I participated in the Consulting Careers forum last night in Charlotte, NC at the WFU SsOB campus. It was a well-attended event with about 30 students and 6 panelists (5 alumni) representing other consulting companies such as The North Highland Company, Carlisle and Gallagher Consulting Group,  Techcheck Inc., and Mercer Health & Benefits. It was my first event as an Alumni (now 18 months out) so I was excited to get involved with the WFU community again.

Consulting companies at the WFU Alumni Event

Consulting Companies Represented at the WFU Event on June 10, 2011

I enjoyed the discussion. Mainly student Q&A, it covered questions on the typical consulting day (not that there it is such a thing), how to break into consulting, what industries are served by the consulting industry (essentially all of them), what skills are most valuable to be a good consultant, and the pros/cons of working for bigger vs. smaller firms. There were a few points that really stood out to me as being insightful from the other panelists. I’ll share them here.

First, on the topic of getting introduced to a consulting company, the point was made that it can be very helpful to make an informal introduction of yourself to the company. This can be done by leveraging whatever personal connections one might have with a company, alumni connections perhaps, to simply have lunch or coffee with a company rep which would hopefully give a sense of the culture/lifestyle that might be the norm at a given firm. Consulting is a field which relies on personal touches and comforts, and different firms will have different slants on these softer aspects of the work. The experience at Vision Point Systems, an example of a small boutique technology firm, is going to be much different than at a mega firm like Accenture.

Second, on the topic of what skills would stand out when applying for a consulting position, we all seemed to agree that the things that matter are not the things that come through on a resume. In fact, when discussing certifications such as PMI, or Six Sigma Black Belt, it was raised that these may not just simply be not valued or ignored, they can also become liabilities at certain firms, because of the potentially negative connotations that come along with them. (i.e. spreadsheet jockey)

The last major takeaway I had was on what the definition of “consulting” actually is. There were a few differing perspectives on the panel. Some were close to mine – a consulting is about problem solving end-to-end while leveraging expertise in a particular business aspect and/or industry. Others had the background of consulting being tied closer to sales. My point was that a true consultant differentiates themselves from an integrator, salesperson or technician by not only being an expert in a field or product, but by knowing how the immediate problem is impacting the overall business of the client. In my opinion, there is where the MBA really becomes valuable and why MBAs are so often associated with the consulting field

I look forward to continuing my involvement in the WFU Alumni community, and it was great to make connections with the students and other panelists in the Charlotte area.

Here’s an actual transcription of a Voicemail message I received yesterday

Good Morning, Jim. My name is Matt. I’m calling from Northern Virginia. I had spoken with Kevin from the Fairfax office, and he directed me to you. I was referred to Vision Point a few weeks ago. It was actually regarding a couple questions that I had.  I wanted to follow up with the Blacksburg . He said that would probably help a little more versus the Fairfax office so if you can give me a call back, my number is…

Naturally, the suspense was killing me.

I called him back later that afternoon.

Matt: This is Matt.

Me: Hi, This is Jim, you left me a message. How can I help?

Matt: Oh, Hi Jim. Thanks for calling back. I had a few questions. I ran into Vision Point a few weeks ago at a networking event.

Me: I see. Are you wanting to buy something from us or are you trying to sell us something?

Matt: We’re a hosted Voice-Over-IP provider.

Me: I see. So do you do like SIP Trunks or a hosted PBX-type thing?

Matt: All of our data is in the cloud, on the same network as 80% of all the traffic on the east coast.

Me: I still don’t follow. What business problem of mine are you trying to solve?

Matt: Oh, you can have your phone system hosted by us, and if your building burns down, your phone system will still work.

Me: Ah, I get it.

Oh boy. What a disaster. We’re not in the market for that type of thing right now, so we agreed to part ways, but this was an eye-opening event. First, some people just shouldn’t be doing sales. Second, If you can’t just come out and say what you’re trying to sell and how it will help me, then your business has a problem.

My business isn’t the shining example of marketing brilliance (yet), but at least we don’t make cold calls. 2011 is a year of marketing focus for us, and this event is going to be in the back of my mind the whole time as we are formulating our pitch and sales process. We’ve got some exciting new stuff coming up. I apologize for my silence.

A Southwest VA Swarm?

July 28, 2010

A couple months ago, my friend Anne Clelland, of Handshake 2.0 put together a Foursquare Swarm Badge Party in Blacksburg. Unfortunately, she failed to meet her goal. I’ll blame myself for at least 1/50th of the failure, being that I was out of town for that evening.

I’m a big fan of Foursquare, despite my wife giving me grief every time I pull out my smartphone for a check-in. I’d venture to say she’s not the only who has yet to embrace the service, which is why I think what Anne is trying to do is wonderful.

I see a lot of potential in Foursquare, but it’s still got a way to go. I use it to announce to my social media connections when I’m at someplace cool like my favorite Deli in NJ, or some famous landmark wherever I am. I’ll check in at places that are less interesting if I think there is a chance I could become mayor. I see a lot of people checking in at the local grocery store or gas station… I don’t go that far. I like the game aspect of it. It’s very thrilling to “oust” someone as mayor and tweet about it.

I think the “specials” aspect has huge potential for business use. A example of a special is that I can check into the local Ben and Jerry’s, then show them my phone and get a coupon for my ice cream. It’s a win-win all around. The consumer gets an easy deal on demand, and the business gets trackable data and the social sharing aspect of someone “shouting” that they’ve been to your establishment. Anyone who checks-in at your business is likely to be an advocate of what you’re doing, or at least a promoter.

These types of services work best when “everyone” is on them. Facebook and Twitter reached a critical mass a few years ago, where they’ve got their own gravity well for attracting users. Foursquare isn’t there yet. At least not here in Southwest Virginia. I’d love for there to be tons of opportunities for the Swarm badge around here. Alas, it’s rare.

Badges are another form of competition within the service. The best power users are easily identified with their badges such as “Super-Mayor” and “Bender”, achieved by holding mayorships in 10 locations at once, or having 5 checkins in single night. “Swarm” is a relatively rare one, achieved when you check in at a location where at least 49 others have also checked in on that day. Basically, when there are 50+ foursquare users in one place at one time. How many users have to live in or travel to one place to have a reasonable chance at a swarm? Hopefully, we’ll find out tomorrow.

I got my Swarm badge a few short weeks after Handshake 2.0’s failed effort. In Central Park. On a normal Saturday.


Swarm Badge

Foursquare Swarm Badge


Feels a little like cheating maybe… Obviously New York is a bigger metro area than Roanoke or Blacksburg. I think there’s a different social culture there as well. I bet the number of Foursquare users per capita in Manhattan is higher than in a typical community like Roanoke. Someday, I’ll have to find some data on that.

I thought maybe a large event in Roanoke might provide a better chance – something like the Music for Americans Fireworks show on the Fourth of July. When I checked in to River’s Edge Park that day, I think there were 4 others checked in. A bit short, and a bit disappointing given that there were probably 30,000 people there.

Which brings us to Wednesday’s Handshake 2.0’s Anniversary 2.0 party and Foursquare Swarm Badge 2.0 party in Blacksburg. I’m excited about the second attempt, and I trust Anne has planted the seeds to meet the goal. The theme for the party is: Let’s figure out Foursquare! I can’t wait to meet with other local users and debate the merits of this hobby/service/addiction. It’s another example of how I really think the value of online social media is to drive “real life” social interactions.

Free beer doesn’t hurt. Thanks, Anne, and congrats on 2 years of business.

Who is this Guy?

March 8, 2010

I had a nice business lunch last week with Jeremy Rasor of InteractiveGIS, a GIS software company here in the VTCRC. It was a nice introductory meeting where we learned about each other’s companies. I hope we can find a way to do business. The interesting part, I think, is how this meeting came to be. If nothing else, its another concrete example on how social media, or specifically Twitter, can lead to business results.

A few days ago Jeremy posted a blog about open source software, a topic near and dear to us at Vision Point Systems. We proceeded to have a nice public conversation about the post with the exchange culminating with a DM request for lunch.

DM from InteractiveGIS

Twitter DM

The story on the other side, which Jeremy told me, basically goes like this. I suppose I asked a thought-provoking enough question that Jeremy brought up what I said to his boss. The boss responded with “We need to find out who this guy is”, supposing some sort of threat. Upon looking up my info on Twitter, my blog, etc, Jeremy quickly found out that I literally work across the parking lot, and sent me the previously mentioned DM. The sense of threat had calmed to curiosity.

To me, the exchange show that Social Media can be a venue for respectful and thoughtful conversation. When the thoughts become personalized, and you make an effort, it can turn into something real. I don’t know if this event will turn into real business or not, but I at least have another good connection. Hopefully at a bare minimum we can continue the type of dialogue that got us here.


February 10, 2010

Obviously it’s been a while since my mast blog entry. Since then I’ve finished the Wake Forest Executive MBA Program, had a great holiday season with the family, and had a wild January getting fully back into the swing of things at work. In the past month, I’ve had numerous specific opportunities to apply concepts and frameworks from B-school, and I look forward to reflecting on some of those on this blog going forward.

Something fairly interesting happened today that prompted me to reboot this blog. Early in the morning, I had an issue making a call with my cell phone. After pulling the battery and while waiting for the phone restart I noticed a few tweets by other local Roanokers commenting on issues they were having with Verizon Service. I sent this tweet to share my experience. Not News.

Or was it? A short time later I got a couple emails and IMs from friends pointing me to this story on Roanoke.com. My tweet made the news! I felt flattered. When I stopped to think about the whole thing for a minute, I realized that there are a few interesting dynamics to this event.

From my perspective, I chose to post this tweet not to complain, but to validate others’ concerns that there are others experiencing problems. To me, this is one of the core benefits of social media, especially one with a locality focus. It’s a medium to test, explore, and query without making claims.

From the Roanoke Times perspective, why did they choose my tweet to quote? I suppose I managed to capture the essence of this being a widespread issue. I also think they might have liked my vocabulary choice.

Thanks UrbanDictionary.com

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this ordeal, though, has nothing to do with me or this specific event. What actually happened here is that a “mainstream” news broker essentially scoured public social media for interesting chatter, and used it directly as their primary content on a story. Did they treat this content the same as they would have treated other publicly posted content? They did not provide any links to the source tweets or to my Twitter page. They didn’t even directly list my twitter ID. Luckily @JimSchweitzer is easy to figure out. Somehow I feel that If this content would have been in a blog post, there at least would have been a link.

I’m not angry. I’m still content that someone appreciated my contribution to the local social web. I’m just wondering if this is a trend that’s happening all over. Is social media becoming a crutch for the traditional content generators in a time where news has to be lightning fast to be relevant? Putting the MBA hat on for a second, this seems to be a case where someone is failing to capture value. In this case, I think that someone is the content generator – someone like me. This system is wonky.

A Haiku

December 3, 2009

With one weekend and one residency left to go before I finish business school, I present a haiku to commemorate this weekend. (Friday also happens to be Sweater Vest Day.)

With bare arms I go
Back ‘tween the walls of Babcock.
One more weekend left!


Thanks to my buddy Domingo for the inspiration.

I’m currently in my fourth and final semester in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business (Formerly Babcock Graduate School of Management) Executive MBA program. Our capstone, of sorts, is known as the Management Practicum. Dan Fogle, our faculty sponsor, has set the requirement for this year that all of our team-based practicum projects must have a sustainability or environmental theme. There has been great enthusiasm among the cohort for this and I’m excited for my specific project.

Wake Forest University Schools of Business

Wake Forest University Schools of Business

I learned today that Wake Forest recently received accolades for its attention to sustainability by the Aspen Institute. According to the news release, The Schools of Business rank 43rd among the Global Top 100 Schools and have been among the top 50 since 2005. Projects, like our practicum and the hiring of a sustainability director are real signs of applying these themes to the curriculum in a meaningful manner. We had the opportunity to meet with Dedee DeLongpré Johnston, WFU’s new sustainability director this morning and lunch. She provided a good forum to validate the ideas of our projects, as she’s certainly been someone with her “ear to the ground” on these topics for a while.

The projects among the class certainly are wide of field, even within the scope of the “green” universe. Some of the topics include:

  • Solar power rollout in the US and remote locations in Central America
  • Lean manufacturing with a focus on reducing environmental impact
  • Environmentally preferential sourcing policy development for municipalities
  • Groundwater conservation in India
  • Improving environmental impact of large data centers

I can’t talk much (yet) about my team’s project, but it involves Eco-labels such as Cradle2Cradle, LEED, and GreenSeal. The topic is actually very closely tied to this article from triplepundit. The question of whether government intervention is required as the impetus of implementing sustainable practices is a huge one. Our team is monitoring closely developments in the State of California, the EU, and China to come to a conclusion on this that might predict the strategic direction firms in all industries must consider. This is a matter of real business, whichever way this particular question falls. I’m pleased that I’ll be wrapping up the MBA in December knowing that we’ve tackled one of the most important business questions in my generation and all those to follow.