right, in that many people actually enjoy doing that sort of stuff, but then, many many people enjoy being a consultant also.

        The difference between academia and solving finance problems is that you get to choose which problem you want to work on from any problem in the world. But then, again, as you said, it depends, where do you want to draw the line.

        Also, I did not speak the above statement as an absolute truth, it was just a friendly piece of advice, which I thought might help you in choosing the right place for yourself.

        • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

          @randomnessRedefined Your advice is appreciated. I’d love to know more about life at Wall Street, actually.

  • VerbalKungFu

    Nicely put!

    It took me many years of boring, mind numbing years of consulting – before I quit for good.

    Also, very sucky.. Wearing suits in Delhi summers so that people take you seriously.

    I work in gaming now. As a CS major you should try it. It has some very interesting coding challenges.

  • jyotiswaroopr

    Well if you wanted a challenging job, then continue in academia, go for research, etc.

    If you are ambitious enough, and aspire to start your own consulting firm, or gain connections by interacting with rich clients, or are just behind a branded consulting title for an MBA, then I guess a consulting job isn’t so bad !

    Just choose… don’t have to be such a bitch about it :D

    • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

      @jyotiswaroopr That’s what I will do – choose.

  • dk_prabhu

    A bit excessive but well said. But what is the point? Will all the people liking this post not apply to consulting firms? I doubt that (or maybe most of them are those not shortlisted ;) grapes indeed are sour).

    It’s good that you have expressed your opinion but even if it is indeed as you’ve put it, that won’t stop anyone from getting lured by the many opportunities that consults offer – money, travel and variety in terms of work. And some might actually enjoy the work.

    • http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~nishanttotla nRT

      @dk_prabhu Sure, you’re right. In fact, the travel part appeals to me too, as I’ve said. And then, these opinions are mine. Plus, what I’ve wanted to put across is that I don’t see myself as a consultant. In the end, there’s no right or wrong, good or bad.

  • vikashagarwal.iitkgp

    Either ways, people are solving the profit problems.

    At the end of the day, if you look it other way round, It’s more like even top-notch companies hire consulting companies (ofc. again top on list ) to best of my knowledge. I am sure people doing same things repetitively (though for different scenarios) can end up doing it better than our first hand perceptions of the scenario maybe best too.

    They have well developed (or shall I say it evolved) working plans which are in function and getting a profit increase of 1% or 0.5% surely expected to appear large in number. But, I guess it still takes a lot of effort in the background for a consulting firm to succeed or put up their name. I totally agree that it involves a lot of selling skills to sell their consulting ideas. But, then you see what doesn’t whether you look at job interviews (Selling why you’re worth, I am sure nobody has yet devised a full-proof evaluation system) or at any other aspect of a person’s career or company’s stage.

    I am sure product Y might sell more than product X even later being of better quality if product Y is able to sell it better. So, that’s where suits come into picture.

    And as far as sheets go, we can’t develop algorithm for every new real world problem as they are just different from each other to some or other extent.

    Consultants themselves are not like that they don’t understand that your shorts will make you look less serious about work. It’s more about thinking of clients that while selling your idea, people find you more serious on your point and probably, listen to it.

    That’s my perception of the issue.

  • inbiz

    @nRT

    Even top-notch companies hire consulting firms for increase in profit. Now, these top-notch companies surely have a well developed and evolved working plans. To increase a profit of 1% or even 0.5% by changing their plans and way of doing things can be really challenging.

    I agree that these suits are just not required as it doesn’t make sure anything that you are more serious about work or anything as such but they end up being the element of presentation required for selling ideas.

    And as far as sheet goes, one can’t develop algorithms for solving every new real world problems that a consulting firms solves that differ from each other at some or more extent. If they had algorithms for the same, they must have implemented it as all the optimizing profit starts from home.

  • antariksh.bothale

    I have no special soft corner for any particular kind of firm, and it is obviously your choice to decide what work to do, but you seem to have made a lot of gross generalizations and premature conclusions from one two-hour interaction, and that too with what smells of initial bias. It doesn’t affect me, but it might help your decision making process to take a neutral and more informed stance. I won’t preach on about it, since my knowledge about these firms might at best be only slightly more than yours, so it’s not much to go with.

    And a couple of other things:

    1. “We don’t know what algorithm is used for the optimization. Actually, we don’t even care, as long as it works.”

    You talk of algorithms as if there is an exclusive list of them (or of standard algorithms) that any intellectually stimulated person (the kind you assert one can’t be in a consulting job) must be able to cite. This is inherently contradictory to the next paragraph where you are disdainful of such firms that might sell the same solution to various companies (which means they used the same algorithm). If a consulting firm suggests a series of steps to a client to help solve a problem, that series is the algorithm. And it can be as simple as using effing common-sense, occasionally. If the quote you wrote was actually said by one of their employees, I think he clearly misunderstood your question as one asking for names of standard algorithms.

    2. “And then company X also pays you for helping them do what they could easily have figured out by themselves.”

    How’s that a drawback (from the point of view of choosing which one to work for)? I would rather work for a company that serves 50 kinds of companies rather than be the in-house consultant for one firm. And there are quite a few good reasons for a company to assign such tasks to external agencies rather than do them themselves.

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  • http://gtoosphere.blogspot.com/ g2

    There is another very important aspect of Consulting. It is called “taking the heat off your ass” 

    This is how it works: CEO has to make a very big decision. Sign a 500 million dollar deal or a relatively risky Merger and Acquisition. If he goes ahead, takes the decision and it doesn’t work out as planned, his ass will be under fire. So he hires Empty Suits Inc. and they give a 200 page report full of corporate bullshit which suggests that the decision be taken. 

    If it works, the CEO takes credit, Empty Suits Inc. takes credit and everyone gets a big bonus. If it fails, the CEO says, “Hey, even the most prestigious Empty Suits Inc. gave a go ahead. Shit happens in business” Empty Suits Inc. says, “Hey, we hire the best people from the best universities around the world. Shit happens in business” Everyone gets a big bonus ;) 

    It’s not easy for a CEO like Steve Jobs (not that he’s the best but he looks like a guy who wouldn’t hire Empty Suits Inc. for his business decisions) to say “shit happens in business” and get away with a bad decision. 

  • Support Corporate

    Glad to read your post.

    http://www.supportcorporate.com

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