Having interviewed many management consultants over my time as a strategy recruiter, the most common answer to the question “what do you see as the long term goal for you?” is …...
I want to move into a role with P&L responsibility. Whether they have their sights set on CEO, COO or a GM role I would guess that a good 90% of the strategy community I speak to have the P&L vision.
Having recruited in this space for 15 years now I can say it is very rare for management consultants, at any level, to move directly from consulting into a role with P&L responsibility. There is usually a stepping stone move into an internal strategy role and even then it is not an easy transition. You have to be focused and do the things that will really get you noticed. Some in the business will be opposed to having a consultant, who in their mind is only used to managing project teams, leading a function. On the occasions I have had my strategy consulting candidate at a final stage of interview for a role with P&L responsibility, too often there is always someone who has been part of the process who feels, rightly or wrongly, that consultants are more about their own end goal than the greater good of their team...or are extremely risk adverse and want to go with a safer bet. But times are changing and we are slowly but surely seeing ex management consultants go on to lead some of Australia’s iconic businesses.
With this in mind, I took to the phones and asked some key players in the market, who have themselves managed to navigate the tricky path from consulting to P&L, to give their best advice...These included some very senior executives of some major ASX businesses. One Exec I spoke with, Jacques Markgraff, had a lot of thoughts on this subject given he had gone from strategy management consulting at PWC, to a Head of Strategy role in CBA, to a Head of Strategy role at Sunrice, to a P&L role at Sunrice and now back into a Strategic role as GM Strategy, Innovation and Business Intelligence role at Coca Cola Amatil.
What is the best advice you can give to those who have come from a strategy background who have the ambition of obtaining a role with P&L?
- Develop strong working relationships with Head's of the division/s that you believe you could add the most value in - i.e. don't disappear back to your team after the strategy is crafted - stay plugged into what's going on in the business to the extent possible.
- Take lots of time to listen… to everyone.
- Pick who you respect. Then watch them and learn.
- Demonstrate an 'in-depth' understanding of the business model beyond the strategy. For example, an in-depth understanding of the business drivers and challenges.
- Get beneath the monthly/quarterly business performance reviews to understand the results within the market context.
- Show that you can execute on your strategic recommendations.
- Ensure you have a pragmatic and commercial lens on everything - if it can't be implemented or doesn't stack up financially then acknowledge this upfront.
- Find a senior sponsor who will support your case when the opportunity arises.
- Be aware of biases that folks will have about you, not everyone loves consultants.
- Look for opportunities that are cross-functional in nature - e.g. get involved/lead projects that span the entire value chain and rely on multi-disciplinary teams to develop and execute. This will give you a taste of what a P&L role will be like as you'll be expected to be across the full value chain.
- Think big. Act slow and in increments.
What skills, obtained from your strategy background, did you most utilise in your P&L role?
- Almost all of the skills are relevant but probably an analytical curiosity to challenge the 'status quo' through a fact-based approach proved very helpful.
- Being able to identify what really matters most to the sustainable performance of the business really helped identify the 'big rocks'.
- Influencing skills, being aware of your surroundings and adapting your style accordingly. You learn to do this in consulting and it is key inside a business.
What are the things that you wish you had known before you took on a P&L role?
- To successfully transition into a front line P&L role necessitates: 1) a strong existing team and 2) a divisional leader that will support and rally behind you. You will know very little about the existing capabilities, competencies and norms of the team. For example, leading a sales team without sales experience will be an immediate cultural challenge which you will need to overcome.
- Do your due diligence on the business/division you're interested in joining. Jumping into a P&L role of a business that is in 'turnaround' mode is not advised as the day to day performance results becomes THE FOCUS when the strategy alignment and execution should be what's focused on and where your skills are most relevant...particularly in the first 12-24 months.
- Make sure the vision and strategy of the business are sound and bought into by the teams.
- It is much more challenging than I imagined to keep your eye on 'today' while thinking about 'tomorrow'. The day to day pressures of running a business and meeting/exceeding budget and forecast can be overwhelming, particularly if the business is facing severe headwinds. The level of effort and focus required to 'keep the lights on' cannot be underestimated.
Strategy role vs P&L role?
- Tough question. Ultimately having front-line P&L experience will make you a more well rounded strategist so don't see these as necessarily mutually exclusive. Similarly, having a strategy background does provide a number of important skills that benefit a P&L role such as problem solving, analysis, a cross-functional mindset, stakeholder management, financial acumen etc. to name a few.
- If, however you prefer regular learning and mental stimulation, a P&L role could be less engaging given the often, operational / day-to-day nature of the role.
- On the other hand, a P&L role provides exposure to areas such as customer facing negotiations, operational problem solving, financial results, budgeting & forecasting, day-to-day HR problem solving etc. that a strategy role simply can't offer.
- Where the roles are similar is in the fact that no two days are the same which is always fun if you're someone who gets easily bored.
It would be interesting to hear any other advice ex consultants who have made this transition may have...