The Transition from Consulting to Industry

One night in March of 2011, I was sitting in the First Class lounge of the Denver airport when I received a phone call from one of my former consulting colleagues, Hey Scott! Let me know when you would like to get off of the road and join me at QBE. He continued to explain that there was a Team Leader/Manager position available at his current company called QBE, one of the world’s largest insurance companies. The job was to help build and grow the procurement department. I thought back to how I started my career as a consultant for Huron Consulting Group.

During my tenure, I worked with some of the smartest people to assist hospitals, law firms, and corporations improve operational efficiencies through non-labor cost reduction, process redesign, and technology implementation. Like many consultants, I would be in a city one week and another city the following week. As a young professional, the perks were amazing: first class airline upgrades, choice of any rental car on the lot, and frequent stays in the nicest presidential suites. I felt on top of the world! At the time, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Sitting behind the same desk at the same office, doing the same work every day was just not in my DNA.

Then, I started to think about the corporate opportunity from my former colleague. I ended up going through the interview process and was fortunate to receive an offer. Naturally, a number of questions went through my mind. If I accept, am I taking a step back for more money? Am I going to be bored at an industry job? Consulting was not easy to get into – if I leave Huron, will I ever be able to get back into consulting? Will I be challenged? Will non value add politics consume my life? Will I need to be a corporate politician like some of my clients were?

Like any nerdy consultant, I created a weighted scorecard to identify all of the pros and cons associated with leaving Huron for QBE. Ultimately, I made the decision to take the leap and leave the consulting world for industry. The first six months of my transition into industry were difficult. I had to learn the insurance industry and understand corporate culture.

I was accustomed to using detailed data to make a decision, but some of my stakeholders had no interest in making changes, regardless of the data. This was not a new challenge for me though. Many of my consulting clients were hesitant to making changes as well. However, as a consultant, we would often have upper management’s ear. At QBE, I didn’t have this luxury. I assumed that since I was in-house, my stakeholders would automatically agree with me based on the data I was presenting. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The procurement team was very new and I quickly learned that if I was going to be successful at QBE, I needed to earn my stakeholders trust. As a consultant, I would develop a relationship with a client by taking them out to dinner, for example. I started doing the same thing at QBE. It was clear to me that in order for me to be successful in helping our company decrease costs and increase performance, I would have to run my team like an internal consulting firm.

Fortunately, my boss at QBE was a former consultant, so when it was time to build the team, we looked for candidates who either had consulting or problem solving experience. Parallel to the consulting world, our team has the privilege of a flexible working arrangement. We travel when it makes business sense, work remotely, and can transfer between offices. We have a work hard, play hard culture within our group and have avoided the typical corporate politics. On my team, we focus on getting our job done. Similar to consulting, one week we work 80 hours and another week we work 38 hours.

The procurement team that I lead analyzes spend pertaining to claims and it is crucial that we look at total cost of ownership as opposed to just price. One major benefit of being in industry, rather than the consulting world, is we are able to see our implemented strategies over a long period of time. I absolutely loved implementing new strategies for many different companies as a consultant, but it is exciting to implement a new strategy in industry and see how it plays out two, three, or four years down the road. There is definitely a pride of ownership when things go right as well as accountability if the strategy wasn’t successful.

I strongly encourage everyone to take control of their career. While there are many factors that cannot be controlled, don’t be afraid to take risks when moving into industry from consulting. If there are data to back up your recommendations and the team is hitting their targets, it will be easier to move up the corporate ladder. I started as a Team Lead/Manager, but by working hard, applying what I have learned in consulting, finding the best people to work on my team, and seeking innovative ways to reduce costs without impacting quality, I have been able to move up to Vice President in a relatively short period of time. I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my consulting experience.

Transitions are not always easy, but it is important to maintain the consultant mindset, continue to learn the soft skills and hard skills, stay close to the data (yes, even as a VP, I still analyze complex data sets), and keep current with new technology in order to achieve success in industry.

About The Author:  Scott Ottenheimer is currently a Vice President at QBE North America, a top 25 Insurer worldwide, where he heads Claims Sourcing and Procurement. Previously, Scott worked as a Consultant for Huron Consulting Group, where he used his data-driven approach and strategic sourcing methodologies to deliver value across multiple F500 organizations in various industries. He is an expert in change management, and improving bottom-line efficiencies. Click here to learn more about Scott!