Why working in industry is harder than being a consultant

It wasn’t until Deloitte partner Alon Ellis spent a few years in a full-time industry role that he fully appreciated what it was like working on the client-side and having to deal with external advisers.

“The stereotype of life in industry being a breeze is complete BS. The hours were pretty similar to consulting, but the stress level was much higher,” Mr Ellis, 34, said of his time at trucking company Toll Group.

“The main thing I realised was that consultants are always working to a scope, which allows them to focus on a defined outcome. You can’t do that in industry, you’re working to an outcome, regardless what happened between the time in which the budget was set and now.”

Mr Ellis went to Toll Group, as head of pricing and revenue management for its parcel business, after spending more than five years as a Deloitte consultant.

He said the experience gave him first-hand experience of the onslaught of pitches from consulting firms that would be familiar to executives around the country, and ultimately transformed his approach to consulting.

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“Every random consultant, the majors and ’boutique’ firms, was constantly contacting me to try to sell me their wares and buzzwords, often with very little self-awareness about what they were bringing into a meeting, and the limitations of their capabilities,” he said.

“I spent a good bit of time in my first six months either focusing or clearing out the consultants and contractors we had in the business, as we were wasting our time and money. This whole mess made me see how poorly people manage consulting spend, and why consultants get a bad reputation.”

Variety of work

Mr Ellis returned to the firm last year, where he is now a partner at Monitor Deloitte leading its strategic pricing business.

“On a personal level, I realised that I was starting to miss the variety of work that I had in consulting. It was around that point that I had done all the standard things around building up a team, putting in place a new operating model and rhythm in my functional area, and that the next long while was going to be about gradual improvement of the business,” he said.

He said the Toll Group experience has given him better appreciation of how to understand clients, and the wider variety of people that work within industrial companies.

“When you work in a large logistics business you interact with a much wider variety of people than you would in a consulting firm. Managing and leading at that sort of company is completely different to consulting, as it isn’t full of type-A personalities who are trying to prove themselves constantly,” he said.

“This really forced me to rethink what motivated the team, and change the way I had worked with people, by slowing down my pace and giving out clearer, more bite-sized pieces of work. Managing a team in consulting is far easier than in industry.”

Email the reporter at edmundtadros@afr.com.au

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