Recently, Andrew Whitney, a Stax Associate and ’15 Notre Dame alum, participated on the Strategy Consulting panel at the Notre Dame Fall 2019 Consulting Symposium. The panel showcased a myriad of thought-provoking questions for any student, or potential Stax Inc. employee, looking to explore a career in strategy consulting. We highlight a few of Andrew’s responses below.
When did you have your “AHA” moment that consulting was for you?
In the industry, I would occasionally run into challenges where management was not available, or I was not in a position to influence or advise change. For consultants, especially at Stax, the impetus of our work is to advise the management team of our clients and make an actionable difference for their businesses. I find that to be not only rewarding but also very exciting as we are constantly asked to deliver on tough questions and issues.
What is strategy consulting and how does it differ from other forms of consulting?
I think the biggest difference between strategy consulting and other forms of consulting is that strategy consulting is less process-oriented and more analytical. While we certainly follow a set of procedures and a typical approach to problems, no two projects are the same and we must adapt our approach to what is best for our clients. Combining adaptability with the quick timeline of projects at Stax creates a fast-paced and ever-changing environment that regularly challenges us.
What are the most common types of projects within strategy consulting?
Strategy consulting projects can take a variety of forms, but at Stax we have a mixture of private equity marketing due diligence and corporate strategy projects such as developing go-to-market strategies, evaluating growth opportunities, or assisting with the company’s next year strategy.
What are the responsibilities of a new full-time employee/intern in these projects?
As I see it, a new associate at Stax is the front-line in executing our primary research approach and synthesizing our findings. While not immediately responsible for delivering our findings or crafting the overall approach, our teams rely on new associates to gather the data and be experts in their specific workstream. For example, an associate could be responsible for developing interview or web survey guides, conducting secondary research, leading primary research interviews, populating market models, and creating the first version of content slides for our final client deliverables.
How has strategy consulting evolved in recent years?
One trend I’ve seen in recent years and I think has a profound impact on Stax is the increase in competition within the private equity space. As competition and multiples grow for acquiring businesses, services such as Stax’s become even more in demand. Our ability to provide a third-party opinion, to validate or challenge assumptions, and to guide our private equity clients can give our clients an advantage that helps them to succeed in this industry.
What are the elements of the skill set required for new professionals/interns going into strategy consulting?
The main skill set for all consulting, not just for a new hire, is the ability to create a structured solution to a problem and then communicate your approach and findings. One panelist used the example of a whiteboard to help explain this skill. No matter if you are on your first day in consulting or have 10 years of experience, you still start each project with a completely empty whiteboard. It is up to you to fill that whiteboard, create a structure, execute, and present your findings.
How would you best prepare for consulting interviews?
There are two things that I am looking for in an interviewee. First, I am looking for someone who can create a structured solution and follow their solution in order to solve a case interview. This shows a familiarity with the type of work required and the problem-solving skillset we’re looking for. Second, I want someone who demonstrates intellectual curiosity. There are many ways to demonstrate this, including speaking about any personal interests which an applicant has, but the best way to demonstrate this is to show an interest in the work and background of the interviewer and the interviewing company. Asking an interesting question demonstrating your interest in Stax or whichever company you are interviewing with proves to me that you are interested and want to learn more. As a consultant, this indicates to me that you will be interested in the work and driven to perform.
Any final pieces of advice?
My final piece of advice would be to ask about company culture and evaluate for yourself what kind of culture you want to work in. I previously had worked from home and had challenges working in this environment. For me, minimal travel and being a part of a close-knit team was important. Being able to go into Stax’s downtown Chicago office and develop friendships with my coworkers each day has proved to be a much healthier and more enjoyable work environment, which in turn helps drive my own success at work. Each company and each individual employee are different, but I believe it is very important to take the time and evaluate what environment is best for you.