Not an Ordinary Consulting Firm

Everybody gets an opportunity (yes, this is a blanket statement and I know there are people out there like parent-less children in Somalia who are born to become child warriors, but if you have the technology to read this blog, more likely than not, you will get an opportunity).

Now that I got all of you annoyingly politically correct people out of my hair, let me start over.

Everybody gets an opportunity – some get more, some get less, and some just get it later than others. But everyone gets at least one.

While majoring in business administration as a Berkeley undergrad, I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to be in any of the following professions:

  • Investment Banking.
  • Big 4 Accounting.

I thought I wanted to get into the following profession:

  • Consulting

I really did not want to be:

  • Unemployed.

Investment Banking was explained to me like this: you suffer for 2 years working from 6 AM to 10 PM. You get paid a lot (but given the hours you work, it isn’t that much). You do a lot of soul crushing work like make a PowerPoint that is assigned to you at 7 PM and is due at 7 AM, and when you inevitably stay up late and get it on your bosses desk the next day, he/she says “Nevermind, I don’t need it” and you die inside. Little did I know that that’s many jobs – and some people would kill for a cushy desk job where you type into text boxes for a living. Try asking a balding, middle-aged man who has to roof a defunct building in Detroit in the middle of July if making $120,000 a year as a 22-year-old is something to cry about.

Big 4 Accounting is best described as a series of things a lot of people would hate doing. You count things for a living. You double-check other people’s work for a living. You try to catch people’s mistakes. You write a report on these mistakes and share it with your customer. Your customer hates you and wants to hide their mistakes from you. Your customer does not provide you with what you need to do your job. When they do provide you with what you need, it’s only half of what you need and the other half is archived in a file that requires another person’s login credentials and that person is gone for the week. You see that a dollar is missing and you need to figure out why it’s missing.

As if the above picture isn’t enough, here’s an anecdote: One of my friends got into a Big 4 firm. He did all of the above I’ve described. After a year, he said $%&# this, and joined the Peace Corps, and is happier for it.

Consulting: From my vague knowledge of this profession, I would help companies solve problems. Sounds good to me. Until you get to the interviews and they ask you to figure out how many ping-pong balls fit in the Burj Khalifa. I hated those questions and made me not want to work as a consultant out of spite. My pride was actually my saving grace in this situation because “solving problems as a consultant” at most consulting firms means making PowerPoint, crunching numbers, wearing black suits, and living in hotels – not anything nearly as engaging or appealing as the phrase “help companies solve problems” sounds.

Unemployed: I did not go to an honors high school program, do 5 extracurricular activities, graduate as a valedictorian, get into a top public U.S. university, get into a competitive business program, and spend a ton of money on an education to be unemployed.

When I graduated in 2009 – yeah – I was unemployed.

I applied to about 50 jobs. After a ridiculously humbling experience, I got a job as a loan assistant at a Korean bank making $28,800 a year – and I was grateful.

I clearly thought I was underpaid, but I didn’t care. I had a job when many other people didn’t.

In reality, nobody deserves anything as a college graduate. We don’t know anything of any value. As my first boss used to so eloquently say, “You aren’t useful to me until you’ve been here for a year – and even then, you’ll barely know how to walk.”

But relatively, compared to what people made a few years before me right out of college, making $28,800 with a college degree sucked.

But I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity put in front of me. It wasn’t the opportunity I desired at the time, but it was the opportunity I had, so I made the most of it, and worked my ass off.

I raised my salary to something that I would consider decent, but nothing to write home about. I applied to the USC part-time MBA and got in off the wait list. It sucked working at the bank by day and going to school at night, but I did it for 3 years.

Things weren’t looking overly bright. Yes, I was going to have another degree, but the sadness of living at home with my parents, sacking lunch, saving money, and then seeing it all go to USC tuition was soul-crushing. Furthermore, as a part-time student, my experience was geared more towards “career accelerators” instead of “career switchers,” with recruiting and job fairs being scheduled in the middle of the day when I needed to be writing credit memorandums at my job. All of this, combined with the undeniable fact that I was probably going to end up climbing the corporate ladder in this industry I didn’t love but had no choice but to join, killed me.

I did have some joy though. In my time as a worker bee at this Bank, I had side projects with my friends that were more in line with my passion: creating dope $hit. I designed an iPhone app and hired someone to code it. I made two web comics. I made beats and rapped over them with friends. I made videos. All of this stuff kept me sane, but didn’t make me any money. In reality though, I didn’t care that they didn’t.


I forgot to sign up for classes during my scheduled appointment in my last semester at USC, and was stuck with whatever was left.

This class, my last class, was an HR Strategy class – and it was my opportunity (refer to the beginning of this post).

Similar to my banking job,  HR Strategy with John Boudreau was not my choice. It was the only class left. It turned out, it was a pretty cool class. Here’s an example of the things we talked about:

Let’s say you want to hire an engineer to make an amusement park ride. What’s something any hiring manager says they want?

“I want the best engineer.”

But if you really think about it, do you really need “the best engineer”? Doesn’t it depend on what type of ride you’re making?

Let’s compare two amusement parks to see what I’m getting at. Let’s choose Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain (a roller coaster park). Let’s also give two skills the engineer needs: a) engineering skill and b) storytelling skill.

First: Disneyland.

Disneyland engineers, are “Imagineers” (I think) and are responsible for not only engineering the ride, but making it in a way that helps tell a story. At a certain level, it doesn’t matter how good of an engineer you are if you can’t tell a story with the ride. So, in reality, you just need an engineer that is 80% good at engineering, but 100% good at storytelling.

Now: Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Six Flags engineers on the other hand, need to be the best damn engineers on the planet. They need to test the laws of physics, but ensure that nobody dies. And when all is said and done, all they need to do from a storytelling standpoint is stick a name on the ride and paint the ride a bright color. So in the case of Six Flags engineers, they need to be 100% good at engineering, and just 20% good at storytelling.

Long story short, it was an awesome class.

A few weeks in, my professor said a consulting firm, called Root, Inc would be coming in the next week. Root, Inc. as the professor described it drew business problems in pictures to help align everyone from the CEO to the truck driver around the company’s strategy. I looked online, and they. were. awesome.

They helped companies solve problems. Only with this company, they had a ton of cool, creative talent to help them solve the problems.

They had film makers. They had artists. They had learning designers. They had behavioral sociologists. They had programmers. They had teachers. They had consultants. They were hiring consultants.

Wait…what? They were hiring consultants?

Yeah. You guessed it. This was my opportunity, and I was going to take it.

Brad, the VP of the company and Maria, the managing director were going to come and share a business case the next week. I read the shit out of that case. I watched a ton of the videos on their site.

When they came in, I raised my hand and I gave the most thoughtful answers I could give.

The VP said my answers were good. After he gave his talk on the company, he said he had to leave early and that Maria would cover the rest of the night. He packed his things and walked out the door.

I needed to pee and more importantly, I needed to talk to him, so I got up and walked out the door as well.

I walked with him down the hallway and asked if he was hiring. He asked when I was graduating. I said in May. He said good, because you’d have to start as soon as you graduate. Oh, by the way, we have an office in Chicago and Sylvania, OH (where the hell is Sylva…whatever, we will deal with that later). Are you willing to move? Yes, I am willing to move. Okay, ask Maria for my email and send me your resume.

He walked in the elevator and left.

I spoke with Maria, she was happy to see me as she had heard my answers and thought I could be of some value. I exchanged information with her.

I got a phone interview.

I got an in person interview.

I got the job. I got the job. I got the job.

I’m one year in, and I can’t get “I got the job” out of my head. I work at a consulting firm where helping companies solve problems doesn’t mean making a PowerPoint with 10,000 words and graphs on it.

I work at a consulting firm where our deliverable is a visual with dialogue questions and card activities that actually engage people.

I work at a consulting firm where I get to work with a film team to engage employees and create an emotional connection between them and the company’s strategy.

I work with Fortune 500 companies and have the privilege of sitting at the table with CEOs, CHROs, CFOs, and every other C-letter-letter you can think of and brainstorm with them.

And I get paid to do it.

My name is Steven, and I am a consultant.

Everybody gets an opportunity.

Going forward, my posts aren’t going to be this Kurt Vonnegut-esque.

I felt that I needed to give some context as the “things I learn from consulting” will probably be different from the learnings of a traditional consultant at a traditional consulting firm.

I look forward to sharing my story with you.

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