I’ll start with an overview of some notable case topics that I’ve been involved in during my first year at the firm: sizing the market opportunity in oil sludge treatment, assessing demand for market intelligence, analyzing school district budgets, predicting the impact government stimulus plans will have on the use of concrete bricks, forecasting the future of GPS systems and researching trends in baby products. If I expand the list office-wide, some additional gems are unveiled to include: assessing global tractor manufacturing, as well as analyzing the market for dog de-shedding tools, office furniture, liquid smoke and religious publications. This last one involved many phone calls to nuns and priests, which had the ancillary benefit of answering that long-standing, pressing question: yes, nunneries and monasteries do have phones. I, however, maintain that they are probably rotary phones!
As this list hopefully illustrates, the type of work we do is far from limited to a particular topic area. Parthenon has a competitive and deep knowledge base in consumer goods, education, sports and healthcare, but work as an associate is not restricted or repetitive. One of the most enjoyable things about consulting is the variety involved on a daily basis, and the biggest part of what we do constantly is learn about new industries, new people and new problems.
The thread of continuity from case to case requires a particular kind of thinking. At its core, consulting is a problem-solving job (I suppose this justifies the existence of the irksome case interview). To define consulting as problem-solving, however, is too narrow In its entirety, great consultants are those that can define the problem quickly and then offer an accurate solution to it. An associate who quickly defines a problem can move immediately toward performing relevant analysis. A principal who accurately defines a problem will focus his team on the critical questions and a partner who insightfully defines a problem can go to a client with a clear message of how our work will help them succeed. The key to consulting is understanding the client’s challenge and sensing a solution even before all of the facts are gathered.
Of course, a big part of the work that an associate does revolves around gathering and analyzing the facts, and this is where the job can produce some satisfying results. I definitely nerd out when a regression model based on hours of debating the right market drivers produces statistically significant forecasts or analysis of a giant budget database yields areas to improve efficiency. Plus, cold-calling for primary research is always an adventure. If you are lucky, you may stumble across the great-great-grandson of a famous civil war general! If you are slightly less lucky, you may be transferred to the Houston Police Department.
I get to handle new challenges on a daily basis while working with incredibly intelligent, dynamic people. The topic of any case is secondary to the tone and atmosphere around the office. Being an associate at Parthenon is interesting, rewarding and often quite fun.