Home Articles Demystifying Management Consulting as a Career Option post CA

Demystifying Management Consulting as a Career Option post CA

by CA Krishna Gupta (Management consultant Boston Consulting Group)
Sep 01, 2021
Demystifying Management Consulting as a Career Option post CA, Article, KonexioNetwork.com

Imagine the CEO of a major coffee chain in India coming to you with a simple problem statement, “The profits of the India business have declined over the past 2 years – how do I rectify the situation?” A management consultant’s life involves analyzing such problems & finding solutions on a day-to-day basis. 

Although management consulting has traditionally been viewed as a fiefdom of MBAs from top institutes (consulting firms are typically the top recruiters at leading Indian MBA campuses such as IIM-A, IIM-B, IIM-C, IIM-L, ISB etc.) the situation is fast evolving with many organizations such as Boston Consulting Group & Bain & Co. institutionalizing dedicated CA recruitment programs to attract talent.

Many CAs fail to consider management consulting as a career option due to lack of awareness regarding the opportunity – in this article, an attempt is made to throw some light on management consulting as a career

Management Consulting offers a great learning opportunity

Out of all the possible alternatives available to CAs post qualification, management consulting probably offers one of the steepest learning curves because of a variety of reasons. First, management consultants in the initial stages of their career get to work in a variety of industries (Financial Services, Consumer Goods, Industrial Goods, Healthcare, IT etc.) as well as topic areas (cost-reduction, sales acceleration, market entry strategy, commercial due diligence) making them well-rounded individuals. Second, management consultants get to work with senior industry professionals because the problems that management consultants try to solve are typically the ones that directly concern the CEO or sometimes even the Board. Third, colleagues in consulting organizations are extraordinarily smart people and they constantly motivate you to raise your bar. Finally, management consulting offers a very fast career progression – each promotion typically takes 2 years or less and 10-12 years in a consulting organization could lead to a partner designation.

As a newly qualified CA stepping into the world of consulting, you are not expected to have deep industry knowledge to solve each problem. Rather, what is expected is a first principles thinking approach whereby you can break down each problem into its parts to arrive at the root of the problem before recommending a solution. For example, a decline in profits for a coffee chain could be due to a supply chain issue resulting in unmet demand or even a poor marketing decision to cut back on digital spending. The solution to the problem will vary widely depending on the cause of the problem. 

At times, management consultants may have to work under tight deadlines while delivering the best solution, resulting in long working hours. However, reputed consulting organizations typically have strong processes in place to ensure that the work is evenly distributed among team members, weekends are protected etc. ensuring a positive experience along with a great learning opportunity.

Management Consulting vs. Corporate Finance roles – Selection between breadth vs. depth

Corporate Finance roles offer an equally exciting learning opportunity – however, they fundamentally differ from Management consulting in that they offer depth of learning on a particular topic and industry instead of breadth of exposure. For instance, a corporate finance role in Supply Chain Finance in an FMCG company may involve accurately forecasting production costs, streamlining production processes to reduce costs, and leveraging organization wide best practices. As you continue to work in the same function for a few years, you gain a very deep understanding of the function and the industry. Consulting assignments on the other hand typically are 2-12 months long and hence offer limited depth of exposure. However, due to the shorter assignment timeframe, it is possible to explore several industries & functions over a relatively short duration. 

Big 3 is great, but don’t stop your recruitment search there

Globally, the management consulting industry is dominated by 3 organizations, collectively known as the Big 3 – McKinsey & Co., Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Co. Even in India, these 3 organizations dominate the management consulting industry. Apart from the Big 3, however, there are several other management consulting firms including Kearney, Accenture (Strategy), Deloitte Consulting, LEK Consulting and KPMG Consulting. All these firms offer great learning opportunity 

Put your best foot forward to get recruited

One of the biggest challenges posed by the management consulting industry is the entry barrier for newly qualified CAs – most consulting organizations are very selective about who they hire and conduct a lot of diligence before hiring any candidate. 

After the initial Resume screening, consulting organizations invite shortlisted candidates for case interviews. In this interview format, candidates are given a consulting problem such as the one discussed at the start of this article.

Because the case interview format is new for most candidates, consulting firms typically appoint a “buddy” for each candidate – a buddy is someone who works at the organization as a consultant and will help you prepare for the case interviews.

During a case interview, students are expected to ask questions that will help them arrive at the solution. For example, in the case of declining profits for a coffee chain, candidates could start off by asking preliminary questions such as

i.   By how much % has the profit declined? (To help determine the order of magnitude)
ii.  Are other players in the industry facing the same problem or is this limited to the specific company? (To help establish an industry-wide issue or company-specific problem)
iii.  What are the revenue streams for the company? (To help clarify whether the company also has significant alternate revenue sources such as in-store advertisement revenue, parking revenue etc.)

The interviewer will provide answers to most of the questions that are relevant to the problem.

Then candidates are then expected to deep-dive into the specifics of the company to unearth the root cause of the problem – did the profits decline because of a decline in revenue or an increase in costs or both. If it is due to a decline in revenue, did the no. of units sold decline or did the average sales price decline and so on. Using this approach, one is expected to pinpoint the exact problem & recommend a targeted solution. Interviewers are typically more focused on the structure & line of questioning than on the final recommendation you make.

There are a lot of great resources available to help you prepare for case interviews such as Case in Point (a globally acclaimed case interview preparation book) and Case Interviews Cracked (a book on case interviews in the Indian context – written by IIT graduates). 

Are you ready to take the plunge?

Management consulting as a career option can be a truly rewarding experience. If it aligns with your career interests, this is a profession that you should definitely explore.