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Business, Consulting

What a year so far!

My only posts so far this year have been aboutmy trip to India. I have been very quiet since then because I was not sure what to talk about. I had originally started this blog to talk about my work and travel experiences. Soon thereafter the blog transformed into my MBA application journey as that sort of consumed my life. After I was rejected from the schools of my choice, the blog lost direction. Besides the trip to India, I could not think of meaningful subjects to write about (I considered writing about restaurants around New York… then I bored myself thinking about it). 

But in the last three weeks so much has happened that I have had no time write about it. However, even though I have been quiet on this blog, I found some new followers and even gotten fan mail wondering what happened to me (Thanks!). So it is about time for an update!

After I returned from India I was on the bench the entire month of February (For those unfamiliar with the concept, when a consultant is not staffed on a project, he is “on the bench”). I should have been actively looking for projects or helping out with business development. For about three weeks I did neither. We had a terrible winter in New York and the thought of stepping outside my apartment was painful. So I watched nearly every show on Netflix, I advanced to the top division in FIFA 2013, and became the most active Facebooker amongst my friends.

I was in a rut. Rejected from my schools of choice, without a project, and without a purpose, I was beginning to REALLY think I was losing my mind. But near the end of February I stumbled upon three opportunities that have in a short time changed my life and my goals.

First, I came upon a website called The Community Corps, The website matches non-profits to technology consultants to help with specific projects. I picked up a IT Strategy project which I am currently working on in my free time. It is still too early to talk about that, but once the project is more mature I will post about how I was able to develop a strategic framework for the non-profit to help them meet anticipated growth over next 5 years.

Secondly, I got involved in my father’s water and oil processing business. There I built a Customer and Opportunity Management System and reorganized his accounts receivables to cut down on days sales outstanding. Now I am helping him develop a marketing and sales strategy to expand his footprint in South America. I will soon put that framework up for sale on flevy.com and write a separate post about it.

The most exciting thing to happen, however, was actually related to my career as a consultant. It began when I was unexpectedly asked to accompany a Senior Manager on a sales pitch. Watching him in action blew my mind. I walked away from that day feeling extremely humbled after realizing I have so much more to learn. Unfortunately, I cannot talk about the specifics of the day but below I share as much as I can.

Then, on what I thought was just another Saturday, I received one of the happiest news I have in a long time. I was promoted to Manager! To be honest I am still coming to grasp with what this means. Below I talk about how I feel proud, nervous, and morally ambiguous at the same time.

The Sales Pitch

New York was partially blanketed in snow, and the rest was flooded with icy water. I was told to show up to the client site at 8 am sharp, looking as professional as I can. True to Murphy’s law, the first step I took out of the cab was right into ankle deep puddle of slush. I was only so lucky to have avoided getting my pants wet, but my socks and shoes were drenched and within 5 minutes my toes were frosted. Luckily I was ahead of schedule and my watch read only 7:30.

It is times like this when you REALLY love New York. I found a Charles Tyrwhitt within a block of the client site. After convincing the cashier to open up an hour early, I bought a new pair of socks, got a shoe shine, and paid enough money to cover the sock-maker’s salary for the year. But it was worth it when the first thing my Senior Manager said was, “Looking Sharp!” (he usually sees me with a 5-o’clock shadow hunched over a laptop).

Then we went to work. More accurately, I watched in awe as I saw a real-life Marty Kaan in action. I have been working under the umbrella of this Senior Manager for last two years, but I have always been on the receiving end of his seemingly very odd and haphazard requests (“Can you research such and such for me?”; “Can you clean up this slide so that instead of saying X it doesn’t say X – but still makes sense” (of course the only thing the slide says is X); and, my favorite, “Hey I know you have never heard of this topic before, but can you call XYZ and have a chat with him about it?”). That day I realized there is a very deliberate method to his madness.

The day went something like this: we met the clients, then had an hour or two to think and create slides to address their concerns. We met the clients again, refined and added to the slides, then repeated the whole thing 3-4 times.

Again, I cannot talk about specifics but there are two things that really stood out to me. First, he had done his research. He had brought me along because I was the only “expert” he could find on the topic of discussion. But he had done his homework so well that not once did he have to ask me for specific details while talking to the client (I wasn’t completely useless – I did design the approach we eventually pitched). Second, he listened. He listened so well and was able to pick up on the smallest nuances that I completely missed. I was the one taking notes, he was the one reminding me hours later of the conversational details my notes failed to cover. Ultimately, it was those nuances that really set our proposal apart.

What started off as an annoying day, filled with a chore tearing me away from my comfy couch, turned into one of the best learning experiences I have had as a consultant. It also didn’t hurt to see where those weird tasks originate from (see above about nuances) and how random slides I create are put to good use.

The Promotion

I woke up somewhat hungover on a Saturday in late February. Half awake, I looked at my phone and saw I had missed calls from my mom and a few emails. I called my mom, put her on speaker, and started scrolling through my emails. Half paying attention to the conversation, I scrolled through Groupon offers, Uber receipts, Duolingo reminders, and Hilton emails trying to convince me to take a trip to Orlando. Then something caught my eye – an email from my Career Counselor (sort of my mentor at work) marked as “High Importance”.

“Hey! It is late on Friday night so I did not want to call you. But I wanted to let you know you have been promoted to Manager as part of the mid-year promotions! Congratulations! Let us connect on Monday to discuss.”

The first words out of my mouth: “SHIT! I GOT PROMOTED!” My mom was still on the phone and of course the first thing she said, “Watch your language! And what do you mean?” (Love you mom :) ). I knew I had had a great performance year and I was going to make a run for promotion in September. I figured that like my last promotion, I would have to lobby support, declare my intent for promotion, and then wait through the 3-month ranking season from June-August. I figured if I was lucky and the firm had a killer fiscal year, I might get promoted. So this came as a complete surprise to me. In fact, I was scheduled to attend consultant training in April so I could complete the prerequisites for promotion.

Like I said, I am still trying to figure out what this means. First, I am trying very hard to not let this get to my head. At 26, I may be the youngest manager in the firm and may have set the record for quickest consecutive promotions (1 year from Analyst to Consultant, 2.5 years to Manager). Second, it is actually quite daunting (helps with the first “problem”). I sat on my first couple of account strategy calls (Where we discuss potential projects and add on work) and for the first time in my career I felt nervous. Soon I will be expected to build relationships and start selling work and I have almost no idea how to even begin.

Also, in my first role as manager, I had to give some really bad feedback and roll someone off my project within 2 weeks of starting (FYI that is not the same as firing him, but it does look pretty bad during ranking season). That was one of the most morally confusing things I have had to do. The guy is one of the nicest people I have met and was genuinely trying hard. I really liked him as a person, but his work was just not up to par. On a 10-week project I simply did not have the time to train him and build his skills. As terrible as I feel, I am sure there is a lesson in here somewhere (maybe it is that I should do a better job interviewing!) I hope that my feedback will eventually help him improve.

Lastly, this promotion now forces me to reconsider the MBA option. The 2-year MBA almost doesn’t make sense for me. My motivation behind an MBA was to continue in consulting but in a different industry (non-profit or social enterprise) and on a faster track available only to MBA grads. However, MBA grads join consulting firms as Consultants or Sr. Consultants and then have to wait another year or so before promotion. On the flip side, if I continue working, I could be up for promotion to Senior Manager by the time I would theoretically finish my MBA. So now I must start looking into 1-year programs or eMBAs, neither of which I was super keen on as I do not believe them to have the same return on investment as the 2-year MBAs.

I am also now eligible to participate in overseas non-profit consulting projects as part of psuedo sabbatical program. In fact I applied for a role on a project in Lagos and Cape Town today! Got my fingers crossed!

Needless to say I am very excited and feeling very blessed. I see so many opportunities in front of me and my biggest “problem” is deciding which one to pick and prioritize – not a bad spot to be in. I am a firm believer in the fact (yes fact!) that everything happens for a good reason. Perhaps not getting into an MBA program this year was one of the best things to happen to me.

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