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Inside View: EY Advisory

Firm seeks MBA talent for push into government and digital transformation consulting

Thu Sep 3 2015

The evolution over the past decade of the “Big Four” — PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG — from auditors into professional services firms has been salient. As consulting has become among the fastest-growing divisions, advisory career opportunity abounds.

EY, formerly Ernst & Young, has long been a fervent recruiter at top universities. The firm is a leading employer of graduates at Cambridge Judge, Michigan Ross, and Cornell: Johnson business schools.

But the recent growth of its advisory business — between 2004 and 2014 revenue surged by 225% to reach £900 million — has placed onus on hiring talented consultants.

The consulting arms of all the Big Four firms are now growing faster than traditional management consulting companies, according to analysts at Source Information Services.

For EY, a global firm with nearly 200,000 employees spanning 700 offices, its evolution into an advisory powerhouse is being spurred by renewed demand from government and business, which both seek large-scale digital transformations.

Radhika Chadwick, a partner at EY who leads digital and strategy services, and London Business School MBA, believes this is heightening the need to hire more senior-level consultants who can form long-term strategy.

As is the case among other consultancies, digital expertise, soft skills, and entrepreneurialism are increasingly sought after by the world’s third-largest advisory firm by revenue.

Is there still a demand for MBA educated consultants?

We’re hiring up and down the organization and we are hiring more senior individuals, particularly in the government sector, where we are engaging the senior level.

I have an MBA. [But] it’s the quality of the MBA that makes the difference. You don’t necessarily need to have one — you could have fabulous work experience, for example.

But there are things a good quality MBA does that does make a difference, which employers recognize. A generic MBA isn’t as valuable as a good quality MBA. There is an emphasis on high-quality MBAs. There is [also] more of a focus on the soft, digital and entrepreneurial skills.

When you say high quality do you mean brand recognition — Harvard, Stanford? 

Brand recognition will never go away: there is always a thinking that people who go into those programs tend to be top notch. High quality-brands tend to be the high-quality MBA programs. 

I’d be intrigued to see in the next couple of years if MBA programs start niching themselves. What I haven’t seen yet and what I’d be intrigued to see is if there are some geared towards the digital economy.

Do you expect to see more demand from companies to utilize digital?

There are different problems in ever sector. There is huge demand in financial services and from huge organizations that have legacy methods of serving customers.

Also, there is early demand from government. That’s only going to increase.

Is government work now less about rescuing failing services and more about transformational change?

We’ve been seeing a willingness [for government clients] to engage with the wider transformational question. For a while there was a lot of willingness to look at reform and cost reduction as a key driver, and the digital agenda is starting to put reform back on the table again.

One of the clients I work with is Network Rail — [we are] looking at digitization and how it affects the rail system, and which tech you’d bring in and how that changes the rail journeys, timetabling and capacity. Ten years ago it [digitization] would have been a nice to have. Now there’s no way your current systems can keep up with rising demand with current technology. It’s an imperative that you have to start looking at new technologies.

Are there concerns that organizations can develop digital strategies in isolation from the rest of their enterprise?

It’s up to most organizations to determine for themselves whether it needs to be centralized and how they begin that journey.

It’s probably a size answer — small organizations can jump into it and make it work but big organizations have to start with some consensus building before it can start seeping into everything that they do.

Does strategy consulting demand different expertise to address complex, long-term problems?

It does. One of the things I’ve noticed among our clients over the last 15-20 years is that the sophistication with which they purchase consultancy work has increased, and the complexity of problems they face has increased even more.

There is even greater demand for expertise to deal with much more long-term problems on a fairly regular basis.

We’re seeing a situation where consultants need to have the hard skills and the soft skills. I’m seeing a greater weighting on soft skills in terms of consultants we hire and those who are effective in long-term problem solving — having empathy, being able to work in cross-functional teams, and problem solving [skills] are starting to become more important.

What difficulty have you had attracting consultants with digital expertise? 

These skills are very much in demand. It’s quite a nascent industry but there are certain pockets of activity where we can quite comfortably find people with an interest or some skill [in digital].

There are other areas where just fining talent is quite difficult — people that have worked on big digital transformation programs [for example]. There is enormous potential to increase our talent pool and I think the uptick in salaries that people with digital skills can demand does point to a lack of sheer numbers.