There were many questions during the first Intermines forum, on November 27 at the Ecole des Mines in Saint-Etienne. I represented the XMP-Consult group, an association of consultants from the Grandes Ecoles (Polytechnique, Mines, Ponts, etc.). The students came in large numbers and several stopped at the XMP-Consult stand, curious or attracted by the consulting business.
Twenty years after leaving school, the questions remain the same. At the time, many already wanted to join a consulting firm, preferably a prestigious one. However, the questions remain: what legitimacy can a junior consultant have, just out of the ranks of the school? What skill or experience can he bring to a client who is often older and more experienced than him?
I therefore took pleasure in exchanging with these interested but sometimes skeptical students. And bring some of my own experience of the consulting profession. Right out of school, I had the opportunity to start in a consulting firm. A former Paris Mines graduate, Philippe Rinaudo (P83), gave me my chance by hiring me in the industrial organization consulting firm he had just created in Lyon. So it was in a very small provincial firm that I cut my teeth as a consultant. The simplicity of the structure quickly allowed me to be in direct contact with customers, including in pre-sales.
Eager to discover behind the scenes, and the organization of a large international industrial group, I was then recruited by Michelin. In the “Organization” department, the job was ultimately quite similar to that of an external consultant, with perhaps fewer demands on deadlines, and probably also less independence of judgement. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to work abroad, notably in China for 3 years, and to measure the importance of culture in professional relations.
Back in France in 2010, I was again approached by Philippe Rinaudo. His company Creative IT has grown, and I am called upon to lead a team of consultants in the field of industrial information systems (MES applications). The dominant management is then more significant, in a field in full evolution, and a need for development of knowledge quite strong. After 40 years, with this twenty years of experience, I feel ready to jump into the deep end, and I created FL Consultant at the beginning of 2017.
What answers can you give to these young students, who are wondering about the advisability of starting a career in a consulting firm? Is there only one right answer? I know many people who find it absurd to employ young engineers, fresh out of school, in the consulting business. This is not my opinion. Indeed, many missions can be carried out by juniors in a firm (documentary research, collection and analysis of data, participation in working groups, etc.). And they often bring renewal, in the methodological, relational or technical approach. It is certainly not a question of being the special adviser to the Managing Director, but of being one of the cogs in a consultant-client team, being an actor in the resolution of a problem or an ambition.
Talking about the consultant’s profession is ultimately an abuse of language. There are several professions, or several styles of advice. With few exceptions, it is hard to see a young graduate becoming an independent consultant. From which network, and with which references would he build his clientele? The big international management firms always attract, right out of school, like a continuation of this “royal road” started from the preparatory classes… I do not have this experience, and I have no doubt that it brings a methodology and a profitable address book, just as it requires a significant personal commitment. But apart from the scarcity of places, is this somewhat elitist approach still in tune with the times?
Another risk awaits the junior consultant. Many companies outsource some of their services. They subcontract them to large structures, which place their “consultants” in management, permanently with the client. Is it still consulting to be for one or two years, integrated into the same service at the client’s, cut off from his firm and his management? Isn’t it rather luxury interim?
It seems to me that there is a third way, less known and perhaps less valued. I am happy to have started in a small consulting firm. I learned a lot there, due to the variety of professions, sectors and tools. This experience also helps me as an independent consultant: without initial consulting experience, it is harder to position your offer and sell yourself to a client.