As professionals get more and more leadership-related responsibilities, they should not confuse collaborative thinking with consensus-based decision making. While inputs are welcome from all – when it comes to decision-making, the buck stops at the leader.
An IIM Calcutta alumnus, Saumitra dropped the “fashionably right thing of becoming a chemical engineer” and went on to accumulate experiences in management that included establishing a beverage distribution network in the slums of Mumbai at one end of the spectrum, to launching a lifestyle brand at the trendiest of venues, on the other. In business consulting, he found his true calling and kicks – as a close associate once said, “Clients are his fans.” He works at Accenture Mumbai and has been Partner since 2014.
What sort of formal education is an absolute essential for your profession? Also, could you share with us the kind of internship or experience that would be helpful for a young person considering this line of work?
Along with critical thinking, consulting involves a good understanding of business economics and business operations. Hence, a full-time post-graduate business degree is the de-facto educational requirement. However, anyone with a sound understanding of business and sharp analytical skills would fit the bill. Picking up experiences that test these skills would be important – e.g. stints/internships as business analysts, strategic planners would fare quite well.
Always do what you love – but also realise that you don’t have to enjoy it all the time. There are emotional crests and troughs in every career and both of them are transient.
If you had to draft an elevator pitch for your profession, what would you say?
A consultant’s job is to catalyse change. This desired change is typically better business performance (e.g. profitability, market share), but in a lot of cases it is also helping firms get ready and resilient for a volatile future.
What are the new trends you notice that are changing the complexion of your profession? Also, show me the money! How do you see this profession faring 20 years down the line?
Advice is increasingly becoming cheap. Clients are very well aware of happenings globally and hence the traditional advice-only models are no longer the raison d’être for consulting engagements. While boardroom consulting exists, it is executional consulting that is gaining ground i.e. the ability to help convert ideas and analysis into pennies and pounds.
What do you do when you are stuck with a problem?
I use either one of two tools – a blank sheet of paper or a solitary run where I can debate the problem with myself. If I am still stuck at the end of one hour, I take a break and revisit the problem the next morning.
When we’re in school, we’re told cheating is bad – ‘Don’t talk to each other, don’t discuss.’ And then as we come out of it, we begin to realise that there’s something called “collaborative thinking” and it’s not bad! What’s your opinion?
Collaborative thinking is essential as it allows different perspectives, especially if the participants have diverse backgrounds and objectives. This kind of interaction can be facilitated through a strong enabling environment where dissenting opinions are welcome not only amongst peers, but across levels. However, as professionals get more and more leadership-related responsibilities, they should not confuse collaborative thinking with consensus-based decision making. While inputs are welcome from all – when it comes to decision-making, the buck stops at the leader.
How do you overcome roadblocks in your profession?
Consulting is a trust-based profession i.e. clients choose to work with consultants they find credible, reliable and likable. Building that kind of relationship is the toughest part of a consulting business as it takes significant time and effort, sometimes years. To build this image and relationship genuinely, one needs to keep an eye out for how your clients can be more successful. This requires solid investment in terms of understanding the client business model, challenges, culture and potential opportunities.
Describe a typical, business-as-usual day at work.
One of the reasons I like consulting as a profession, is there is no typical day. The days are a fluid mix of client meetings, internal review sessions, lots of conference calls, mid-day networking pit-stops, and practice-building activities to boot.
The principle of prioritisation amongst these myriad activities is ‘client-first’: when a client calls, drop all.
I would say the same thing to all my earlier avatars – Do more! … Work at a burger store, spend some time learning a second language, read different kinds of books, try entrepreneurship, travel to uncharted places –make sure that your timeline is full of diverse experiences…
What would your advice be to a young person at the start of his or her career and confused about pursuing passion versus being pragmatic?
Based on my observation of my own and my friends’ career choices, following a passion always helps in the long term, both at a personal level as well as financially. Always do what you love – but also realise that you don’t have to enjoy it all the time. There are emotional crests and troughs in every career and both of them are transient.
If you could do some time-travelling and go back to meet yourself at 17, 25, 35, what would you say to your selves then?
I would say the same thing to all my earlier avatars – Do more! By this I mean garner more experiences – work at a burger store, learn a second language, read different kinds of books, try entrepreneurship, travel to uncharted places – make sure that your timeline is full of diverse experiences. In the long run, I believe that a person’s character is shaped by the sum total of our experiences and our ability to learn from them – so go ahead and accumulate them greedily!
Did you have any fears when you were starting out in this line of work, and were any of them justified?
I had a perception that consulting demands a lot mentally and physically due to ambiguous mandates, travel schedules and impossible deadlines. After starting off as a consultant, I realised that it’s all true. It is a career choice that one makes when signing up and that is something that budding consultants should be conscious of while making a career decision.
Being challenged with the intractable problems or being called in to convert a futuristic idea into reality is what makes consulting exciting.
What is the kind of supplementary informal learning that will give you that edge on this job? Is there any specific reading that you engage in – trade magazines, books, any online resources (blogs, courses, Facebook or Linkedin communities etc.)?
All of the above and then some. Clients in today’s world are extremely well read vis-à-vis global trends and there is an implicit expectation from consultants to keep abreast and in some cases, know more. Hence apart from the usual sources, as consultants we also look at adjacent sources of information for e.g. a study of ecommerce business models can reveal a second-order effect on the economics of a credit-card market.
What is most rewarding about your job?
Being challenged with the intractable problems or being called in to convert a futuristic idea into reality is what makes consulting exciting. And nothing, and I repeat, nothing beats a high when a client achieves success on account of a consulting partnership.
Do you still have days when you think, ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?’ How do you get over that, if you do?
Days of introspection, contemplation and reflection are a reality for all of us and I think this is a good thing as long as it isn’t debilitating. For me personally, having an action-bias helps pull me up from over-thinking these issues.
What’s your advice for a resume that’s just about to enter circulation? What are the musts it should have that recruiters look for? And the absolute don’ts, if any?
A few commandments:
- Be bold and talk about your relevant experiences, but be honest. If you are creative with the truth, you will get caught by a seasoned recruiter.
- Talk about both responsibilities and achievements. Again, please be honest.
- If you are working with a recruitment consulting firm for a specific opportunity with an organization – ask them more about the job and requirements and tailor your resume to highlight the most relevant parts of your skills and experience.
- Work hard to economise the phrasing.
I had a perception that consulting demands a lot mentally and physically due to ambiguous mandates, travel schedules and impossible deadlines. After starting off as a consultant, I realised that IT’s ALL true. It is… something that budding consultants should be conscious of while making a career decision.
How does one network in the beginning to get that initial presence felt, in this profession?
Besides obvious sources of networking such as campus alumni and friends and family, attending trade seminars or symposiums can also prove beneficial. The trick is to be deliberate about networking as an objective in itself. Asking for something the first time is a sure shot way not to build a network.