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MBA Jobs: Want A Consulting Career? Set-Up Your Own Firm

MBA students have found a way to get an edge in consulting. Growing your own firm can pay dividends - and some students even run consultancies from campus.

Mon Jun 23 2014

Andrea Frino, an Imperial College MBA graduate, was only a couple of years into his career with KPMG when he decided to call it quits.

In January last year, after rising to an executive advisory level, Andrea began drawing up plans for his own consulting company. The Italian was keen to leave the big-four firm, a corporate giant best known for its audit and tax services.

It was all a distant ambition – until March, when Andrea, who had spent years climbing the careers ladder, announced plans for an advisory start-up. The decision – and many others in the latest wave of revolt – had many similarities with that of other MBA students’ across the globe. Thinketh and Company, which consultants on strategy, operations and business turnaround, is the latest in a string of start-ups spurred by their MBA founders’ ambitions to go solo.

“I took the risk and challenge to create a start-up. I want to challenge the status quo in consulting and make a difference in business,” said Andrea, who has been running Thinketh and Company for a year. “I have my own goals and objectives, and I thought taking my own path was the right thing for me to do.”

The MBA student is determined. He signed up an associate director, Paul Pegg, who has some 30 years’ experience, and has two associate consultants who are collaborating with him on projects. Business is clearly brisk. Andrea plans to hire another associate, and a second director, this year.

The firm’s expertise lies in the retail and food, oil and gas, telecommunications and private equity industries.

From his office in London’s plush Kensington High Street, Andrea has been drumming up new clients. His first, owned by a private equity firm, signed-up two months after he launched.

While his KPMG colleagues were at first baffled, Andrea has no regrets – although it has been a grind. “The first challenge is to overcome the fear and tell yourself that you will make it; to build that state of confidence; to face the uncertainty,” said Andrea.

He added: “It was a learning process from building the website, to forming the company, all the admin things, to finding new clients. [But] I had faith that it would come… it has been great so far.”

This time last year, Kamru Mohammed was preparing to ditch his 12-year-career in the healthcare sector. Kamru, at the time recently enrolled at Henley Business School, planned to raise his own advisory firm into rude health.

He was only a few months away from graduating but the MBA student wasted no time in setting out his start-up vision.  

His wealth of healthcare experience would be put to good use. Kamru worked at a bevy of health organizations across the UK. His career, spanning over a decade, included a stint as regional program manager for the South of England. The management of those high-profile contracts came with the task of executing a £20 million budget.

But the missing piece of his puzzle was an MBA degree. Kamru was awarded Henley’s diamond full-time MBA scholarship. With the click of a mouse, he was virtually packing his bags.

“I Googled business schools to see what they could offer me and, by accident, Henley popped up with an available scholarship. Before I knew it, I was excited about the opportunity to learn at a well-established international business school,” Kamru told BusinessBecause.

After less than a year at the school’s Reading campus, he launched Bright Sparks Consulting.

“Henley gave me an idea of how to be confident when talking to customers and gaining new business,” he said. Kamru is one of a growing band of consultants-come-entrepreneurs. A career with the leading firms is no longer the only route to advisory success. Why join an Accenture when you can launch your own?

“My MBA gave me the ability to talk about what my clients’ aspirations were; it made me look more strategically at the holistic level,” Kamru added. He has since taken up a job at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Meanwhile, other MBAs are joining ready-made campus firms – alongside their full-time studies.

Management consulting is a hard career to crack where MBA students can expect to net upwards of $100,000 per year – not to mention generous signing-on bonuses.

Data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council show that the consulting industry hired MBA graduates in droves – 79% of those surveyed last year, up 10% on 2012.

The consulting craze shows no sign of abating. The data, collected from more than 900 MBA employers, also revealed that 68% of consulting companies have plans to expand their customer base.

There is no sure-fire way to success, but business schools provide one solution: student-run firms. Last year, Heather Duncanson joined Impact Consulting Group, which is run by those at Rotman School of Management in Toronto.

Set up some 40 years ago by MBA students, the Canadian firm has helped budding advisors gain a foothold in a competitive market.

Over the years it has acquired bigger-name clients, including the Royal Bank of Canada and Visa, the financial services corporation. Over the past year, Heather has worked alongside five new firm partners – each from Rotman’s full-time MBA class.

She said the firm, made up of a “diverse group”, combine their extensive experience to offer a “great opportunity for companies seeking top quality consulting at reasonable rates”.

The Impact team can provide clients with market research, market entry and growth strategies including business plans, financial modelling, customer strategy, as well as performance improvement.

The firm plans to incorporate business design practices this year, said Shelly-Ann, a firm partner: “Design thinking is going to give us a competitive advantage when it comes to business consulting.”

Scott Rutherford, chair of Impact's board of advisors, reckons the MBA students can compete with the big consulting firms.

Rotman expanded its offering in 2005 with the NeXus Consulting Group. The firm offers fee-based services to non-profit organizations and social enterprises.

Jane Park, an MBA student who consults for the fledgling company, said: “We are committed to supporting non-profits in their business needs by developing a deep understanding of their organization and the challenges they face.”

Things are only likely to get more challenging for MBA consultants. But they seem to have found a new way to get an edge.