Deciding to leave mgmt consulting - help

I'm struggling with a career path decision and was hoping for some input from other consultants who have left for Industry or some other position outside of consulting after just a couple years at a firm.

I've been in Consulting now for 5 years. I spent 3 years at a healthcare consultancy, focused on Obamacare and employee benefits, before switching firms to a management consultancy. When I got the job in mgmt consulting, I thought I "made it", but I've been staffed on pretty boring projects for two years. Networking is huge at my firm to get on projects you want, and I've done a lot of it. Almost everyone I've networked with has been very receptive and have wanted to staff me, but timing never worked out. I've probably only enjoyed the work I'm doing for 25% of the time here.

On the other hand, my old firm was highly specialized and I enjoyed the work I did probably 75% of the time. I loved my coworkers, I was recognized as a top performer and had great relationships with Senior Partners. I left because I wanted to broaden my skills and industry exposure, and I also enjoyed the bump in compensation to management consulting. My old firm has called me and offered to create a new role for me, where I can spend 50% of my time rolling out new strategies in the market with a Partner, and the other 50% of my time doing traditional client work. The position sounds ideal to me, but I'm torn.

I've come to the realization that I'm never going to love every aspect of any job I have. But, if I stay at my current firm and continue to push to do more interesting work and continue working hard, there's a possibility down the line that I make partner and make a lot of money (at least it's a lot of money in my opinion). I feel like my current firm has a lot more opportunity to do different things, like work internationally, conduct research and publish whitepapers, etc., but I haven't yet realized any of those benefits. My old firm offers lower comp than management consulting, but probably still enough to live comfortably in the NYC area, also all work is US-focused.

If I choose to go back to my other firm, am I giving up on management consulting too quickly? Is there as much opportunity in it as I think there is or should I call it quits for a more enjoyable job and never look back? I'm curious if anyone has left after only a couple years and have since regretted it, or if they're happy they left.

Comments (14)

Jul 21, 2014 - 12:28pm

What kind of pay cut are you talking about taking? Because it sounds like you are on the fast track at your old firm to partner. Perhaps I'm mistaken.

Jul 21, 2014 - 12:52pm

Potential future compensation breaks down like this: Partner/Director at my current firm makes $400K-$1M. Partner at my old firm makes $300K. The difference is that at my current firm the partner's have equity, whereas my old firm is public and so "Partner" is just a title.

In the short-term, I would actually make about $30K more at my old firm in this new position. But I'm trying to think longer term, so that's why I'm more focused on the potential at both firms rather than the current comp comparison.

I agree I would probably be on the fast-track to partner at my old firm, and the Senior Partners there are aware that that's my goal.

Jul 21, 2014 - 1:23pm

I don't know much about consulting, so you'll have to forgive my ignorance. But it sounds like the odds of making partner at your current firm are substantially lower and it will take substantially longer. Whereas your other firm is basically grooming you specifically for that role. It honestly sounds like you'll make senior partner at your old firm before you make partner at your current firm.

As far as what you are working on goes, your old firm is offering you to roll out new strategies alongside a partner half the time. I don't know what you are currently working on at your current firm but how do the two compare?

Again I know nothing about your business, but it sounds like moving back to your old firm is a no-brainer. Higher pay, fast track to partner and beyond, you enjoy the work substantially more which makes being successful a helluva lot easier and they already know your goals and meeting you half way by grooming you for the position.

It sounds like you are just grappling with the "what if" aspect. In your shoes, I'd be back at your old firm ASAP, no question.

Jul 21, 2014 - 1:19pm

I feel like you're trying to prioritize two things at once: type of work and money. "Management consulting" has so many blurred lines, so prioritizing that has nothing to do with what you actually want, trust me...

Let's make this easier for you, what do you want to do, right now? Our life expectancy is increasing, and you seem like a versatile individual, so don't worry thinking you're going to get stuck in one thing for the rest of your "long-term" career.

You're older job seemed to have given you that versatility, don't think you'll never be able to apply that skill set to some other firm, a decade from now..

Jul 21, 2014 - 1:41pm

Well as a CIO of a major oil company once told me...focus on two things: be happy, and be useful.

If you're happy at the old firm 75%, it would stand that you could perform at a higher level longer (it is a lot of mental effort to force high quality and long hours when you don't enjoy a project). And, if it turns our you *are* really good at go to market strategies (50% of the time), then you should be able to help grow that compensation package over time.


Jul 21, 2014 - 4:39pm

Would the increased exposure and responsibility at your previous job lend to branching out on your own (or with a few other people from that firm) to found your own consulting practice? A niche like healthcare seems to lend itself to that rather than being at a more generalist management consulting firm or being forced into a sector you don't find appealing like financial services.

Jul 22, 2014 - 8:38am

Going back to my old firm and growing in that specialization could lead to going off on my own, or with a few others to start our own consulting practice. I know of a few former consultants that have done it and seem to be successful. Definitely another thing to consider when I'm considering the long-term benefits of the decision.

Jul 22, 2014 - 12:48am

Sounds like you made your decision.

When I was leaving management consulting, this is the framework that I found the most effective:

When you are old and retired and think back to your choice, which decision would you regret the most?

Think of best and worst case scenarios. In my case, the worst case scenario of leaving consulting was better than the best case scenario of staying in consulting (from a happiness perspective) so the decision was easy.

Good luck ahead. Remember, life is an adventure; it is not meant to be linear. It is as much about the journey as about the destination.

To answer the last question in your original post, I left consulting and cannot be happier with the decision.

Not only am I happier as a person, but I am also further ahead in my career than if I had stayed (and I was considered a top performer). A lot of it is getting yourself in situations were you can differentiate yourself as a professional and it sounds like you are being given that opportunity. There is risk involved in jumping ship, but I would argue that there's a greater risk in staying in mgmt consulting and not growing to your true potential.

A word of caution: I'd pressure test your older firm (e.g. ask for increased title / pay) to make sure they really want YOU and this is not them being desperate for additional resources.

Jul 22, 2014 - 2:01am

This sounds like a no brainer to me, do what you love, go back to your old firm where ppl like you and want you around. Isn't finding a group of like minded ppl a much more important goal in life than money? You mentioned you'd make $100k more potentially in mgmt consulting, so after taxes (if you're in NY or urban area), that's like $70k? That's like a pretty nice car. Who cares.

Jul 22, 2014 - 2:00pm
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