Question:

First, let me tell you that LOMS has been of great help.

It was interesting and very concise.

Thanks to it, I was able to get an offer from BCG and Oliver Wyman.

I really enjoyed meeting the consultants, but ultimately feel BCG is a better fit.

In any case, I have a question for you regarding Consulting vs. industry. I have been told that one year in consulting = 2 – 3 in industry.

How accurate is that in practice? If I leave a consulting firm, what’s next?

I hear many people go into positions in strategy. But is there something else?

I imagine someone interested in product/marketing management is better off going into industry. Any thoughts?

My Reply:

First off, congratulations on your BCG and Oliver Wyman offers. I am glad my guidance has been helpful to you in this next step in your career.

Let me start by answering your question about career options after consulting.

The short answer is that you can pretty much do anything… literally.

So yes, I do think that 1 year in consulting is worth 2-3 years in industry… but more important than the years’ ratio is the quality of those years.

In consulting, you work on very high-level strategic issues, board-of-director-level issues.

There are many, many, many people in industry who work 30 years and never work on a board-level issue. In my three years at McKinsey, I worked on close to a dozen such issues.

Board issues are very different than functional issues, which is the more common experience you see in industry.

If someone works in industry for three years in marketing, they have three years of experience in marketing.  The experience in consulting is more akin to CEO-in-training-type experiences.

You are simply able to “connect the dots” between disparate functional issues that those in industry are simply unable to see.

For example, if a customer complains that customer service is lousy: Why is it lousy? Is it because the company hired the wrong CSRs (customer service representatives)? In which case, it’s a human resources issue.

Or did the company hire the right people, but how they are being deployed is causing the complaints. In this case, it is an issue with a client services’ incorrect decision.

Or are clients unhappy because your products stink?  Is that a design problem? A manufacturing problem? Or a problem involving sales and marketing over-selling and over-promising in their messages, causing the client to have unrealistic expectations?

Or are retail partners selling the product in such a way that is somehow incomplete? Thereby causing the end consumer a negative customer experience.

Given something as simple as a recurring customer service complaint, what is the actual problem?

A VP of client services with 20 years could not tell you the underlying cause of the problem.

They would tell you how many more people are needed to staff up to handle the complaints, but they are generally not cross-functionally and big-picture-oriented enough to “see” how the pieces of the puzzle (the different functions in the company) interconnect.

The VP of human resources could not either. They could tell you how to hire better CSRs or implement a re-training program, but doing a cross-functional root cause analysis is not in their usual job description either.

Generally speaking, in many companies (perhaps Fortune 500 companies with strategic planning departments excluded) there is often one person who has this cross-functional and big-picture perspective — the person running the business.

Yet, in just 18 months of work in consulting, you quickly develop this skill, which is in extremely short supply in industry.

This allows you to tackle any role with this particular perspective in your tool bag.

Here are some examples of jobs and roles my friends took after 2 – 3 years at McKinsey.  Keep in mind my colleague group started at McKinsey after undergraduate, so you’ll see some go to grad school.  The career choices for Associates after three years is similar in terms of industry (minus the grad school).

* Harvard or Stanford MBA

* Yale Law

* Started an internet company (two sold theirs for $80M+)

* Work for an LBO firm

* Help run a non-profit

* Work for a mid-size movie studio

* Become chief of staff for a CEO

* Work in product management

* Become a chief information officer of a startup

* Work for a client and run a division of the client’s company managing 300 employees

*Work in strategy or business development for a big company

* Become an independent film writer and producer

* Go get a PhD in Psychology

* Run their parent’s family-owned small business

* Work for one of the major fashion designers in NYC

Here are where some of my friends from BCG, Bain, Mercer, etc… ended up working.

* Ran a part of gap.com

* A partner at a venture capital firm

* Partner at a private equity firm

* VP of marketing for Ghiradelli Chocolates (after working in brand management at Clorox)

* Ran a product management group at Paypal

* Worked in finance at Pepsi, HBS, Brand manager at Oral-B

* In charge of global marketing launches for Gillette

The mix of industry and roles is constrained not by your skills, but by your preferences. You will notice the roles are really all over the place — very much reflective of personal interests that any kind of restriction based on qualifications.

The only field I can think of where consulting is a major negative is a highly creative field. One of my friends at McKinsey tried to break into Hollywood — working for one of the big Hollywood agents.

He found that McKinsey on the resume was a liability.

If you went to work for a fashion designer on the design side, I think consulting would be a liability… a degree from the FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology (I think is the name) would be more credible.

Though I know several people who went to work for high-end designers on the business side, and the experience was very much valued.

Personally, I went down the startup route.  I started one of the first social networking companies in the world — about five years before Facebook got started.  60,000 users in the first 60 days, no revenue model in sight, end of story.

I later became what is now known as chief of staff to the CEO of another startup company, stepped in as interim chief information officer, helped the company go public writing parts of the SEC filing documents, and took on a permanent role as VP of product management.

Ran a $20M division of another publicly-traded company while my wife went to Harvard to get her MBA, decided to focus on having kids. Ditched the career in software.

Started my current company, which over a few years of fumbling my way around in ecommerce, morphed into the consulting company that is it now.

Published four business books. Serve as an expert source for various media organizations – Fox, MSNBC, TIME magazine, the Wall Street JournalInc magazine, EntrepreneurForbes, etc…

Basically, I answer business questions for reporters in much the same fashion I answer your questions for you.

So, that has been my career path. Lots of startups, technology, product management, product marketing and consulting (for small and mid-size companies).

One thing that is worth pointing out is that in the two companies where I worked as an executive, I was very consistently seen by many in the company as the likely future CEO of the company.

This was the case in large part because I could see how all the pieces of the company fit together, and others with deep functional experience did not have this breadth of perspective.

Though this did cause some resentment with some, due to my age only being in my mid 20’s at the time.

So, the value add of the consulting experience was that I could run my department or division effectively while being able to see how it fit into the whole… and I was one of the few, if not only, people in the company capable of troubleshooting a cross-functional issue. Nobody else had the breadth of experience to do it.

My career trajectory as an employee in industry was equally as fast as my trajectory at McKinsey — and I believe the latter enabled the former.