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.

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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!

sweatervest

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.

Principled Leadership

August 29, 2009

I thoroughly enjoyed John Allison‘s visit to our Executive MBA class at Wake Forest University this morning. Mr. Allison is the Chairman and former CEO of BB&T, and has recently joined the faculty at WFU.

August 28, 2009

John Allison at WFU, August 28, 2009

Mr Allison’s discussion was focused on the values that he help ingrain into the culture at the bank:

Reality (Fact-Based)
Reason (Objectivity)
Independent Thinking
Productivity
Honesty
Integrity
Justice (Fairness)
Pride
Self-Esteem (Self-Motivation)
Teamwork/Mutual (Supportiveness)

We had the opportunity to discuss the sub-prime mortgage crisis and how BB&T really got screwed by being forced to take TARP money. The real takeaways from the discussion, though, were the perspectives of a principled leader. The values described today seem on the surface like any other set of values you might see on any corporate bulletin board. When you study them in detail (and hear Mr. Allison describe them), it’s clear that these are the virtues of humanity, and not just a set of characteristics that might assist in business goals. The most poignant set of the values are the ones centered around objectivity and fact-based management. The most memorable quote from today’s session is that the number one reason a small business will fail is because the leader evades reality. You have to know your place in the real world around you.

BB&T has put a focus and premium on individualism, which could be a real risk. However, because the vision and goals are clearly defined and permeated through the organization, the individualism should ultimately lead to creativity and innovation, rather than anarchy. As Mr. Allison transitions to academia, I think he knows and can have confidence that his company is as well-poised to weather any shocks and disruptions as a company can be in these times. This is another example to me how the people in business are more important than any product or technology for ensuring long term value.

I recently read an article in the August issue of Valley Business Front by Anne Clelland. Her article deals with the question of what to do with a “meddling” employee who frequently questions management and even goes as far as suggesting changes to the company mission statement. Anne’s advice for this situation is:

The greatest gift leaders can give their employees is to draw a clear line between employer and employee, designate who’s to do what, and do the leader’s side with authority, credibility, and consistency….and lead the company so well that the meddlers can stop worrying about whether they’re the coach or you are, and be the true team players you hired in the first place.

My thoughts immediately went in an opposite direction.

In my mind, there are two likely reasons for an employee to “meddle” – 1) They actually have good ideas and are looking to take ownership in their organization, or 2) Management really has no idea what they are doing or hasn’t clearly communicated the vision. In both cases, the meddler is really an asset. The question is how do you capitalize on it.

In the first case, the employee is an idea factory. The mutual frustration exhibited would stem from a lack of a meaningful outlet . I’m not saying any employee in any company should be allowed a seat at every board meeting, but any employee in any company of any size should have a clearly defined path of influence on their area of responsibility. There are plenty of examples in many industries of this in action – line workers suggesting better locations for tools for increased efficiency, bus boys suggesting new recipes, and so on. If the CEO’s suggestion box is full, it’s probably because the lower level managers aren’t listening to their direct reports.

The second case likely stems from a lack of company identity. Perhaps an employee suggests a new mission statement because they have no connection to the current one. Communication of the mission and vision is much more than simply repeating it in email signatures or putting it on banners. The mission needs to be real. If a manager has to “draw a line” because they are challenged, it’s because the common goal is unclear. In a case where you might be tempted to say the meddling employee simply doesn’t fit and should be removed, you must think of why that employee was hired to begin with. It probably has something to do with an ill-defined culture and corporate mission.

In today’s world, no company, from a mom and pop grocer to a mega-conglomerate, can rest on their laurels that what get them here will be what keeps them in business 2 years from now. Cycles and spin-up time for new technologies are short and getting shorter. Companies can no longer “do one thing and do it well”. The new strategy should be “do one thing, and figure out the next way to do it better before the next guy does”. One of the best chances a company has to adapt and prosper is to act on good ideas. Stifling an enthusiastic employee with an “I’m the boss” defense is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.

Today’s IT Management for MBA’s class had one interesting takeaway for me: a list of complaints companies typically have with IT vendors. The list, as adapted from a 2007 Forrester Research study is basically as follows:

  • Cost savings not as much as expected
  • Inability to respond to changing business needs
  • Inflexibility towards price, volume or scope changes
  • Not enough time invested by the vendor towards making the contract successful
  • Not enough effort towards continuous improvement
  • Lack of cooperation with other vendors or suppliers
  • Poor or inconsistent quality

I read this list as good checklist for what a company like Vision Point Systems should be pitching to all potential and current clients. I believe we already do a good job of incorporating the tenants associated with avoiding these mistakes into our business culture, and that this is a main reason for our success in the face of competition from other larger and more established IT consulting companies. I’ll certainly be sure to emphasize these aspects even more from here on out.

IT Management for MBAs

January 10, 2009

I started the second semester in the Wake Forest Executive MBA program today. One of the classes on the transcript for this semester is Information Technology Management. As you can imagine, there’s a good mix of technology tenderfoots and techies in the program. It will be quite interesting to me to see how this class progresses.

Today’s opening session left me with the following thoughts.

  • The professor does seem to appreciate the fact that we are living in exponential times, as is very well communicated through this video. I sensed an academic concession that the topics covered in the class will be outdated soon after this session is finished.
  • There is a negative bias against “IT” from those people who are in non-IT positions. I got a real reminder of how much of a hindrance infrastructure IT folks are perceived as, and how nervous managers can get when it comes to business application implementation.
  • The Client-Server model seems to be pervasive. SAAS was mentioned briefly, but there was an emphasis on how systems are centralized in hardware server.

I’ll keep posting on other interesting items covered down the road.