Management consultants are a diaspora

By | March 10, 2014

I was reading an article in the Economist about immigrant diasporas. Overseas Chinese, Indians, and Jews are a few examples of tight-knit, highly-educated, geographically-dispersed groups, who are extremely successful and make things happen. The article argues that these small groups create leverage through trust, ambition, and innovation here.

There are more Chinese people living outside China than there are French people in France.    – The Economist

Economist US and Chinese Diaspora

ex-Consultants are a diaspora. I know this might be a stretch, but I see ex-management consultants (those who left the Big 3 or Big 4) as a diaspora. We started off together in consulting firms, but now many of us are scattered to the wind – in most every industry and geography you can imagine. I see in that 9 years after big 4 start-class, only 1/3 are in consulting, and 2/3 have joined the corporate world.

Ex-consultants reminisce about their consulting past, and often-times feel more camaraderie and allegiance to their consulting roots than with their new-found corporate employers or job situation. This can even take the guise of arrogance because the corporate world rarely works at the speed, or intensity of a consulting firm. We come from consulting firms where everyone is client-focused, educated, ambitious, and (usually) articulate. There is an attitude of learning, and fierce desire to please the client and the partners.  We want to win, and too often, our companies drift sideways.

Consulting is a tribe. Consultants are trained to think differently. Super-logical, inductive reasoning.  Strong reliance on the apprenticeship model where craftsmen teach their interns. Learn by doing. While we don’t fit neatly into a specific industry or function – we share a common set of experiences, language, and culture. You can have 2 consultants – one who does process improvement in the oil and gas industry, and another who does marketing strategy for retailers – and they will actually share a lot in common. Similar views on clients, under-current of intellectual curiosity, and millions of frequent flyer miles. 

Here is my argument for consultants as a diaspora:

  • Job movement. Consulting tends to attract ambitious, and industrious people who are also comfortable with change. We move around a fair amount.
  • International backgrounds. Consulting firms have one of the strongest track records for sponsoring H1B for international students graduating with MBAs.  
  • Diverse experiences. We work with diverse clients of different industries and functions, which enable us to move from opportunity to opportunity.
  • Lots of schooling.  The majority of consultants I know have graduate degrees and strong ties to their alma maters. Broader networks that span geography.
  • Consulting travel. Traveling 150+ days a year can get old and most of us are looking to raise a family or have a more grounded lifestyle
  • Networking. By and large, consultants look for staffing opportunities. We make ourselves useful doing research, working on a proposal, or helping others.
  • Language. We have a common language and understand consulting-y concepts such as “deliverables”, “scope”, “leverage”, and “root cause analysis”

A few ways that consultants are not like the more traditional ethnic diasporas:

  • Access to capital. While consultants make good money, and often work for private equity firms, they are not bankers. They are not the money class.
  • Risk takers. Unlike the immigrant classes, consultants are generally not risk-takers.  Like our MBA brethren, we are good at giving advice and optimizing businesses, but less bold when it comes to our own money and time. Too many consultants – myself included – are used to the bi-weekly paycheck

Key Takeaway?  In my mind, consultants are blessed in the fact that we belong to a small group of people who are generally educated, like-minded, ambitious, and worldly. Yes, these are generalizations. The US census says that 700,000 people in the US call themselves consultants – which I consider much too liberal of a definition. McKinsey & Co has only 17,000 management consultants globally.  

However tightly we draw the circle, management consultants are a networked group who should continually (re)invest in each other and share knowledge (like this blog). Join your consulting firm alumni network, do case interview practice at your MBA, or hire an ex-consultant. Reach out to your old consulting contacts and find ways to do great work together. Wherever you are, don’t settle. Run, run, run.

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2 thoughts on “Management consultants are a diaspora

  1. Merrick

    Really appreciated this post and most all your work here.

    Would you do a post on root cause analysis if you have not already?

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