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Three Cheers for Chartered Secretaries!

As always this year’s ICSA Awards Ceremony was one to be remembered and we were pleased to be able to support this key industry event by sponsoring the ‘One to Watch’ award and hosting a table of fabulous guests; a big thank you to everyone who joined us!

We feel passionately about recognizing the hard work, enthusiasm and commitment of all those operating within or in support of our niche profession and would like to say well done to all of the nominees and award winners, with particular congratulations to Michelle Vassall, Chartered Secretary at Sport England for her success this year and for winning our award!


Caroline Evans proudly presents the CSS award to Michelle here, first published in the Chartered Secretary magazine January 2012 edition

Festive Joke – Management Consultants

A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW roared over a hill towards him. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

The shepherd looked at the man, then looked at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answered, “Sure.”

The visitor parked his car, whipped out an iPad, surfed to a NASA page where he called up a GPS satellite navigation system, scanned the area, downloaded to a database, and populated an Excel spreadsheet with complex formula. He sent an email on his Blackberry and, after a few seconds, received a response. Finally, he printed out a report on his hi-tech, portable printer then turns to the shepherd and said, “You have exactly 1586 sheep.”

“That is correct; take one of the sheep.” said the shepherd. He watches the young man select one of the animals and bundle it into his car.

Then the shepherd says: ” If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?”

“OK, why not.” answered the young man.

“Clearly, you are a management consultant.” said the shepherd.

“That’s correct,” says the young man, “but how did you guess that?”

“No guessing required.” answers the shepherd. “You turned up here although nobody called you. You want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked, and you don’t know anything about my business. Now give me back my dog.”

The sector in 2012: how to apply, where to find the jobs, and what you’re letting yourself in for….

Management consultancy and investment banking are the two top career choices for business school graduates. Join a consulting firm and you can become comfortably off: choose investment banking and you’ll be obscenely rich. But it’s about more than the money, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

My contention is that consultancy is the better choice. In the course of your time as a consultant you’ll see a wide variety of businesses across a wide variety of sectors, work alongside a wide variety of skilled professionals on a wide variety of problems….and be able to take all that experience off into the real world when you finally decide to get a proper job (typically after 3-5 years as a consultant, for reasons I’ll explain later.)

The UK consulting industry is recovering after three awful years. Firms are hiring again, but the competition is fierce. So the first thing you need to do is to polish up your CV. You need to stand out from everybody else in your class who’ll be applying. Any application, whether by post of email, must be tailored for the specific opportunity. And a cover note needs to highlight: what you’re good at, what you can bring to the firm, and how they’ll benefit from hiring you.

If you’re hoping to join a strategy house (McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Bain are the ‘holy trinity’ of the top tier firms), get on to their websites right now. The closing dates for applications are generally about a year in advance of start dates, so you need to apply early. (Hint, if you’ve missed the deadline, still apply. Other applicants may drop out/choose investment banking instead, and you might get lucky…)

Most other firms, however, recruit on an as-needed basis. Check out their websites for current vacancies. Remember, these requirements are listed around 4-6 months before the new recruits are expected to start, so there’s no point in applying too early.

As well as a consultancy firm’s own website, look for advertisements posted on job boards (eg, and trawl around social media (YouTube, Facebook etc) for other recruitment announcements.

But don’t just wait for an opportunity to be advertised. Be proactive. Find people you know (friends, alumni) who are working in consulting firms and ask them to put your CV in front of a hiring manager. (Almost all organizations encourage their staff to do this now).
Scour the business pages of quality newspapers for comment from consulting firms (journalists frequently solicit quotes from consulting industry figures for analysis pieces on issues of the day). Make that the reason for introducing yourself to them. (“I saw your comment in the FT about supply chain disruption and…… By the way, I’m finishing my MBA shortly with a view to becoming a supply chain and logistics consultant, and I wondered if you could introduce me to….”)

Don’t just target well known consultancies. Although a big consulting name on your CV will resonate widely when you move out into industry, a small consultancy which specializes in the sector in which you intend to make your long-term career can be just as valuable. (Hint: think about your exit before you even enter a consulting firm. Say you plan a long-term career in the pharmaceutical industry: why not seek out the niche firms who consult in this sector?) There are many good reasons why a consulting career with a boutique (ie small) firm makes sense: you’ll be exposed to the problems that keep that industry’s CEOs awake at night, you’ll learn at the shoulder of a director or partner of a boutique consultancy (rather than just a senior consultant or manager at a large consultancy), and you’ll have more dealings with the CEOs of the companies you’ll want to join when you eventually leave consulting.

If your course requires an internship or summer project, why not find a placement in a consulting firm? Even a few weeks in consulting will demonstrate you know what consulting is like. And 70% of interns are offered a permanent job at the end of a placement.

Be realistic: not everyone can become a strategy consultant. Most business school graduates who go into consulting will join a mainstream consulting firm (eg Accenture, Deloitte) and will be hired not just for their intellectual horsepower but also for their pre-business school experience. So if you have a background in the insurance sector, say, then look for opportunities in the financial services team at a consultancy. Or if you’ve been as software engineer, try to position yourself in IT advisory.
And don’t get hung up on rank. Unless you are nationally known speaker in your field, you’ll join at the standard entry level….even if you’ve been a senior vice-president managing scores of staff and managing a budget of tens of millions. You’ll need to go through consultancy boot camp just like everyone else.

Salary? Again, you’ll have to take the ‘going rate’. It’s currently around £60,000 in the UK. That’s base salary: expect a bonus (but don’t rely on it to pay the bills) of 15%, a pension contribution and local market ‘big company’ benefits such as private healthcare and life insurance. Holidays: around 25 days or your local market average. And if you’re good, and you last that long, you’ll double your base salary in around 4 years.

So…why do I think you won’t last that long? It’s the baggage that comes with consultancy which makes consultants leave after 3-5 years. Work life balance? It’s all work, and no life.
Expect to spend around 70% of your working year away from home. (Some consultancies will ask you to sign an agreement to spend 100% away.) That means three nights in a hotel and four days on the client site – which might be five hours journey time from home. The working week averages 50 hours, and a stretch of 70 hours a week to bring a project in on time is not uncommon. Think of the impact that has on your personal life….and you’ll understand why I think you’ll last 3-5 years before you move on.
Still want to go into consulting? Good. I think it’s the best possible choice for consolidating your business school education. And just look where former consultants end up: UK Foreign Secretary (William Hague); former HSBC Chairman (Stephen Green); Enron CEO (Jeff Skilling)…ok, maybe not that last one.

Whatever you choose – investment banking, setting up your own business, or consultancy – study hard, enjoy your time at business school, and good luck!

Copyright Don Leslie 2011

About the Author: Don Leslie is a recruiter at management consultancy recruiters BLT. That’s his day job. What he really enjoys doing is evangelising for the consulting industry. You can contact him at BLT via

Henry VIII – A Consultant’s Dream or Disaster?

Although it seems reasonable to view management consultancy as a relatively modern phenomenon, we could probably track the development of the profession through history (not that I’m volunteering to attempt this).

Take the reign of King Henry VIII for instance; Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Sir Thomas More are prime examples of sixteenth century public sector consultants. Henry had an advisory Privy Council, but Wolsey’s rise to Lord Chancellor in 1515 gave him a unique position of influence over the young king. Although Wolsey was a papal representative, his industry specialism didn’t stop him from adopting a generalist role.

From implementing taxation policies (outrageous and otherwise), to strategising England’s foreign relations (war, war or raise taxes for war?) to Henry’s religious reforms, Wolsey’s voice of reason was selectively heard over a career of 15 years at the king’s metaphorical side (they resided at separate palaces more often than not). As you might imagine, travel was a big part of the job; Wolsey’s engagements took him to France, Spain and Italy where he could be found networking with his European counterparts in Rome.

He was paid rather handsomely for it too. With multiple bishoprics under his expansive belt, Wolsey’s wealth was second only to Henry’s. The annual bonuses went some way to creating Hampton Court Palace: the ultimate expression of Wolsey’s prominent position at court. Nevertheless, his success as Henry’s consultant was dependent on his ability to give the king what he wanted. The failure to acquire a papal dispensation for the Aragonian marriage meant Henry disposed of Wolsey and his services. (He was forced to retire. Luckily, Henry was not in the full swing of his penchant for beheading).

And so steps in Henry’s close acquaintance Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor in 1529. More essentially project managed the mission to squeeze out (read: burn at the stake) heretics in Henry’s catholic realm. Most of his work was therefore client-side, with travel at a minimum. However, More’s stint as the king’s primary consultant was brief; he gravely insulted his client on a number of occasions. Not only did he refuse to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn, in 1534 he refused to swear the Oath of Supremacy which recognised Henry as the head of the Church. One too many blows to the big boss sent More to the scaffold on charges of treason.

Unsurprisingly, not many were keen to succeed Thomas More. Though Thomas Audley was the lucky fellow who got the job, perhaps the risks were not so great. No man was to ever reach Wolsey’s esteemed position in the king’s graces, and none ever achieved a degree of closeness to Henry as had by More; the nature of work was never quite the same for the consultants to the King of England.

‘Welcome Zarina Khan’

Hello readers, this is Zarina, the newbie to the management consultancy team at BLT. Entering my second week here at BLT, I’m pleased to say that the team have not scared me off…yet. I graduated this year from Durham University where I read History, specialising in good old Henry VIII and his marital issues in my final year. Though I left the essays, deadlines and all-nighters behind, I take a personal interest in women’s history; reading about a bit of everything from Anne Boleyn to the former Comfort Women of East Asia. Before making a complete break with student life, I spent 6 weeks in South-East Asia after graduating, where I backpacked from Hanoi to Singapore, and though tempted to ignore my return flight, alas here I am. I was particularly eager to grab a desk at BLT as they provide an ideal environment for my first ‘real adult’ job. Challenging yet supportive, friendly yet focussed, I knew I would not be idly passing the hours here. Though it’s still early days, I am really looking forward to getting stuck in with the team’s work and building a career here! And I’m sure they’re equally eager for some of my infamous chocolate fudge cake. (Hot tip: a penchant for puddings on a CV wins hearts, minds and stomachs)

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