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by Vault Consulting Editors | April 03, 2009

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If one of the criticisms that's often leveled at consultants is that they turn up and tell clients how to run a business despite having never worked in that particular industry, one often-overlooked long-term benefit to being a consultant (for those looking to eventually leave consulting to work in a particular field) is the exact inverse of this: You spend your time in education, learning the ins and outs of an industry, before spending your consulting career testing and refining that knowledge, gaining invaluable experience along the way.

But what's a consultant to do with all the knowledge amassed over the course of his tenure? Frequently there comes a point for consultants where the lure of applying their knowledge and skills to a venture of their own making begins to outweigh the prospect of being at the beck and call of a client—or a succession of clients—for what often amounts to a decent reward, but very little in the way of thanks.

For Greg Brenneman, former CEO of PriceWaterhouseCoopers' advisory unit, the answer to the common question of what transition to make after a high-profile career in consulting seems to have been a relatively logical one: venture capital. A one-time colleague of Mitt Romney, Brenneman has the classic consulting resume: Harvard Business School followed by a stint at Bain, before rising to head up PwC. He now serves as chairman of CCMP Capital, where his years of experience in helping others build and restructure their business is now aiding him in making decisions about which firms his company should invest capital in, and also in mentoring the CEOs at some of those firms, according to this interview in The New York Times.

Full of insightful quotes about what it takes to be a leader, perhaps the most revealing thing Brenneman says in the Times piece is something you might not expect from someone who came from an industry famous for wafflers and pontificators: brevity and simplicity are virtues. Or, in Brenneman's own words: "There's a great saying: 'I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.' I find that in business a lot of people take the time to write the really long letter, but they don't take the time to write the short one."

Despite his new career direction, some of Brenneman's consulting habits seem to still be with him—and to be aiding him in his decision-making process. Anyone who's ever been through a case interview would probably recognize one of the methods that he uses to suss out whether a prospective CEO is up to snuff: "I'll start asking questions. What really drives this business? If I told you I'd love to see earnings up 20 percent, what would be the levers we could pull to do that?" Then, after asking, "you just listen." Sounds like a consultant to me.

Where Brenneman perhaps differs from a consultant focused on squeezing bottom-line concerns is that his worldview seems to have stretched beyond money—at least as far as salaries go. Reflecting on the difficulties within the current economy, he notes that "it's important to talk to people about how we're in a fundamentally different world. Ask the question, 'If compensation isn’t going to be the same for a while, where do you get your fulfillment in life?'" Brenneman's answer to that question? "Faith, families, friends and hobbies create real balance."

Backing that idea up, when asked to consider the possibility of going back and choosing another career, Brenneman's ideas are nowhere near the business field. In addition to the fantasy choice of professional golfer, he suggested that "I’d have probably gone into the ministry." Still, one can't help but notice that it's a career path that involves the potential for providing a certain amount of counseling and advice!

--Posted by Phil Stott

*This is the first in what we hope will become a semi-regular series of "Life after consulting" posts about where careers in consulting can lead. Well, this post was actually the first in the series, but this is the first one with the fancy title.

As an extension of that, we'd love to hear any tips or stories of other journeys through and beyond the world of consulting—be they your own, someone you know or even a link to an article we might have missed. As always, leave a comment on the blog or email us at editors@vault.com about this or anything else that takes your fancy.

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