For experienced consultants searching for their next career opportunity, we understand there are pros and cons for both large consulting firms and boutique firms and in the end, it’s a highly individual decision. In our latest edition of Why Stax, we interviewed three Stax managers, two of whom actually worked at Stax earlier in their careers and returned, and asked them to share their experience, what they were seeking in their careers, and why they chose and/or returned to Stax. We hope their shared experiences highlight the unique opportunities Stax offers: fast-paced learning and accelerated career development, direct access to leadership, top-notch offshore research and analytics support, and a work-life balance that is more sustainable.
What was your career history before Stax and what is unique about your background and experience?
Kelsey Chisholm, Manager – I completed my bachelor’s in Economics and Psychology at Middlebury College and directly after graduation jumped into consulting. While I initially pursued consulting as a way to try and figure out what I ultimately wanted to do longer-term, I found myself enjoying the work and have made it a career. Throughout my career, I have had experience at a number of different consulting firms, both large and boutique, advising private equity clients throughout the deal process as well as corporate clients on growth strategy initiatives.
Much of my time early on was spent as a “generalist”, where I gained exposure across a broad range of industries and engagement types from helping global leadership of a B2B information services company prioritize European market entry strategy to helping design and implement the material risk identification and assessment program for a large U.S. financial institution. The last decade-plus of experience at different consulting firms, working across diverse industries and with a vast array of clients enables me to bring a unique perspective to each assignment, delivering tailored recommendations to clients’ key questions.
Joel Slater, Senior Manager – I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania where I majored in both Economics and Psychology and (well-kept secret) minored in Classics. Like many other students from that cohort, I found my way into financial services right after school. That experience provided me with a great survey of the capital markets but left me curious about the companies that underpinned them. What were their business models? How did they create value for customers and shareholders? Why were some companies more successful than others, and how could they improve? These questions got me interested in the management consulting space, and I spent over five years at a boutique strategy consultancy before joining Stax. In that role, I had the opportunity to work closely with senior executives at Fortune 100 companies on a wide range of cases – from new market entry plans for niche product lines to global resource allocation plans impacting multi-billion-dollar budgets.
Collectively, I think these experiences have given me a keen appreciation for the linkage between corporate decision-making and bottom-line value creation, and that's a perspective that I’m glad to carry with me into every Stax engagement.
Athul Ravunniarath, Manager – I joined Stax in 2017 right after graduate work at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, where I studied International Finance and Economic Development. Prior to Stax, I worked in impact investing and equities research. Coming out of graduate school, I knew I wanted to focus on consulting but from an investor-focused lens given my prior experiences in impact investing and equities research. I was told to look into Stax by some former colleagues and the value proposition immediately resonated while I was interviewing – a mostly investor client base, mostly short projects (~3-4 weeks), broad diversity of industries and verticals, and an intellectually rigorous but collegial and friendly environment.
What drew you to Stax? What boxes were you looking to check? Describe your current role.
Kelsey – I’ll take a slightly different angle on this question and answer instead, “what drew me back to Stax.” After working as a Research Associate at Stax for about a year, I moved on to work at a couple of other consulting firms, but after time at both another boutique firm as well as a larger consulting firm, I found myself reaching out to old Stax colleagues looking to return. While I was able to check many of the boxes I was looking for at other firms (solving tough problems, constant learning, a collaborative environment, etc.), I knew that Stax could provide those same opportunities but do so in an environment where leadership across the firm was truly invested in my development and I could meaningfully contribute to the firm culture and growth. Over the last five years, from Senior Associate to Manager, I have been provided access to leadership, client-facing opportunities, and a career trajectory that would not have been possible at other firms.
Joel – Candidly, I initially became interested in Stax because of the limited travel model. After five years on the road, I was preparing to leave consulting behind, but I discovered that at Stax I could continue doing the work I love without disappearing from my family for days or weeks on end.
More importantly, I was looking to broaden my industry exposure. In prior roles, I’d worked with just 1-2 companies per year due to project length. Because of the high-velocity deal flows in the private equity space, a Stax consultant might support 10-15 engagements in that timeframe. This diversity has been hugely rewarding to me in terms of professional development and personal brand-building.
But above all else, the culture at Stax was the big draw. The team is exceptionally talented and understands how to deliver top-tier client work in a sustainable way. Our senior leaders are transparent, accessible, and deeply care about their people.
Athul – I have a somewhat unique history with Stax. I left Stax in 2019 to work at another boutique consulting firm because my wife and I relocated from Boston to New York City, and I rejoined Stax in 2021. What drew me back to Stax was a list of both professional and personal reasons. I realized that most consulting firms offer similar value propositions (incredibly smart and talented individuals, intellectual rigor, collaborative work, growth-oriented feedback, etc.).
But I was looking for an environment where I was going to be empowered by the leadership in charting my own course. I knew that I wanted to focus on working with investors primarily focused on tech and tech-adjacent verticals and that I wanted to start supporting Stax management on client and business development. Since returning, I’ve been leading tech engagements for a range of investors while also supporting client and business development.
What surprised you and/or advantages did you discover at Stax?
Kelsey – While larger consulting firms provide more formalized training programs, the on-the-job learning and growth I have experienced while at Stax are unmatched. Early on I was able to take on client-facing roles and was consistently challenged by leadership to “play up” on projects, allowing me the opportunity to accelerate development.
Joel – The Stax Colombo team is an incredible resource to the U.S. offices. They are a world-class research and analytics organization that is populated by some of the most credentialed team members that you’ll find anywhere. We work with Colombo on nearly every engagement and our teams are in touch on a daily basis. Their technical expertise in survey design, predictive modeling, data visualization, etc. enables us to greatly magnify the scope and impact of our work.
Athul – This is related to my previous responses, but the access to the management team and their investment in my growth and development still surprises me. I regularly join pitch calls on topic areas or on assets where I have experience/expertise or active interest in developing expertise. This exposure has been incredibly helpful as there’s no better way to understand first-hand how an investor is thinking about an asset or area. And that directly ties into the quality of research and deliverables as well – we’re able to be very targeted in understanding an investor’s key concerns and ensure our output is both in line with their expectations as well as most helpful for their process.
In addition, I have regular check-ins with our Senior Managing Director and our CEO to talk about both my long-term growth objectives as well as near-term tactical feedback to improve the quality of my deliverables and better manage my teams. The regular cadence of formal, scheduled check-ins combined with numerous weekly informal touchpoints has been very helpful for me – I get to incorporate real-time tactical feedback while also making sure I continue to think and work on some of my longer-term objectives.
Outside project work, how have you made a firm-wide impact?
Kelsey – Outside of projects, I have had the opportunity to contribute to building and developing our firm through both recruitment efforts and formal/informal mentorship. Through our mentor program, I have had the privilege of mentoring five members of the consulting team, meeting regularly to discuss projects, development, and goals. Further, I am a part of our women’s group that serves as a sounding board to junior team members, discusses current news in our industry, and provides overall support to the females in our organization.
Outside of the office, I have helped to build Stax’s brand as a speaker on the technology panel at the Kayo Women’s Private Equity Summit and spear-headed the organization of our social impact initiatives within the Boston community.
Athul – One of my favorite parts of my job is the opportunity to mentor juniors. I mentor four incredibly talented consultants and we regularly check in to talk about project feedback, challenges they are facing, their long-term career goals, etc. I also support our recruiting team by interviewing candidates, holding informational interviews, etc.
What would you tell prospective, experienced candidates about joining Stax?
Joel – If Stax isn’t already on your radar, it should be. At Stax, you’ll have the opportunity to advise on fundamental business questions that are top of mind for private equity and corporate leaders: Should we buy this company? How should we participate in this market? How can we better serve our customers? In the process, you’ll soak up experiences across an incredible range of industries (some of which you didn’t even know existed!) and take your professional skillset to the next level by collaborating with smart, driven colleagues who want to see you succeed. It’s a stellar environment for experienced professionals to advance their careers.
Athul – Stax has a strong value proposition across all titles. For new consultants, I would say that private equity consulting is an excellent training ground. You get to learn about a broad range of industries and verticals, develop strong quantitative, qualitative, and core consulting skills, work for incredibly smart clients, in a fun and collegial environment. For seasoned consultants, Stax offers a flat hierarchy that can supercharge your development as a consultant. Stax allows growth-oriented consultants to stretch up as much as they are comfortable, often well-outside the remit of their job title. I was given opportunities to lead major portions of client readouts even as a Senior Associate. And there are numerous occasions when a talented Senior Associate or Consultant can work directly with a Managing Director or Director, running the project on a day-to-day basis.
Moreover, relative to some other consulting firms, Stax’s ability to leverage Colombo and its ‘minimal travel model offers a significantly better work-life balance. This is not to say that there aren’t bad weeks, but more often than not, we have resources to ensure that the workload is sustainable.