The 4 Major Lessons I Learned From My Consulting Project in Australia

 

Brisbane G20 Board

I visited Brisbane, Australia as part of the Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) program. The GCP connects five students from Wharton and five students from a partner university to work on a real-life consulting project for a client based outside the US. In our case, we partnered with the University of Queensland (UQ). I certainly learned a lot content-wise and picked up many more life lessons.

We started out strongly in January, delivering a well thought out work plan to our client and establishing relationships with each other and our UQ colleagues. However, we soon experienced difficulties. Separated by distance, we relied heavily on Skype and email to coordinate our activities with unsatisfactory results. Deadlines slipped. Motivation levels dropped. Team members began to have other priorities. Differences formed about what the best approach to take should be. Decisions were stalled. In short, it truly seemed like we were heading for disaster. 

I was puzzled by how quickly things had degenerated. Prior to Wharton, I worked in numerous cross-cultural multi-country teams before with few issues. Why was this project so different? Was the team dysfunctional? Or was it because of external factors like distance, time-zones, and changing expectations from our client? After some reflection, I was able to pin it down to a few things.  

1. Stick your neck out

Leadership is hard. Very hard. It’s a lot of work and it’s lonely. But somebody’s got to do it. I did not volunteer. And at least on the Wharton side, we also did not appoint a clear leader who would speak for the group. Instead, we divided various responsibilities among ourselves. As a result, there was really no point person who could provide an overall direction. 

2. Speak up and out 

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. With a large team separated by some distance, there is never really such a thing as over-communicating. Just as important is listening to people. As we progressed through the project, I realized that I was dominating the conversation at times. As difficult as it was, I tried to take a step back and encourage my peers to speak. Voila! Engagement increased. Surprisingly, team members were also more accepting if their ideas were turned down after they had been given a chance to talk about it.

3. Follow the chameleon

We had a client who changed his mind every few weeks about what he expected us to deliver. This was frustrating for everyone and we struggled to regain our footing each time and map out a new strategy. I am sure many of you work in client-facing roles and have experienced this. I am curious to hear your own thoughts on this. 

4. Keep your eyes on the big picture

When you are lost in the weeds, its difficult to keep your eyes on the big prize. And so it was true for us as well. Individual team members would work on different pieces of the puzzle which sometimes did not fit with the group’s overall thesis. Not wanting to have the work go to fast, the entire team would spend additional time trying to fit the puzzle together even if the pieces never matched. 

So what became of our project? With two weeks to go and the presentation still in bad shape, we undertook a deep and brutally honest examination of where we stumbled and what we could do to salvage everything. Tempers flared. Egos were pricked. We were all under the microscope. It was time to roll up our sleeves, scramble and rely on our adrenaline to see things through.

And see things through we did. Our client was incredibly pleased with our work and every aspect of the project came together wonderfully. We had pulled off a minor miracle but that only came about because we were willing to look at ourselves in the mirror, identify all our faults quickly and make rapid changes while there was still time. 

The GCP was a fantastic culmination to my first year as an MBA student at Wharton. It was a painful process to be sure but I picked up important lessons that I hope will stick with me throughout my career. And even better, I have made some amazing friends for life. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

One of the reasons I chose to participate in the GCP was to get an idea of what consulting might be like (granting that the GCP is an academic program and may not simulate the consulting experience completely). Although I enjoyed the process, I decided consulting was ultimately not for me and I enjoyed what I previously did which was emerging markets private equity. 


Amrith KrushnakumaarAmrith Krushnakumaar is a second year MBA student at the Wharton School. Prior to Wharton, Amrith worked for nearly six years at 57 Stars, an emerging markets focused private equity firm. At 57 Stars, Amrith was responsible for helping lead and execute investments in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Turkey. Amrith graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science degree with Distinction in Computer Science and Economics, and a Minor in Mathematics. He also holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. In his spare moments, Amrith enjoys travelling and landscape and action photography. He is fluent in Tamil and has a working knowledge of Hindi. 

Q&A: What I Learned from Consulting in Australia

GCP-Australia
The Wharton Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) is a cross-functional course given within the curriculum of the Wharton MBA program that gives students real-world experience with partner universities around the world. We caught up with Mohit Virendra about his experience in Australia and what he learned.


 

Q: First, tell us a little about the Global Consulting Practicum.

Mohit Virendra: GCP is a great exposure to real-world consulting. You solve international business challenges with both your team at Wharton and a partner school team from the country where the client is located. We started GCP by self-selecting a team of 5 students with diverse skill sets that would give our team a good breadth of experience. After a competitive selection process, we were assigned to a project of our choice and met the two amazing faculty members who would guide and help us throughout the engagement. Shortly thereafter, we got in touch with our counterpart team in Australia, University of Queensland (5 students and 2 project faculty with extensive experience in mining services; which was the business focus of our client). The most exciting part of the experience was our trip to Australia to visit the client very early in the process.

Traveling to Australia was the first time we worked as a team of 10, where we presented our engagement proposal to the client and got their buy-in on the deliverables upon completion of the project. The next few months consisted of intense market research, validation, interviewing potential partners and customers, exhaustively considering 30+ business opportunities and finally narrowing down one opportunity which we would eventually propose to the client. Some of the highlights of the engagement were the Devil’s Advocate session in San Francisco, where we received extremely valuable feedback on our direction and progress thus far, meeting with McKinsey’s Rob Mann who provided further feedback, and the final Bring Alive session in May (of which I was the Manager) for which the client and the Australian team flew in to San Francisco. We presented our recommendations to the client and connected them with industry contacts to help them operationalize our recommendations.

Q: What spurred your interest in GCP?

MV: I want to explore a career in consulting after graduating from Wharton. GCP was one of the big reasons for me to apply to and attend Wharton, as it seemed like a perfect blend of real world experience and academic learning. It lets you take a deep dive into consulting and solving global business problems while multiple faculty advisors and extensive Wharton resources support you. Even making mistakes is part of the learning process, and the support provided ensures that you eventually succeed as a team.


“GCP was one of the big reasons for me to apply to and attend Wharton, as it seemed like a perfect blend of real world experience and academic learning.”



Q: Tell us a little about your team.

MV: 5 There were 3 engineers including myself. My background is in technology product development and management and in developing partnerships in the tech industry. Andrew, another engineer, is a reliability expert at Chevron, an excellent numbers guy who brought great quantitative and technical experience. Guljot is another engineer and our program manager, who did an outstanding job in keeping the project progress streamlined. Julia has worn multiple hats and has brought an interesting perspective to the team. Edward is a real life consultant with experience in managing political campaigns; he brought in the marketing experience.

In addition, we had 5 members from the Australian team who complemented our strengths. Our project was in the mining sector, and multiple members in the Australian team had experience in mining in addition to finance, consulting and marketing.

Q: What was your project about?

MV: Our client was Wallaby Industries, an Australian company looking to expand its business via new products/new market opportunities in the US. Wallaby Industries is a software company which focuses on owners and operators of heavy mining/oil and gas/rail/energy equipment to help them save money via predictive and preventative equipment maintenance recommendations, managed through their sophisticated software. Wallaby engages with these owners/operators on the ground through its team of experts who physically inspect the equipment at regular intervals. This is a big high-stakes market where the heavy equipment costs millions of dollars, and equipment outages can cost huge amounts of money, with replacement parts and services being really hard to provide in deep underground mines or on oil rigs in the ocean.

Q: What challenges did you face in your GCP project?

MV: Due to the slowdown in the Chinese economy, the Australian mining sector has seen a big decline in recent years. In addition, the price of oil dropped from $140 a barrel to $40 while our engagement was going on. Since our client has a lot of customers in oil exploration, this changed the scope of the project dramatically. We had to pivot many of our recommendations to accommodate these external market dynamics.

Another challenge was in understanding how processes differ in Australian and US markets. For example, we were very surprised to learn that it takes almost 6 months to hire a programmer in Australia, even for a relatively small company like Wallaby, something unimaginable in Silicon Valley where most of us are located. Thus our recommendations could not have followed purely from our experience of the US market. We had to spend a lot of time understanding the Australian market and the mining/oil and gas/energy sector there.

Q: What were your most important takeaways and learnings?

MV: For me GCP was a huge value adding experience and it is hard to describe how personally satisfying the entire engagement was. The most important takeaways include: (a) understanding how mindsets work very differently across different regions and industries, (b) learning to build consensus to arrive at a common denominator despite these differences, and (c) the dynamics of working in a team of ten peers, versus the hierarchical structure that most of us are used to.

Q: What are some of the most memorable moments — in or out of the classroom — from your time at Wharton?

The visit to Australia, especially the culture day organized by our Australian teammates, which included activities from surfing lessons at Gold Coast to petting kangaroos. The most memorable moment was during this project, specifically remembering how happy the client was with our recommendations and the Bring Alive experience at the end of the engagement. This was due to pooled efforts of the entire team including the advisors and the GCP administration.

Q: What’s next for you and how do you think you will be able to use what you learned through GCP and Wharton?

MV: I want to do Strategy Consulting after Wharton. GCP not only helped me evaluate whether I want to be a consultant in real life, it also provided great perspective on what are the strengths that I can bring to consulting. The experience gained in solving tough challenges involving multiple stakeholders was invaluable and something that will be useful wherever I go.

Q: Finally, what’s one piece of advice you would give to prospective GCP participants?

MV: Selecting teams very carefully is important, especially if you apply in the first year itself, meaning you would have known your teammates for all of 3 months. Be sure you are compatible in working with each other and have a good group dynamic because during GCP you will see your team much more than your family and friends. Communicating as much as possible is critical. Lastly, GCP is an immersive process that will lead to accelerated learning, however it is a significant time commitment. It is important to factor that in.


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Mohit Virendra holds M.S., and Ph.D., in Computer Science and Engineering. His expertise is technology research and development in large multi-partner environments: leading collaborations between companies and with government agencies to develop and release cutting edge products.   

Brazilian Global Consulting Practicum in the Executive MBA

Global Consulting Practicum in BrazilWharton EMBA students have opportunities to do deep dives into a variety of topics around the world from consulting to supply chains to social impact. Last semester, Philadelphia student Todd Sierer tried his hand at consulting when he participated in the Global Consulting Practicum (GCP), an elective course. Last spring, we asked Todd, director of Americas sales for Edmund Optics in Barrington, NJ, to tell us about his GCP experience. Now that the course is finished, we caught up with him again to find out how the rest of the course went. Here’s what he said:

On Consulting in Brazil:

I wanted to participate in the GCP to gain exposure to a new industry and to learn more about Brazil. While I’m at Wharton, I want to push myself to learn things in ways that I wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. The GCP project involved working with a firm looking to enter the Brazilian juice market. We were asked to evaluate market trends, competition, customer segmentation, and possible branding.

It was an interesting time to work on a project in Brazil, which has recently experienced financial upheaval. The economic situation impacted our recommendations because the way you enter that market in terms of your finance strategy and capital structure become that much more important. Even if you have the most amazing product, if you don’t have the right financial model in place to account for volatility, you could expose yourself to a lot of risk.

The last time I blogged, we had just returned from Brazil where we spent some time on the ground working on the project with our colleagues at a Chilean business school. Since then, we’ve worked hard together as a team to formulate our conclusions and recommendations.

Originally published on the Wharton Executive MBA site.

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Global Consulting Practicum in Brazil

Brazil EMBA Wharton’s Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) is a popular way for EMBA students to expand their global perspective. Working with MBA students in another country, they apply classroom knowledge, make broader connections, and learn about business issues in a new region. First-year EMBA student Todd Sierer, director of Americas sales for Edmund Optics in Barrington, NJ, recently returned from a GCP trip to Brazil. We asked him to tell us more about that experience. Here’s what he said:

I was interested in participating in the GCP because it would expose me to a new industry and allow me to learn more about Brazil, which is a hotbed of growth and development for many sectors. I’m not at Wharton to just get my MBA and go home. I want to push myself to learn things in ways that I wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. The GCP was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

My GCP team was assigned to consult for a business looking to enter the Brazilian food and beverage industry. The company had successfully entered other markets in Latin America, but hadn’t yet come to Brazil. It wanted Wharton MBA students to analyze the issue, see if this market makes sense, and (if so) determine how best to enter the market.

This was an exciting chance to apply all of the theory and case study learnings from class beyond our own organizations. It was also a chance to see what consulting is like and expand our network.

After weeks of preparation, we visited São Paulo and the surrounding state for a week in January. We spent most of our time on the ground getting to know the market, key players, and industry experts. The Wharton brand opened a lot of doors, and we found there were many people interested in working with Wharton students. We arrived in Brazil with several hypotheses so we also spent the week testing those out.

Working with our counterparts from Chile added a lot of value to the experience because we were able to build connections with future business leaders from another part of the world. We spent 18-hour days working together, but we also bonded at night with group dinners.

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Originally published on the Wharton Executive MBA blog on March 13, 2015. 

Global Consulting Practicum Students Improve Namibian Health Care Outcomes

Namibia
Sandstorm while driving from Swakopmund to Walfish Bay, Namibia. By asco, via Wikimedia Commons

Written by Santosh Nair, WG’14,  a Sr. Director in the Consulting Practice of GEP Worldwide 

The colors on the Namibian national flag symbolize important natural and human characteristics of Namibia: sunlight and the desert (yellow), rain and the ocean (blue), crops and vegetation (green), the bloodshed in war (red), and peace and reconciliation (white). And these are your first impressions of the when you deplane at Windhoek airport in Namibia. Warm fresh air swirls around the open
swathes of land and every single individual has a beaming smile, eager to share their culture and to learn from the visitors. Our Wharton GCP (Global Consulting Practicum) team visited Namibia recently to help a client improve rural healthcare delivery outcomes and to develop a replicable model for other Sub-Saharan countries.

The GCP is an elective in which Wharton full-time MBA and EMBA students are teamed with business students at partner universities around the world to consult for a company or organization. Many of
these projects involve social impact endeavors with governments and nonprofits. My team of six Wharton Philadelphia EMBA students was assigned to work for the Geneva Global Group (our client)
on a project in Namibia, aimed at collaboratively designing intervention programs to improve rural healthcare outcomes. The project is also co-sponsored by the Wharton Program for Social Impact and
HEC. Our team coalesced around this project since it would a great opportunity to work with a diverse international group and to make a meaningful contribution to a great cause, potentially impacting millions of people.

Working with a team of students from HEC Paris, we established a cross-continent project governance approach that enabled us to manage full-time jobs, academic requirements and time zone differences, while we tapped into the vast pool of talent available on the team. The GCP team had representatives from sectors as varied as healthcare, consulting, investment banking, insurance, technology, etc. and nationalities as diverse as American, French, German, Spanish, Iranian, Brazilian and Indian. This team along with the faculty advisors from Wharton and HEC, and client team members collaborated on an overall project approach in the Dec-Jan timeframe, and visited the country in late January to test our previous research.

Originally published on Wharton GCP site, June 10, 2014.

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Global Consulting Practicum Students Improve Access to Financial Services for the Poor in Kenya

By Andrey Vinogradsky, WG’14, is a regional operations manager at 7-Eleven Inc. in Pleasanton, CA

As soon as I heard about Wharton’s Global Consulting Practicum (GCP), I knew I wanted to take this course. The GCP is an elective in which Wharton full-time MBA and EMBA students are teamed with business students at partner universities around the world to consult for a company or organization. Usually, the client is seeking to enter or expand its position in the U.S. or other world market, but the program also includes social impact projects with governments and nonprofits.

I was interested in the GCP because it would be an opportunity to gain experience working with an organization outside of the classroom and beyond the scope of my own job. Specifically, I wanted to work on a social impact project that could ultimately help millions of people in a developing country.

My team of five Wharton|San Francisco EMBA students was assigned to work for the Gates Foundation (our client) on a project in Kenya. The issue involved how to increase access to financial services for people who are living on below $2 a day. How do you create a better banking system? How do you provide better credit? How do you make things like health and life insurance available? How can you apply new technology to help streamline financial service processes?
Working with a team of students from HEC Paris, we began researching the issue last fall, holding weekly conference calls. Trying to get 10 busy executive MBA and full-time students — spread across two continents and multiple time zones — together on a weekly basis was our first challenge. Beyond that, it was a matter of figuring out how to collaborate with people we had never worked with before and how to manage all of the various opinions on the project.

Originally publishing on the Wharton GCP site, June 16, 2014

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Video: Global Consulting Practicum Helps Australian Mining Company Probes North American Market

Since 1979 the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum has helped international companies enter or expand into the U.S. market. UQ Business School is the Australasian partner for the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum.

Video: Wharton GCP Students Embrace Indigenous Australia for Global Tourism Project

Since 1979 the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum has helped international companies enter or expand into the U.S. market. UQ Business School is the Australasian partner for the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum.
In 2012, the UQ Business School approached the Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council (WAITOC) to be part of this global phenomenon and take Western Australian Aboriginal tourism businesses to the U.S.

Gallery: Global Modular Course and Global Consulting Practicum in Hyderabad

Photo Gallery:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewhartonschool/sets/72157626130405350/

Innovation happens wherever it’s needed, and ten Executive MBA students studied it up close January 5-8, 2011, in Hyderabad, India. The students were there as part of a global modular course, “Innovation in India’s Healthcare Sector,” taught by Wharton Health Care Professor Lawton Burns.

During the trip, the 10 students met with their Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) partner team at the Indian School of Business. They worked with the ISB team to research the potential market for biologic drugs in India. The GCP team’s faculty advisors and a representative from the client company also attended the course.