First there was Consulting or Investment Banking. However, funny YouTube videos aside, for some reason (read: actual jobs) you picked consulting. Now, there is another much-discussed career choice to be made: operations or strategy, the incumbent MBA favorite being strategy.
A business process design professor of mine at Kelley once said in a playful jab at his strategy colleagues, "You can buy an excellent McKinsey strategy. They'll churn it out in a slick PowerPoint deck and send it right over. It will be absolutely excellent, insightful, anticipatory and more. Now, you have a great strategy, but can you execute it? Plenty of firms have good strategies, but not many have executed them well."
One of the preeminent areas of business interest in our time is supply chain and operations. As an operations consultant, you can be at the forefront of implementing those major improvements roughed out by the strategy. These improvements are changing businesses for the better, increasing visibility to costs, better product traceability, reengineering business processes to be more efficient and using business analytics to make better decisions. Creating large-scale change from how business used to be done to how it will be done in the future, making an organization globally competitive, is truly an exciting prospect.
Challenges aside, operations consulting is a different lifestyle; production facilities and distributions centers are in towns like New Ulm, Minn., that aren't all that far off from how they're depicted in New in Town. It can have a certain kind of charm, though, and you'll be too busy working to go out anyway. Far from the Intercontinental, The Holiday or Hampton are the only inns you'll likely see. That said, the earlier you are involved in a project, the more likely you are to be in a more happening city or suburb near the company's headquarters.
I can't say that I wouldn't want to be a "PowerPoint jockey" strategy consultant some time, but operations is an equally valid choice that has plenty of opportunities and challenges. And it's been pretty interesting—I've been on so many factory tours that sometimes it seems like I'm on an episode of Follow that Food.
I write this as I'm on a break in the middle of a turkey processing facility; my optimism may seem boundless. The glitz and glamour go to our strategy folk; the guts and glory to operations. Sometimes, literally, the guts.
--Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.
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