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Consulting Decaffeinated: Part 2

Consulting Decaffeinated: Part 2

By Nitin Chandak

April 26, 2021

While we covered aspects of the consulting industry in Part 1, in Part 2, we will discuss about what it takes to join a consulting firm.

Consulting firms are loosely categorized into strategy consulting firms and management consulting firms. Strategy consulting firms are those that work on advising clients on strategic shifts in either the corporate structure or the business verticals. These are firms like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, AT Kearney, etc.

Management consulting firms are the ones that work on strategy-building as well as on the implementation of the strategy (either proposed by them or by others). These are firms like the Big 4: EY, PwC, KPMG, and Deloitte among others.

Despite the type of consulting firms, the method of shortlisting aspirants is similar. Although the popularity of these firms varies, the strategy consulting firms do find the crème de la crème of the B-schools aspiring for their entry-level positions. The shortlisting criteria are as follows:

  • The strength of a candidate’s academic background and their performance, prior to joining and in the business school
  • The academic and gender diversity of the candidate
  • A candidate’s prior work experience, if any, and the projects they have worked on
  • A candidate’s extracurricular activities, such as sports/event organization, involvement in institute committees/NGOs, etc. 

Once you are shortlisted for an interview with the firm, the next step is, which matters the most, cracking the interview.

So, What Are the Purpose and Components of a Consulting Interview?

The consulting interview is an exercise in judging if you are ready to represent the firm in front of a client. That means the candidate must be sharp and be able to engage the client in a meaningful conversation. The first impression that you make here is crucial.

The interview consists of case studies, which judge both your problem-solving ability and your ability to communicate effectively with the interviewer while making logical inferences on the basis of the information presented and following a structured approach to arrive at a conclusion to the case.

Hence, there are two things to work on when preparing for a consulting interview:

  • Practicing various types of case studies
  • Preparing to become an effective communicator

What Is a Case Study?

A case study is a methodology for in-depth investigation of an individual, a group, or an event. Case study is made up of two independent words—case and study. A case is a scenario or a business problem that needs to be solved. Study is the act of investigating the facts around the case and deriving conclusions to understand and mitigate the business problem.

The problem statement of the case defines its scope and you need to avoid biases or external information while solving a Case. Let’s say that the interviewer in the case mentions that the population of India is 100 million. Even if that may not be true, as it isn’t, that is the fact that needs to be used during the case. The interviewer would be judging you on your ability to comprehend the data presented.

Case study method provides a systematic way of:

  • Looking at events
  • Collecting data
  • Analyzing information
  • Providing conclusions

A case study may belong to various domains, such as Business Ethics, Organizational Behavior, Strategy, Operations, Marketing, Human Resources, Finance, etc. In general, any case study is a combination of multiple disciplines.

What Are the Different Types of Case Studies?

While there are different types of cases that interviewers assess a candidate on, they can be broadly categorized under the four most common types:

  • Guesstimates/Market Sizing: A case study format where an estimate, generally numerical, has to be made in a given scenario. An example of this would be—“How many cars are there in Kolkata?” Another would be—“How many crows fly in the sky of Delhi?”

    Although they have no apparent connection with real-life scenarios, these test your ability to logically arrive at a number close to the real number by following a systematic approach. The final number might not be important as long as you are able to build a logical deduction.

  • Profitability/Pricing: These case studies generally focus on scenarios where organizations face challenge with their profitability in either their entire line of business or in a segment of their business, and the candidate needs to investigate the reason behind this problem and suggest potential solutions to alleviate them. Example of such a case study would be—“A large player in the paper industry has seen their profits reduce by 25%. Identify the reason behind it and suggest ways to mitigate this.”
  • Market Entry/New Product Launch/Growth/Expansion: These case studies pertain to scenarios where an organization wants to enter into a business, or a new segment, different from their own and needs advice on whether they should enter. If the answer is yes, then what approach should they adopt in order to do so. An example would be—“A leader in mobile phone market wants to move into home security appliance market and gain a market share of 20% in two years. Identify if they should, and if yes, suggest how.”
  • Mergers and Acquisitions: These case studies cover scenarios where organizations are looking to merge with or acquire another firm and seek advice regarding its effectiveness. An example would be—“A large bank wants to acquire a fintech start-up to supplement its digital strategy. Advise if this is a good idea and suggest ways to make the acquisition successful.”

Most of the cases that are asked by the interviewers might be a simplified version of the case that they have worked on in real life.

How Do I Solve Case Studies?

Every case study is unique. Analyzing a case, however, requires a structured approach which can be applied to the situation presented while not being too rigid. Here, we shall discuss one such approach and then work on a case using it.

  • Identifying the Problem: The material in the case study is much like the daily conversations. In a conversation, we usually choose a topic and then discuss that topic. Now, the problem we face is that there is a lot of information. The idea is to figure out and organize the useful information valuable for assessing the core problem.
  • Defining the Problem Statement: We know that the first step is to identify the problem. However, like any disease has symptoms, problems too have effects. Often, we confuse problems with their effects. To identify a problem, “why?” must be asked. When we cannot derive any further meaningful response to this question, we probably have arrived at our problem. The problem statement should be terse.
  • Identify the Stakeholders: Once we arrive at the problem, we can figure out who all are affected by the problem. They are the stakeholders. The information available is always in bits and pieces. One needs to fill in the gap. Thus, one needs to make certain assumptions, while evaluating, to make a decision. The assumptions should be fairly reasonable.
  • Current Situation Analysis: We, then, need to take all the information we have obtained and arrive at an understanding of the current situation. For this, we may employ various frameworks from among these: SWOT, Profit/Revenue/Cost, 4Cs, 4Ps, PESTLE, BCG Matrix, Porter’s Five Forces, and Demand–Supply Curve. We shall briefly discuss these frameworks in this article.
  • Analyzing and Evaluating the Options: Upon taking stalk of the current situation, the next step is to identify the various options available to solve the problem at hand. One needs to come up with different alternatives for implementation. For instance, one must understand that status quo in itself is an alternative. It is not avoiding decision-making. Perhaps, it is a conscious decision that with certain modifications, status quo is the best course of action under the given circumstances. Besides this, one must try and come up with more creative thinking and suggest other alternatives.
  • Deciding on an Action Plan: Once you come up with all possible alternatives, to choose the best possible alternative, one must have a set of criteria. For instance, criteria could be how cost and revenue models are affected, how consistent is the alternative, whether important targets are achieved, etc. The final alternative will be the one that fulfils most of the criteria.
  • Contingency Plan: We should always have a Plan B. In case the strategy adopted by us does not pan out, we should have a fall-back approach to achieve the objectives.

What Are Some of the Frameworks That Were Discussed Earlier?

In this section, we shall discuss a few frameworks that are commonly used in consulting interviews to solve case studies.

Framework 1: SWOT Analysis

This is an analysis in 2×2 format where we evaluate the firm’s four different factors—Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities (for growth), and Threats (from probable competitors). While Strengths and Weaknesses analyse the current situation, Opportunities and Threats are forward-looking evaluation metrics.

Let’s evaluate Reliance Jio using this framework.

Framework 2: Profit = Revenue – Cost

This is a framework where the profits of the firm might be affected and you shall be asked to find the reason. Break the problem into analysis of Revenue and Cost in the following ways:

  • Revenue = Units sold x per-unit price
  • Cost = Fixed cost + Variable cost
  • Drill down under each revenue and cost details to investigate further

Let’s analyze a neighbourhood grocery store.

Framework 3: 4Cs

The 4C framework is an important framework to assess the company’s position, its competitors’ position, and factors affecting customer engagement. You use this framework to assess current situation or future threat to a company.

  • Company: The company’s current strategies and strengths
  • Customer: Who are the customers? What are their inherent demands?
  • Competition: Who is the competition? How to thwart any action from them?
  • Cost: What are the costs of procuring and selling the offering?

Let’s analyze Flipkart along these lines.

Framework 4: 4Ps

This is a framework that you use to assess the product placement strategy (for a new product) in the market. The four different evaluation parameters are:

  • Product: What product design to launch that should be market-fit?
  • Price: How should it be priced? Relative to competition or cost-plus basis?
  • Place: Where should you sell—offline channels, online channels, or a combination of both?
  • Promotion: What mix of promotions should you use? What should be the communication strategy for each channel? Who is the target?

Let’s analyze Bitcoin using the framework.

Framework 5: Porter’s Five Forces

Analyzing the market dynamics on the following five parameters:

  • Competition within existing players in the market
  • Threat of new players from entering the market and disrupting the dynamics
  • Threats of substitutes shrinking the current market size
  • Bargaining powers of suppliers which could affect the output price or supply
  • Bargaining power of buyers, thereby affecting the pricing and, in turn, profitability

For reference, let’s apply this framework to Netflix India’s OTT service. 

Framework 6: BCG Matrix

This, as the name suggests, is a framework which was designed by the consulting firm BCG. The 2×2 matrix assesses the importance of various business within the portfolio of the company and how to prioritize each. An analysis of ITC Ltd. showcases how we can use the BCG Matrix.

                                                        Analysis sourced from Google

 

Framework 7: PESTLE Model

Here you are asked to analyse an industry/company based on the following parameters:

  • Political: Discuss on government influence on industry/company
  • Economic: Economic implications of the impact on industry (example: inflation, interest)
  • Social: People and customs’ influence on the industry/company
  • Technological: Any tech development that might affect the industry/company
  • Legal: New legislations that could affect the industry/company
  • Environmental: Changes in environment that might affect the industry/company

We have performed an analysis on Donald Trump using the framework.

Framework 8: Demand–Supply Framework

This concerns with shift in Demand and Supply curve, based on which the equilibrium shifts. The following diagram shows a condition where the quantity demanded decreases for the same size if the Demand Curve shifts left.

These frameworks find applications in different kinds of case studies as the situation demands and can be very flexible to suit the needs.

An example case is elaborated here:

Interviewer: Our client, Mobiles4you, is India’s largest mobile seller. They are looking to move into home security devices and need our help to make a decision.

In order to identify and define the problem, the candidate needs to ask clarifying questions.

Candidate: I would take one minute to formulate my thoughts.

Interviewer: Sure.

Candidate: I have a few clarifying questions to better understand the problem.

Interviewer: Go ahead.

Candidate: Thanks. As I understand, the client wants to move into home security devices. Are these devices something that the client would manufacture?

Interviewer: No they will be sourcing the devices from a third-party manufacturer.

Candidate: What are the different range of devices that the client is planning to sell and are these differentiated devices?

Interviewer: There are two devicesone that costs ₹ 5,000 and another that costs ₹ 10,000. These are not differentiated devices.

Candidate: Who are our competitors? Is the market fragmented?

Interviewer: The market is quite fragmented and no one company dominates. A lot of regional players sell their products in different parts of the country.

Candidate: What is our target market?

Interviewer: What do you think on the basis of the information provided to you?

Candidate: I think we are looking at urban markets and target segment is middle class and upper class.

Interviewer: That is correct.

Candidate: I would like to summarize and define the problem statement. The client is a large mobile seller that is looking to enter a new home security device market. The product is non-differentiated and the client wants to sell them in the urban market. They want to know the market size.

Interviewer: That’s right.

Candidate: I’ll take a minute to gather my thoughts and come up with the structure to approach the solution.

Interviewer: Sure, go ahead.

The candidate has identified and defined the problem. They have also pinpointed the stakeholders involved. Now they have asked for some time to do the current situation analysis—herein to get the market size.

Candidate: India’s population is 1.3 billion and assuming 30% of the population stays in urban areas, it means 390 million could be our potential target. Of these, only people in Tier 1 and top Tier 2 cities would be mostly looking for such home security devices. Assuming 30% of the urban population stays in such locations, the size is now down to ~120 million.

Interviewer: Correct, carry on.

Candidate: Now with this 120 million, we can break down the population into four segments: Lower class (40%)—48 million, lower middle class (25%)—30 million, upper middle class (25%)—30 million, and upper class (10%)—12 million.

Interviewer: Okay.

Candidate: The lower class can’t afford a home security device and the upper class would either have more expensive security devices or have other security arrangements. Therefore, our focus should be on the middle class. We have two products—one priced at ₹ 5,000 which would be more attractive to the lower middle class while the one priced at ₹ 10,000 would be more attractive for the upper middle class.

Interviewer: Carry on.

Candidate: Out of the 30 million lower middle class, 80% (~24 million) of them would be staying in rented accommodations with minimal security while 20% will own their house (~6 million). Out of the 80%, we can make an assumption that 50% (~12 million) would be able to afford a home security device while the rest would either not or will not want it. For 20%, a majority ~80% (~5 million) would need some kind of home security. Adding up, this becomes 17 million possible home security devices priced at ₹ 5,000 that we can sell. Then the market for this product is ₹ 85 billion.

Interviewer: What about the other part?

Candidate: Coming to the upper middle class, we have 25% of the people in this category. Seventy percent (~21 million) of the people here would be owning their homes in gated societies and would not need any kind of home security device. For the rest 30% (~9 million), they would have their own homes or living in rented single apartments and would need some sort of security for their home. Assuming 80% of these people go for the product, we have a target market size of 7.2 million people which translates to market value of ₹ 72 billion. Hence, total market size is ₹ 157 billion.

Interviewer: The client finds the market size big enough to enter. What are the three things that you would tell them to do as part of their market entry strategy?

Candidate: I would like to take a minute to think about this.

Interviewer: Sure.

Now the candidate would be thinking about various alternatives and coming up with the three recommendations for the market entry.

Candidate: There are three things that I would suggest the company to do. Firstly, use their existing distribution outlets and leverage their brand to earn the customer’s trust. Secondly, gain market share by providing discounts by bundling mobiles and home security devices. Thirdly, incentivize regional retailers to carry client’s products over other competitors’ products.

Interviewer: That sounds good. Thanks.

In conclusion, consulting can be a very rewarding profession that allows you to be on the cutting edge of advancement in any industry but requires one to be ready to be at their best problem-solving self—day in, day out—while being able to communicate their ideas and thoughts effectively.

 

Nitin Chandak is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, where he majored in Finance. He has been a consistent academic performer throughout. Post completion of his MBA, he has worked as an analytics consultant for three years. Prior to his MBA, he worked with Backspace (as Breakspace was then known) where he was instrumental in strengthening the Communications and Education Consulting divisions. Nitin is an ardent Manchester United fan and a chocoholic. He wishes to travel the world.

In the Consulting Decaffeinated module, we work closely with the consulting aspirants on mentoring them on case cracking and also improving their client communication. It is probably the most comprehensive and perhaps one-of-its-kind consulting preparation package available for B-school students.

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What’s all the Hoopla about Data Science, Data Analytics, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence?

What’s all the Hoopla about Data Science, Data Analytics, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence?

By Nitin Chandak

April 19, 2021

One day Ankita, pregnant for six months now, was browsing the Internet while sipping a cup of coffee. Among the litany of baby product advertisements, which she was getting used to, one particularly caught her eye. It was an application which claimed that it could tell how her baby would look like—right from the day they are born to their old age. She was amazed.

Such applications of AI are very common nowadays. In fact, your entire life rotates around AI, ML, and Analytics. You wake up and glance at your mobile: the facial recognition algorithm identifies you and unlocks your phone. You ask Alexa to turn on the light and play some music. Realizing who is speaking using voice recognition technology, Alexa plays from the personalized playlist. You talk to the remote of your SmartTV and it starts playing your favorite TV show right from where you have left it. It uses Analytics to segment you and on the basis of viewing history of others who belong to your segment, it even suggests some other shows you may like. Once done, you book a cab to go to office; you know the prices fluctuate due to demand. Google guides the driver of the cab to the destination. At the office, you mark your attendance by scanning your retina and log in to your system by scanning your fingerprint. I can go on and on and these are the very basics. We haven’t even come to the world of Social Media or the post-COVID transformations.

While some organizations have been exploiting this new-age technology from their very inception, a large number are now jumping on the bandwagon to transform the way they do business and derive competitive advantage from data. And both are hiring for such roles from business schools and engineering colleges in droves. It is, in fact, becoming so popular that a few institutes have started offering specialized courses in Analytics and Data Science.

What Do You Mean by Data Analytics, Data Science, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence?

We all use Google, or Bing, for our search engine needs. On the basis of the earlier searches that you have done, your online activities, your demographics, etc., these search engines can create a profile of you and tag you to a customer segment.

Let’s say you are searching for a location you want to visit. As soon as you start typing the name of your destination, the engine would start prompting you various options. Once you have chosen your destination, the system will then show you the fastest route to that place.

Simply put, Data Analytics uses historical data on which analysis can be performed to derive actionable insights. It is used to answer questions that have been asked in a business context. In this case, the profile segmentation shows Analytics at work. There are four types of Data Analytics.

  • Descriptive—to understand what is happening or has happened in the past
  • Diagnostic—to identify why it is, or was, happening
  • Predictive—what can happen in the future
  • Prescriptive—what should be the future course of action

Artificial Intelligence is actually computers carrying out tasks which would otherwise require human judgement. In the instance cited earlier, it is about finding the fastest route between two points. It does not necessarily require any historical data or a predictive model; it just takes into consideration the distance between the two points and tells you the way without needing any input from you.

Machine Learning, a subset of Artificial Intelligence, does not require any human intervention but predicts the outcome of any event on the basis of the historical data and keeps learning as we feed more data into it, i.e., it is self-learning. In this case, Machine Learning (deep learning, a subset of Machine Learning which uses neural networks—a technique to replicate human brain) is behind the search engine predicting your destination. There are three types of learning problems in Machine Learning.

  • Supervised learning—where models are trained on labeled data
  • Unsupervised learning—where models are trained on unlabeled data
  • Reinforcement learning—where models learn from the feedback they receive

Data Science deals with the study of data for uncovering patterns, generating actionable business insights, predicting future events, amongst other things. While it may leverage AI/ML, there is more to Data Science than this, and all AI/ML is not Data Science. It is a broad and evolving field that is hard to define. However, the key to Data Science projects is the use of advanced algorithms which leverage Mathematics, Statistics, and an understanding of business context. Some common activities include framing the problem, data collection, data engineering, exploratory data analysis, model development, and insight generation.

                                                     Fig 1. AI vs ML vs Data Science

Excited? Next Question in Your Mind Is: “Would This Be a Good Career Option for Me?”

To answer this, let’s look at certain things that a career in Data Analytics/AI/ML demands:

  • Passion for Data: Having a passion for data, and turning data to information is a key requisite for having a successful career in this field. Data is proliferated everywhere (so much so that a term Big Data has been coined) in various forms—structured and unstructured. Data can be sourced in various formats—speech, text, image, etc.—and from various sources—calls, documents, emails, applications, databases, etc. In fact, majority of data are not even present in electronic formats. You should be able to use the available data to the best of your ability while ensuring that if there are opportunities to improve data collection, those should also be pursued.
  • Statistical Knowhow: Invariably, all the applications of Data Analytics require some understanding of statistics. Basic statistics is enough for most of the applications, but if you want to dive deep into technical details of Machine Learning algorithms, or want to develop some of these techniques, advanced knowledge would be required.
  • Knowledge of Machine Learning Algorithms: Having a knowhow of Machine Learning algorithms is a good thing. Whether a problem would need to apply basic techniques, such as Logistic Regression and Random Forest, or if it would require advanced techniques, such as Convolutional Neural Network, Recurrent Neural Network, Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision, a knowledge of Machine Learning algorithms helps speed up the process.
  • Grasp of Problem Statement and Business Requirement: It is of paramount importance that one understands the business context in which data is to be used. Same data can be used or represented in different ways for different contexts. Let’s say we have a collection of images of people involved in an accident; if the business problem is to identify faces in the images then we would use a different approach than the case where we have to identify the injury types.
  • Hands-on Experience in Coding: Business school graduates might not be expected to have hands-on experience in Data Science tools or software, such as Python, R, SQL, SAS, etc. However, it is always a good skill to have and goes a long way in ensuring that development-wise, your projects are on a sound ground.
  • Attention to Detail: It entails that we need to pay attention to where data comes from and what it represents. Paying attention to such details goes a long way in solving complex problems in an easier way, or eliminate them. When an organization wanted to automate one of their processes, they first started with extracting information from electronic PDFs to feed into another of their applications because two different teams were handling this. However, once they realized that the source of their information is already electronic, which they were converting into PDF format and sending from one team to another, they eliminated the entire process and populated data directly to the destination application.

What Are the Career Options in Data Science and Data Analytics?

As this is an evolving field, a lot of such opportunities keep on arising from different fields of business. However, there are some prominent areas where Data Science roles are offered to MBA and engineering graduates.

  • Pure Play Analytics/Data Science Organizations: Companies which focus only on Analytics or who have separate Analytics businesses hire from business schools for project management roles, in general, and sometimes as data scientists as well. They offer Analytics as a service to their clients. The project roles require one to:
    • act as a consultant, where you, remotely or on client site, study existing business processes and identify problems that may be solved using Data Science/Analytics projects,
    • act as a solutions architect, and ideate the approach toward solving problems and develop solution designs, and
    • act as a project manager to:
      • carry out cost-benefit analysis and create proposals and get internal and client stakeholder buy-ins,
      • manage seamless delivery of the project that sometimes requires hands-on coding, and
      • estimate the benefits derived from the projects.

Apart from this, one may be working on learning and implementing new technologies, going through regular up-skilling sessions, and exploring additional opportunities. While some projects might be technology-intensive, others may be reporting-driven. As one progresses in the organization, the focus shifts more from actual delivery to stakeholder management and business development.

The industries these companies may cater to are Insurance (Property and Casualty, Life and Annuities), Banking, Financial Services, Retail, Healthcare, Travel, Transport, Sports, etc.

  • Captive Analytics/Data Science roles: These are companies that hire for Analytics or Data Science roles for their in-house businesses from various sectors.
    • Banking and Financial Services Industry:
      • Quants Roles:
        • Trading Roles are offered to MBA graduates in high frequency trading firms where you will have to create algorithms which identify patterns in the secondary capital markets. This can then be used to take and exit positions.
        • Other roles involve creation of models for derivatives, structured financial products, and equity products which target risk management, new product development, business development, etc.
      • Credit Card and Banking Companies: These companies possess a lot of data about their customers including customer demographics, spending habits, credit scores, etc. The types of projects here would be on projects for business development, fraud analysis, customer segmentation, risk management, etc.
      • Insurance Companies: Insurance companies engage data scientists to help with regulatory compliance, fraud analytics, new product development, customer segmentation, underwriting support, risk management, leakage prevention, etc.

Skills required in all these cases are almost always hands-on experience with coding in Python/SAS/R/SQL, etc., along with sound understanding of financial markets, financial products, such as equities, derivatives, and the macroeconomic factors, among other things. While in some cases, MBA graduates are required to do hands-on work, in other cases their role is of project management.

  • Retail/E-commerce/E-gaming: The roles in the retail and e-commerce industries are in teams which deal with projects related to new product development, customer segmentation, cost optimization, customer experience improvement, market analysis, market segmentation, etc. A lot of such roles are as program managers where you would oversee the development and implementation of such projects/programs.

Apart from these, there are many fields, such as sports, real estate, telecom, ride-sharing, hospitality, etc., where data science and analytics are becoming key to their operations and corporate decision-making.

History is rife with examples of humans collecting and analyzing data to make decisions. With the advent of electronic format of data collection in the last few decades and the omnipresent Internet, this is surely just the beginning. I wonder what the future holds!

 

Nitin Chandak is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, where he majored in Finance. He has been a consistent academic performer throughout. Post completion of his MBA, he has worked as an analytics consultant for three years. Prior to his MBA, he worked with Backspace (as Breakspace was then known) where he was instrumental in strengthening the Communications and Education Consulting divisions. Nitin is an ardent Manchester United fan and a chocoholic. He wishes to travel the world.

Our Pre-Placement Crasher program provides one-to-one/institute-level mentoring to students aspiring to join leading data analytics firms.  

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Consulting Decaffeinated: Part I

Consulting Decaffeinated: Part I

By Nitin Chandak

April 15, 2021

Consulting, today, is the most sought-after career choice across business schools around the world, though for most of the business school students, consulting is nothing short of an enigma.

In a two-part series, we would talk about consulting, the types of consulting firms, their modus operandi, and what it takes to succeed in consulting. We shall start with part I, focusing on what the consulting firms do and what to expect when one joins a consulting firm.

With Covid-19 raging on with waves and variants plaguing the planet, a few industries, such as travel, hotel, and airlines, are facing existential crises while others, such as e-commerce, logistics, and ed-tech, have seen unprecedented growth. It is a black-swan event that has presented some organizations with enormous opportunities to derive competitive advantage over their competitors, while others are fighting tooth and nail to survive.

While the sectoral developments have boosted businesses, another factor that promises to transform businesses has been adoption of new technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, thereby automating non-value-added processes, undertaking digital and financial transformation, reimagining organizational structure, redesigning their operational processes, innovating their marketing and sales practices, increasing outsourcing, and/or acquiring competition.

Whether the economy is booming or hit by downturn, consulting is one sector that is in demand. In case of good economy, the companies would want to extend their leadership positions in the market and hence turn in swaths to the consultants. In case the economy contracts, the companies use consultants to optimize the operations and costs to keep the bottom line intact.

Consulting firms offer opportunities to work on diverse projects which encompass varied aspects, from operations to finance to human resource management. The smartest graduates generally tend to prefer these learning opportunities offered by consulting and this preference, in turn, increases competition for the limited openings at consulting firms. Hence, the crème de la crème of the best business school students prepare rigorously to clinch the golden ticket.

 

What is Consulting?

Consulting is a broad term. It encompasses a variety of domains and verticals. The overall purpose is that the consulting firms would help identify and recommend solutions that would aid different aspects of the client’s business.  It can be in any domain and of various types, each completely different from the other. One consultant might help a team formulate their operational strategy while the other may help formulate marketing strategy. Yet another might be working on Mergers and Acquisitions.

The consulting industry is generally identified under image consulting and management consulting.

  • Image Consulting: Deals with improvement of image, especially that of a public figure like politicians, actors, etc. Here, a set of professionals works with you and several PR agencies to alter/enhance your image.

  • Management Consulting: The area of consulting that concerns businesses is called management consulting. This is further divided in five different segments on the basis of functional areas it addresses:

  • Strategy Consulting: Following areas of businesses are covered within this:

    • Corporate structure

    • Public policy

    • Business transformation

    • Innovation including disruption

  • Operations Consulting: The basics of operations like:

    • Operational processes

    • Lean six sigma implementation

    • Supply chain management

    • Logistics within businesses

  • Financial Consulting: This concerns the following four main aspects:

    • Mergers and acquisitions evaluation

    • Management of financial risk

    • Valuation of the target company

    • Due diligence for either investment or acquisition

  • Human Resource Consulting: The key aspects of people management, listed below, are covered here.

    • Talent acquisition

    • Change management including people optimization

    • Learning and development

    • Manpower planning

  • IT/Technology Consulting: IT implementation requires technology-intensive skill which is catered by consulting firms through their IT arm. The areas covered within IT consulting are:

    • IT strategy

    • Technology integration within verticals

    • IT transformation

    • IT optimization

What Does It Take to Succeed as a Consultant?

  • Burning That Midnight Oil: You must be ready to sweat it out to understand the problem statement and formulate innovative solutions to make a difference. Problem-solving is the skill of utmost value. With over 70 hours per week, a consultant’s life surely is hectic.

  • Living Out of a Suitcase: The life of a consultant is that of a traveler’s life. If you like to travel and love taking flights and staying in good hotels while keeping sharp every day to solve complex problems, consulting is for you.

  • Collaborator and Networker: Consulting is an industry that allows you to interact with the best minds in the business. Your peers almost always are as smart as or smarter than you; so, humility is an important quality. More than humility, it is the ability to strike a balance between humility and confidence that matters. Also, being able to network with business leaders and important personnel from client teams is equally important to succeed at the assignment.

  • Empathy: A consultant needs to empathize with the client. Understanding the business problem from a client’s perspective, without losing objectivity, is crucial to be able to arrive at an acceptable solution. Objective empathy is hard to cultivate but once developed and regularly honed, the skill enables you to excel in the professional world.

Typically, there are three models of consulting:

  • Expert Model: Cases where clients know the problem and go to a domain expert to get solution to their problems

  • Doctor–Patient Model: Where the client knows that there is some problem but needs help in identifying the problem and then getting the solution

  • Process Consultation Model: The client knows that there is some problem, needs help in identifying and solving it and in doing so, is also enabled to solve the issue on their own the next time

Last but not the least, consultants are generally well paid and the lifestyle is alluring. If all these factors appeal to you, then consulting is definitely a career option you would like to give a serious consideration to.

In Part 2, we would look at the evaluation parameters that are used to hire consultants and also how to ace interviews and crack cases so as to land a job in consulting.

 

Nitin Chandak is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, where he majored in Finance. He has been a consistent academic performer throughout. Post completion of his MBA, he has worked as an analytics consultant for three years. Prior to his MBA, he worked with Backspace (as Breakspace was then known) where he was instrumental in strengthening the Communications and Education Consulting divisions. Nitin is an ardent Manchester United fan and a chocoholic. He wishes to travel the world.

Our Pre-Placement Crasher program provides one-to-one/institute-level mentoring to students aspiring to join leading consulting firms.

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A Career in Finance after an MBA: A Primer

A Career in Finance after an MBA: A Primer

By Nitin Chandak

April 12, 2021

The prices today are around 500 dollars per megalitres or per million litres,” says the CEO of Waterfind—an Australian water trading firm. I was astonished; I had heard that the markets trade natural resources and commodities but didn’t think that could even include water. How far the financial markets have come!

Elon Musk tweets once and the markets swing wildly; logic, theories, experiences, all go out the window. A band of wild west underdogs of the subreddit WallStreetBets drives the price of GameStop from $10 to $400 in a matter of days, in the process, inflicting huge losses on established hedge funds. A piece of digital art, easily replicable, sells for more than works of some of the most revered artists from eras bygone. Finance is really a strange thing, you would be led to believe.

Peel through this social-media-fuelled noise and you can see a field that influences every facet of your daily life. It is an influencer in every aspect: right from the everyday, mundane decisions that we make with little to no thought—such as the amount of water to use for bathing, or the cloth to wear on a particular day—to the most complicated policy decisions the governments make. It defines the fabric of the society as we are, and have been from ages, and it is the catalyst for all good, and indeed evil, in this world.

The earliest recorded financial transactions were made in Mesopotamia; but the barter system has been there since time immemorial. With the invention of money—coins first and paper later—the process streamlined and trade between the different parts of the world flourished. Rulers began conquering, colonizing, and exploiting places, near and far, to increase their financial might. Empires came and went but the goal remained the same. Political systems, such as democracies and authoritarianism, are fundamentally based on the differences of their financial systems.

This key sector, thus, attracts top talent from business schools and pays handsomely for the efforts that it demands. That’s why perhaps you are here, reading this article.

Is a Career in Finance the Right Option for Me?

To answer this question, let’s look at a few things that a career in finance demands:

  • Love for Numbers: Whichever field of finance you choose, working with numbers is inevitable; some may need higher degree of number-crunching than others. The ability to quickly grasp the sense of data represented and to represent data in a meaningful format is sought after. By extension, the use of Microsoft Excel may become your bread and butter.

  • Finance Background: Prior knowledge of finance subjects, either as part of your curriculum (B.Com, BBA, etc.), certifications that you have pursued (CA, CFA), or your work experience, definitely renders you credible and provides you an edge. Even if you don’t have any background, appearing for the CFA exam provides an edge over others.

  • Financial Analysis and Modelling Skills: Financial Statement Analysis and Financial Modelling Skills form the backbone of most of the coveted jobs in the industry. You would be dealing with this day in and day out, especially at the earlier stages of your career. Hence, developing these skills is a must.

  • Educational Background: As you have sown so shall you reap. If you have a solid foundation with exceptional performance throughout your educational journey and supplement that with top-notch results in business schools, the finance companies would be clamoring to hire you.

  • Long Hours: You may be aware of the recent Goldman Sachs Investment Banking Division Analyst survey wherein responders indicated that they have been overworked and have suffered mental and physical issues in the process. While this is an extreme case, this field demands extended working hours and high-quality results.

  • Self-Motivated and Driven: As you would be working in an extremely competitive environment within small teams with highly productive competitors, you would be expected to match them. This would require you to be self-motivated and have a one-track mind towards achieving your goals.

  • Art of Selling: In the end, everything boils down to your capability to sell—both yourself and the deals that you are trying to make. This skill is as important as the technical skills, because, in the end, you have to impress upon key stakeholders your importance and the benefits of the deal you are making.

What are the Career Options in Finance after Business School?

You own a business selling “Tom and Jerry” toys. You want to expand your footprint and include “Lion King” toys in your collection for which you need to raise capital. That is precisely the moment when you would turn to an investment bank for guidance. The investment bank will provide you with two options to raise money—either through an Initial Public Offering (IPO) or by issuing bonds.

You choose the IPO route. A few years later, you see an up-and-coming toy maker selling “Hakuna Matata” toys and you want to make that a part of your line-up. The investment bank will then facilitate your acquisition.

You always want to know how the markets view your company. You read equity research reports about how well your company is performing, with a wide smile. You give your corporate finance team a big fat bonus for managing your cash flows and risks adequately.

You realise after a few more years that you no longer want to keep the company public. You have a high-performing business and the benefits of de-listing it outweigh the cons. But, you would now need capital from a different source to invest money in your business. Private equity funds would come to the rescue. They have war-chests from high net worth individuals and firms who want to invest their money in private companies to derive maximum returns. They would provide you the capital and help take your company private in return for a stake in your company. Everyone wins!

While you have been busy in the toy industry, you realized that there is a great scope in the stand-up comedy scene and you want a part of the action. You launch a start-up, “Laughing Buddha,” which is a comedy club in a prominent part of your city.

The club is doing great and now you wish to expand your footprint further. You need capital. Venture capital funds, sensing your impending success, fund your start-up for a piece of the pie.

After many such rounds, you cash out and your comedy club chain is acquired by a larger competitor. You now have a lot of money lying around while you need to take care of your toy business. Wealth Management groups happily employ your capital in appropriate financial instruments for a small commission.

As you can see, the financial services industry has evolved to cater to all the needs of the clients.

That’s Good, but Can You go a Bit More into Each Role?

Sure, let’s dive head-first into specific characteristics of few roles that are offered at the campus:

  • Investment Banking Associates: “Sell side” roles are offered by top investment banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Avendus, Ambit, O2Capital, etc. They recruit candidates to an entry-level position in the investment banking team. The on-campus role primarily entails undertaking research and creating reports in a particular domain or on a specific company to create pitch-books. These pitch-books are like brochures, which investment banks send to their potential clients to gain their business.

    Technically, you need to be strong with DCF Valuations, Financial Statement Analysis, and Financial Modelling. Once the deal is won, you are expected to work with the team that helps the client achieve their objectives.

    Bulge bracket (leading investment banking) firms offer two roles—front office and middle office; front office deals directly with clients while middle office supports the front office in various functions.

  • Private Equity Analyst: Private equities are one of the “buy side” roles that are offered on campus along with venture capitals and, very rarely, hedge funds.

    Private Equity Analyst roles are entry-level roles which require the candidates to:

    • evaluate prospective acquisition targets through the lens of their financial prowess, strategic direction, and future prospects,

    • carry out execution of a particular deal,

    • assess the information shared by sell-side bankers,

    • identify potential acquisition targets, and

    • track performance of existing portfolio companies.

    • While the roles offered across campuses are quite limited, a few recruiters, such as Blackstone RE, Temasek, Accel, Kalaari, SAIF, Matrix, Multiples, Arga Investments, Brookfield, etc., hire analysts straight out of the campus.

    • Here, again, the technical skills you would need include Financial Statement Analysis, Financial Modelling including LBO Modelling and DCF valuation.

  • Investment Analyst/Associate (Venture Capitals): Another of the “buy side” roles. This also sees some roles from firms, such as Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Funds, Eight Roads, KOIS Invest, Omidyar Network, etc. The role of an Investment Analyst or Associate in a venture capital requires one to primarily focus on:

    • identifying new investment opportunities in early-stage start-ups,

    • reaching out to potential start-ups to invest after shortlisting a few, and

    • conducting thorough due-diligence of prospective acquisition targets through the lens of their financial prowess, strategic direction, and future prospects.

Apart from this, one might be required to manage portfolio companies, participate in raising funds for the venture capital, and network to identify opportunities. Technical skills required here are working knowledge of Start-up Valuation Methods, Financial Statement Analysis, and Financial Modelling.

  • Equity Research Analyst: Equity Research Analyst roles are offered by mutual funds and asset management companies, both global and Indian. These include Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, JPMorgan Chase, Morningstar, Ambit, JM Financial, etc. The role of an Equity Research Analyst entails the following:

    • undertaking primary and secondary research on specific sectors or specific securities using levers of financial performance, macroeconomic and microeconomic factors, quality of management, etc.,

    • creating financial models to predict future performance and analyze past performance of the companies studied,

    • attending investor calls with the management of firms covered and asking insightful questions, and

    • creating equity research reports and prescribing a buy, sell, or hold recommendation for the scrip.

The role requires you to have top-notch Financial Modelling, Financial Statement Analysis skills, and a working knowledge of the financial markets.

  • Wealth Management Associate: Wealth management roles are increasingly being offered in various campuses around the country as the country’s rich need professionals to manage their wealth. Avendus, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Edelweiss, YES Bank, etc., are some of the firms that offer this role. This role requires you to:

    • create sales-pitch for wealthy individuals (HNIs) detailing the offering,

    • analyze various investment avenues including primary markets, secondary markets, VC, PE, alternative investment funds, etc., and

    • manage client relationships and client investments in various funds, companies, etc.

This role demands that you be a strong communicator with relationship-building skills and have Financial Modelling and Financial Statement Analysis skills along with the knowledge of traditional and alternative investment sources.

  • Capital Markets (Analyst): Capital Markets roles are offered by firms that either have their proprietary trading desks or manage client’s investments. Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, etc., offer such roles to top candidates. There are two types of profiles:

    • Trading: In this role, the analyst trades in various financial instruments, such as equity, derivatives, currency, fixed income, and sometimes cryptocurrency.

    • Sales: This role entails selling investment products, market ideas, and trading opportunities to high-net-worth individuals and institutions

This would require an aspirant to have working knowledge of capital markets and the various financial products offered and traded, keep abreast of the current affairs of the world, and have relationship-building skills.

  • Corporate Finance: There are many types of corporate finance roles offered at MBA schools: Project Finance, Treasury, Financial Planning and Analysis, among others. Some of the key features of these roles are:

    • Project Finance: This role is associated with capital intensive projects that are high-risk, high-reward and are kept separate from a company’s books by creating Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs). The role requires forecasting cash flows throughout project life-cycle, performing cost-benefit analysis to determine if project’s projected returns are acceptable given the risk, determining financing structure and mix, and obtaining funding.

    • Treasury: Treasury teams deal with cash management operations of the firm. They have to ensure that the business has money to fund their day-to-day functioning all the while also secure funding for the future needs. The role has many facets: managing cash, working capital needs, investments, foreign exchange, regulations and risks and raising funds.

    • Financial Planning and Analysis: FP&A roles deal with budgeting for the firm’s current and future financial needs, forecasting the firm’s future needs, and analyzing the variance between the planned and budgeted income and expenses. The role needs collaboration between various arms of the organization: from operations to accounting.

Apart from these roles, some other roles, such as Mergers and Acquisitions, Accounting, etc., are also offered at campuses. Major Recruiters include Reliance, Swiggy, Zomato, Johnson and Johnson, ITC, P&G, Hindustan Unilever, etc.

Apart from the jobs mentioned, there are some jobs offered in Quants/Strats, Corporate Banking, Financial Consulting, Transactions Advisory, and Risk Management.

You may have observed from the plethora of roles that the financial system today has evolved into a living organism with complex characteristics. Money acts as its blood, reaching every part of the body; central banks are its hearts—pumping the money to each nook and cranny of the body; financial markets are its lungs—providing the oxygen it needs to keep working; and retail banks are the veins—borrowing and lending money. Other financial institutions play key roles in the functioning. While the opportunities are limited, the competition is fierce; hence, every small edge gained matters.


Nitin Chandak is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, where he majored in Finance. He has been a consistent academic performer throughout. Post completion of his MBA, he has worked as an analytics consultant for three years. Prior to his MBA, he worked with Backspace (as Breakspace was then known) where he was instrumental in strengthening the Communications and Education Consulting divisions. Nitin is an ardent Manchester United fan and a chocoholic. He wishes to travel the world.

Our Pre-Placement Crasher program provides one-to-one/institute-level mentoring to students aspiring to join leading finance companies.

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Into The Wild: A Self-Expedition

Into The Wild: A Self-Expedition

By Ushasi Sengupta

April 01, 2021

It was a Wednesday morning. My wristwatch showed 10.00 am. By the time I reached the bus stop, climbing down the stairs in a rush, skipping two stairs to save time, and navigating through a crowded street hoping that the bus driver might be late as well, my bus had already left. I realized that the bypass route to reach my office would be so congested that a private cab would not be able to help me reach the office on time. My hope to show up at the morning meeting was shattered. It is fair to mention here that this was the fourth time in a row that week when I was missing the morning meeting.

My mind crawled through the brain’s cache and projected consequences of a delayed day—questioning glances scanning a late-comer, unfinished works piling up, working overtime to clean up the queue, and totally exhausted by the time I would be in bed. Spending an entire day seemed an upheaval task for me. Amidst traffic, roads, and people, I found myself helpless.

My daily encounters with failure, be it missing the bus, not being able to reach the office on time despite my best intentions, unable to complete my work and to maintain a balance among responsibilities, and to not accomplish my plan, afflicted me. Slippages were tearing me up, wrapping me in a damp pouch of apprehension of failure. I was unable to figure out how I could realign my distorting life and find a breather for peace and happiness.

Inevitably, I chose to escape. Off-loading the failures on someone might help me find avenues for self-compassion. So, I looked for reasons for my unhappiness and failures—family, marriage, office, home, past, and aspirations. I started focusing more on the search for excuses. I looked up external ailments to heal my ruptures. My wound deepened. The lack of self-compassion turned my life outward-focused; nothing silenced my shapeless chaos.

I thought that being the center of attention would bring me happiness. I tried to live up to others’ expectations by altering my food habits, attires, and routines. My situation did not improve. Distraction was siphoning off my confidence and courage.

“Accept yourself. Start with a minimal accomplishment but make it a habit. It is okay to fail.” I found a person who understood my problems. My mentor’s relentless patience and empathy helped me empathize with myself.

It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” But unless we realize our core problem, the idiom barely makes sense. I realized that I had been facing an existential crisis.

Amidst noise and distraction, I heard my voice: “I am fine. Only I can make me happy.”

Self-compassion aided in healing my internal ruptures. I managed to focus on my priorities. Paying attention to the internal system improved my emotional state and efficiency. My performance soared eventually.

I achieved my faith in failure.

However, continuous juggling between household work and office vex me at times. Grief, frustration, and fear of drifting still bother me. Complaints still pile up in my heart and congest my head.

“Why do I need to indulge in household work? Just because I am a married woman. Yet, I am also earning, and my husband and I are equally qualified! I should better stay alone.”

“Where do you see yourself, when you are successful in your life? All alone?” “Pen down your thoughts, channel your grief and anger in a better way.” My mentor’s continuous guidance steered me to clear my blurred vision and ascertain a greater purpose.

My inner voice echoed: “It is not the first time you are thrown into an ocean of pressure in life. However, always remember that you are a swimmer.”

I have reflected on my experiences and failures, but this time with compassion and confidence.

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can’t be created or destroyed. Energy can only be conserved. We see a wide application of this principle. However, during the process, a part of the energy gets dissipated. That is because of system friction. I found that the principle holds true for my internal energy, too. The lesser the system resistance, the more efficient the outcome.

I am still learning how better I can manifest my internal energy.

 

Ushasi Sengupta is a senior research analyst at Tata Consultancy Services. She completed her Post Graduate Diploma in General Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur, in 2019. Other than working from home and working for home, in parallel, she is spending her new normal exploring the unchartered territories. She is a sports enthusiast. Running is her newly developed habit.

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