Written by Alexa Michl, a Strategy Manager at Accenture. Prior to joining the New York City, NY office of Accenture, Alexa earned her MBA degree from Columbia Business School in 2001.
I work for Accenture, a global consulting services firm. I’m based in the New York City office — though I’m rarely there — and I’m a manager in the strategy group with a focus on finance and performance management. My responsibilities on client projects include managing the day-to-day workload and client expectations. This means managing teams of Accenture analysts and consultants, working closely with the client and our Accenture partner, and ultimately making sure that we deliver on time and to everyone’s satisfaction.
The scope and objectives of my projects vary greatly, but in general I work on finance strategy assignments. This entails meeting with senior finance officers of our clients and discussing their two- to five-year goals for the finance organization and how these goals align with their corporate strategy. Formulating a better finance strategy, gaining agreement, and then translating the strategy into concrete objectives that can be put into practice typically takes a few weeks.
LAYING OUT A PLAN The challenge lies in interviewing stakeholders who will be affected, discussing the strategy and its impact on operations within all levels of the organization, capturing their ideas and points of view, and then gaining their support. If this isn’t done correctly, the strategy will remain a theoretical formulation that’s disconnected from day-to-day operations. This is where a lot of strategy projects fail.
Once the interviewing is done, we spend a few weeks on making the strategy implementable, for instance, determining what changes will need to be implemented in the various finance departments, what the new workflow will be (e.g. consolidating redundant processes, automating or outsourcing certain functions), what technologies will need to be implemented or upgraded, and what new skills need to be taught or brought in. In addition, we’ll formulate new performance targets, work on determining what metrics and key performance indicators will be used to monitor progress, and suggest how to best reward success. Such a strategy project can last anywhere from 6 to 15 weeks, depending on the scope, the finance areas involved, and the level of detail required.
I’m currently in the middle of a small strategy project with six Accenture and eight client-team members.
5:00 a.m. — I get up and get ready to leave for the airport, praying that New York City traffic is light and that flights are on time. Check voice mail.
6:30 a.m. — I catch a flight to Chicago, where my current client is located.
9:00 a.m. — I arrive at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, rent a car, and drive 30 minutes to the client site. I check voice mail on the way and make a few phone calls to the partner leading the project plus my team.
9:45 a.m. — The first meeting of the day with the Accenture team: We go over our plan for the week, prepare for our key meetings with the client teams, and discuss our deliverables.
At the beginning of the project, we assigned each Accenture manager a few finance areas and the responsibility to manage the work streams associated with these functions. During the Monday morning meetings, we discuss our progress and challenges, and also make sure that our work will integrate smoothly with the other work streams.
10:20 a.m. — I check e-mail, and answer only urgent requests, such as client questions or questions from my team relating to the day’s meetings.
10:30 a.m. — The first client meeting: We brief the client on the work we’re planning to do this week, each team member’s and client’s responsibilities, meeting schedules, etc.
11:00 a.m. — We meet with the client’s vice-president for finance to give an update on the previous week’s findings and discuss this person’s views on the way his or her finance organization is run, the client’s expectations of the project, and its perspective on the issues and conclusions we’ve identified and reached so far.
12:30 p.m — Lunch at the cafeteria with a few Accenture and client team members.
1:00 to 4:00 p.m. — We meet with other finance executives to gain better insight into the organization, its trouble areas, and so on. During breaks, I check e-mail and voice mail, or simply take a breather.
4:00 to 5:00 p.m. — I debrief my team on the day’s meetings. We review the notes we’ve collected, answer each other’s questions, discuss problems or issues that could hinder our progress, assign responsibilities to update documents, and analyze today’s information and insights.
5:00 to 5:30 p.m. — We meet with other Accenture managers and partners to discuss our new insights, the impacts that these insights have on each other’s work, and our plan for the next day.
5:30 to 7:00 p.m. — Check e-mail and voice mail. This is my quality work time — alone. (Most of the time, I’m either with a client or working with my team, answering questions, or discussing the next steps.) I analyze new data, step back from the detail and think about next steps, prepare for tomorrow’s meetings, review work from my team, and respond to today’s less urgent e-mails.
7:30 p.m. — I check into my hotel. Depending on our moods and on whether the rest of the Accenture team is also from out of town, we go out for dinner or simply order room service and/or work out at the hotel gym.
9:00 p.m. — My last e-mail and voice mail check of the day.
CAREER NEGOTIATING Before I started this job two years ago, I thought I could handle all the travel and that it would be fun! (In my previous life, I was a human resources consultant, which didn’t involve any travel.) The lifestyle of a traveling consultant, though interesting and rewarding (you get to travel to destinations such as Paris, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), is more demanding than I thought. I’m typically on the road Monday through Thursday and sometimes Friday.
However, if I come back on Thursday night, I can work from home on Friday, which is a great perquisite! Weekends are my own — I rarely work or check e-mail or voice mail on Saturday and Sunday unless it’s extremely urgent (during a project’s crunch time — the last two or three weeks).
Most strategy projects last between six and 15 weeks, with follow-on implementation projects lasting three to 18 months, or more. It’s hard to generalize, because projects vary so much. So I can work on one project for a year or on up to four a year, depending on what’s in our pipeline.
Our group has a lot of work, because finance skills are always in demand. So a lot of times I will have a choice of what project I work on next. Also, as I build my reputation, expertise, and network in the firm, I can oftentimes call a partner who I enjoyed working with, or get a call from such a partner, and get an assignment that way. Accenture gives you a lot of freedom to manage and choose the direction of your career, so if you have self-initiative, you can work on a lot of different projects and build a diverse skill set.
WORKING AT ACCENTURE If I could go back to B-school and take more courses, I would take more general accounting classes, as well as a negotiations class. Accounting is the backbone of business, so the better one understands the link between cash flows, balance sheets, and P&Ls, and how one item or element impacts the others, the better. This provides a much more comprehensive view of business and makes it easier to work on finance projects. Negotiation skill can help you anywhere, from negotiating what project you want to be on, to how you divide up the workload, to when you take your vacation (just kidding).
The best way to land a job at Accenture is to apply online. Our policy is to keep all résumés and recruiting information electronically, so company recruiters not only request that applicants submit an electronic application, they really do read them.
Networking pays off, as Accenture values having employees refer friends or old colleagues, but they still have to fill out an application online! Accenture recruiters often invite recent hires to recruiting events to give candidates the opportunity to get their questions answered.
Accenture is such a large company that you don’t absolutely have to have an MBA for most consulting positions, although it definitely does help because most partners value the education, skills, and way of thinking that an MBA brings to the table. The only exception is the strategy group, which requires an MBA or PhD because of the high pressure and demands of working with senior executives. I landed my job through the Columbia Business School interview process.
Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek.