If you are an experienced consultant looking to change firms, you probably are considering several factors including more personalized attention on career development, an increased client-facing role, less bureaucracy/red-tape, a merit-based system, faster career progression, etc. We interviewed three Stax managers, two of whom were recently promoted to manager, with tenure at Stax ranging from one to two years, and asked them to discern what they were searching for in their own careers coming from larger consulting firms, what advantages they have observed while at Stax, and how they are making an impact at the firm. We hope their shared experiences showcase the unique opportunities Stax offers: diverse client exposure in immediate client-facing roles, access to leadership, fast-paced learning and career progression, and a better quality of life.
What was your career history before Stax and what is unique about your background and experience?
Dhruv Yadav, Manager – Prior to arriving in the United States, I completed my Bachelor’s in Economics from Singapore Management University in Singapore, followed by a Master’s in International Management from ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. Shortly after, I joined TUI Group’s International Management Training Program, an 18-month graduate program that provided experience across various Strategy and Finance roles in the travel and hospitality conglomerate’s London, Barcelona, Stockholm, and Paris locations. After the completion of the program, I accepted the full-time position as a Strategy and M&A Manager in TUI Group’s Spain office, where I completed another year before deciding to apply for an MBA program in the United States.
I completed my MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business in 2017, and after being recruited across all major consulting firms, I ultimately received an offer from PwC’s M&A consulting team in their New York office. I completed two years there before I decided to transition to a more boutique environment.
Shoaa Ansari, Manager – Post-college, I fell into consulting accidentally, but I have never looked back in regret. It was one of the best confluence of events. In the beginning of my career, I spent 8+ years growing from an Analyst to an Engagement Manager at another boutique consulting firm focused on growth and M&A strategy, specializing in the Consumer Markets.
Prior to Stax, I was an Engagement Manager in the Deals Strategy team within Strategy&. While I continued to work on growth and M&A strategy projects, my experience at Strategy& broadened my knowledge to other industries such as Technology, Healthcare, and Industrial Products. My experience in both a boutique and a global consulting firm allows me to approach each project case with a diverse perspective and positions me strongly to work with clients from all avenues of the investment sector.
Arnav Kacker, Manager – I have been in consulting my entire career and have experienced the profession through many different flavors of work. I started my career in consulting in Europe at a boutique firm where I worked on engagements ranging from operational and product portfolio restructuring all the way through post-merger integrations as well as advising on public policy initiatives with the European Commission.
Following my graduation with an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, I worked with the Deals Strategy team at Strategy& in New York, serving private equity clients on a range of projects across the deal continuum, from pre-acquisition diligence to post-acquisition growth strategy. My extensive experience in this industry offers me visibility into the merits and demerits of working at different kinds of firms, as well as allows me to leverage the unique strengths of Stax’s business model and offerings to best serve our clients’ interests.
What drew you to Stax? What boxes were you looking to check?
Dhruv – After spending two years at a global management consulting firm, I recognized the need to transition to a smaller organization with a close-knit setting and a more merit-based system. Having been drawn to a big-name firm post-MBA (as often is the case with most MBA graduates), I discovered that the environment tends to be fairly impersonal, the focus on personal development of employees is generic at best, and the career trajectory is fairly rigid with politics often playing a meaningful role. While researching top boutique consulting firms in Chicago, I discovered Stax, which seemed to check all the boxes I was looking at for my next job.
My experience over the last two years at Stax has been reaffirmed by initial impressions of the firm and the people. As an incoming Consultant, I was given plenty of support, both in terms of job training as well as being integrated into the firm’s culture. Within a few months, I was already put into client-facing leadership roles, which helped me ramp up my development and put me in positions to make a meaningful impact early on in my Stax tenure.
Shoaa – I chose Stax over others because I wanted to continue building my career in a firm that was as invested in my growth as I was in the growth of the firm. It was important for me to find a firm that enabled its Engagement Managers to be better leaders and provided them with opportunities/flexibility to chart their own path. The ability to steer my career at my own pace was important to me. The entrepreneurial spirit and culture of the firm were key selection drivers in the process as well.
Arnav – There are both advantages and disadvantages to working with larger consulting firms compared to boutique firms. While larger firms, such as my previous employer, can offer a ton of resources to deploy in projects (research resources, analytical tools, etc.), these come with a steep trade-off. Part of the nature of large firms is the necessary lack of flexibility. Larger firms can operate efficiently only when everything is dictated by pre-defined processes. While this can mitigate risk and offer institutional consistency to large firms, it creates a significant burden of red-tape and administrative workload for consultants.
Over time I realized that the extent of my time and energies being dedicated to navigate these ‘process-oriented’ tasks outweighed my efforts being dedicated towards creating value for clients. While I recognized the necessity of this work, I began to realize that I would prefer to work at a firm that was unburdened by the rigidity of this red-tape, where I could dedicate a greater amount of my time to client-oriented project work, thereby creating more value and consequently, also serving my own professional growth.
What surprised you and/or advantages did you discover at Stax?
Dhruv – I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the hierarchy at Stax is fairly flat, and good ideas and contributions are valued equally whether from Managing Directors or Associates. Furthermore, career trajectory is defined on a case-by-case basis dependent purely on merit. Management is also very transparent with the firm’s overall performance through weekly town hall meetings highlighting new developments, as well as the incoming pipeline of projects.
Compared to large consulting firms, you also have a higher degree of freedom to choose what type of projects you would like to be staffed on, whether it be a particular industry you’re interested in, or type of work (diligence, growth strategy, etc.). I was also happy to discover that we have a highly competent offshore team in Sri Lanka that supports our U.S. staff on daily research and operational tasks, allowing us to focus more heavily on developing strategic insights for clients.
Arnav – Two things have come as the biggest surprises to me at Stax, that I did not fully appreciate before joining the firm: the advantages of a flatter organization and the efficiency of the offshoring model.
At Stax, being a smaller firm, it is very normal for Consultants, and even Associates, to work directly with Managing Directors on projects. At times, you might even see smaller projects staffed solely with MDs and more junior teammates. The importance of this level of facetime and exposure to firm leadership to professional growth cannot be overstated. At larger firms, you might interact with an MD or Partner a couple of times a month during formal check-ins. At Stax, these regular and ongoing interactions offer you the opportunity for mentorship that is typically not available elsewhere. For those seeking to take control of their own professional growth, who appreciate the initiative to learn from senior team members, seek advice, and step up into bigger roles, these opportunities can be invaluable.
Additionally, Stax has an extremely competent, offshore team based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Many consulting firms have some form of an offshore team to complement the work done by U.S.-based consultants. However, in my experience, most firms severely under-utilize these teams or utilize them in inefficient ways that do not create sufficient leverage for consultants. As a result, work is often duplicated, without significantly reducing the burden on U.S. staff. At Stax, this tag-team relationship works leaps and bounds better than at peer firms. As a result, work output is significantly better, while also reducing the need for duplicate work. That means far fewer nights burning the midnight oil than is the norm elsewhere.
Outside project work, how have you made a firm-wide impact?
Dhruv – Being just a ~35-person team in Stax’s Chicago office, you also have a number of responsibilities outside of project work that include coaching, mentoring, and recruiting. Even as a Senior Consultant, I had a formal mentee with whom I engaged on an ongoing basis to help chart career goals as well as track development. In addition, I also have direct relationships with many other junior team members with whom I interact and exchange ideas on a daily basis. I also play a key part in recruitment efforts, whether it be giving case interviews to incoming applicants or connecting with prospective applicants to talk about my experience at the firm.
Shoaa – As an Engagement Manager in the Chicago office, an important initiative has been to build our internal women’s network. Along with building an internal network, I try to participate and attend networking events on behalf of Stax. Additionally, I have had the privilege to mentor junior team members as they develop in their careers.
What advice would you share with prospective, experienced candidates about joining Stax?
Dhruv – I would tell prospective, experienced candidates to really look past big brand names in strategy consulting and place more stock on smaller boutique firms which provide an accelerated pathway for personal development. Having seen both sides, my experience at Stax leads me to believe we offer candidates better overall flexibility, superior work/life balance, and greater responsibilities/opportunities to lead from the front, all while making real relationships and friendships along the way.
Arnav – You will get the most out of your experience with Stax by understanding the key advantages of the firm and what to expect out of working here. An alignment of expectations prior to onboarding is the most critical variable to determine satisfaction with your career over your tenure here. I would advise all candidates to read about the nature of our work, the kinds of projects we take on, and what to expect out of the day-to-day. Reach out to team members at the firm and don’t hesitate to ask plenty of questions.
Additionally, it helps to introspect and recognize what you value out of a workplace. Are you keen to take control of your career and accelerate your growth? Or, alternatively, would you prefer the relative comfort and structure of the processes and ladders at larger firms? There are no right or wrong answers but understanding your own preference can go a long way in determining professional successes. Good luck!