What's it like working in Corporate Strategy?

Hi everyone,

I'm a graduate student in a STEM field and I'm currently debating going to law school next year (I've been accepted to some high-ranked schools), or trying to break into management consulting. If I went the consulting route, my long term goal would be to end up in corporate strategy. Both of these career paths appeal to me since I love thinking strategically. I'm wondering whether anyone can shed some light on what it's actually like working in corporate strategy? Some questions I have:

  • What's the day to day like?
  • What do you like most about your job?
  • What do you like least about your job?
  • Do you frequently get the opportunity to think strategically and come up with novel solutions? (Or are
    you supposed to always follow a specific kind of framework)?
  • Do you find the work exciting? Challenging?
  • If you could do it all over again, would you still have picked the path you did?

Some more info about me in case it helps: I'm extremely competitive (thus the adversarial nature of law appeals to me), I have a quant undergrad/masters and so I enjoy using numbers to make decisions, I love structured problem solving (i.e. having a clear-cut problem and then trying to "optimize" to get the best outcome), I'm an introvert, I'm very goal-oriented, and I love doing research on problems.

Any input/advice is appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Comments (27)

Feb 15, 2018

Hey @intj1359 I work as a Corporate Strategy Manager for a Fortune 500 company (one of the biggest FS firms in the US) and my answers are below. Please note that my answers might be completely different than others working in Corporate Strategy.

What's the day to day like? I think the day to day is different that consulting. While the work is still very challenging and cyclical my belief is that consulting is a lot more fast paced. However the advantage Corporate Strategy brings is that you actually get to work in a variety of projects (new market entry, new product launch, competitor assessment, operations strategy, technology implementation and management analysis). In consulting (usually) you are stuck with a certain industry and capability (e.g. operations strategy or change management) so you get to work in less variety of projects

What do you like most about your job? That I get high visibility to senior management (ALL THE TIME) and also that I get to see the impact of my strategy after the project ends

What do you like least about your job? Once you are part of a firm you have less control on outcome of projects. Organizations can be very bureaucratic where as executives are more open to implementing your ideas when you are an external consultant. Also while corporate strategy brings a variety of projects some of them sometimes can end up being small scale and not the most impactful. We are first in line though when it comes to big company decisions.

Do you frequently get the opportunity to think strategically and come up with novel solutions? (Or are you supposed to always follow a specific kind of framework)?
Do you find the work exciting? Challenging? Yes to both. It is less framework based than consulting projects. You have to be smart in both!

If you could do it all over again, would you still have picked the path you did? Nope I am actually changing my track to go back to consulting from corporate strategy. Corporate Strategy definitely has allowed me to do a lot of cool projects but I want to now specialize in certain areas and learn the aspect of business development in hopes to open my own consulting business later down the line.

Personally from looking at your background I think a move to management consulting firm might be a better move. Just my opinion

    • 3
Feb 15, 2018
Waffles21:

Organizations can be very bureaucratic whereas executives are more open to implementing your ideas when you are an external consultant.

Ain't that the truth

Feb 15, 2018

Thanks @Waffles21 for your insight! I really appreciate it :)

Feb 15, 2018

I currently work as a corporate lawyer at a top firm after having gone to a top 5 law school and would caution anyone who is thinking about going to law school to very carefully consider their reasons and other options first before doing so. If you think you might be interested in corporate strategy, I would try that out first, and if you don't like it, law school will always be there.

Law isn't a good long-term fit for many and it requires an expensive degree to get (not to mention the time it takes to get said degree), so if other options are equally attractive, I generally think you should exhaust those first.

    • 2
Feb 15, 2018

Thanks for your comment! I've heard the horror stories about pure corporate law, so my plan was to try and get into a boutique litigation firm. It seems like the work there is more interesting and hands-on (e.g you get more responsibility and are more likely to go to trial). Am I off base?

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Feb 23, 2018

That linked thread doesn't even mention corporate law...it's a thread about horror stories at investment banks.

I also have experience at a top notch biglaw transactional practice.

While I agree with @PaulG13 that a lot of people get into law based on incorrect impressions (and therefore it would behoove you to think carefully about what you really should expect to get from it long term), I am curious specifically as to why he cautions you against it.

If you aren't going to a top law school, that'd be one reason - you simply must be able to get a biglaw gig if you are to pay off your law school debt, and that is hard to do without a degree from a great school.

But since you said you have been accepted into good programs, I'm not sure exactly what @PaulG13 is concerned about. Assuming you get the job, I don't see why the long term prospects are that much worse than banking, for example.

The hours will be long and unpredictable

Making partner/MD/profit sharing will be hard and unlikely

If you don't make it though, it's okay - If you've been working at a top firm, you'll have a fairly easy route into lucrative in-house work at a client.

Now if it's about content, that's another story - of course you shouldn't be getting into law if you don't like doing what lawyers do (i.e. advising on legal dimensions of transactions and effecting the operational work entailed by your advice, much of it paperwork). However, I would hope you had considered that before going to law school.

Feb 16, 2018

I graduated with a degree in a quantitative field, did consulting for ~2 years, and am now doing strategy at a tech company (GOOG/FB/MSFT).

I find it to be pretty similar to consulting in terms of work but with better hours, perks, benefits, etc. However, I find the work to be quite boring sometimes and not that intellectually challenging.

I'm currently thinking of going back to school for Statistics or Computer Science and doing something in the realm of AI/ML.

    • 1
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Feb 15, 2018

@latempo which city are you located in? Did you move from Tier 1 consulting companies (MBB) to tech strategy?

Feb 16, 2018

I moved from a Tier 2 in New York. Based out of the Bay Area now.

Feb 16, 2018

This is an interesting perspective. My best friend from high school is a very bright guy, as he graduated near top of his class from his Ivy undergrad, with a degree in engineering. He was, for some reason, very focused and eager to get into management consulting and never even considered a career in engineering.

He broke into MBB consulting, after extensive preparation / interview process. If there was one guy that I thought would be a career consultant, it was him. After 2 years on the job though, he quit. His words: "Many at my MBB were unhappy, especially those from hard sciences / advanced degree backgrounds. Problem is that these guys are too smart for the majority of work being done in consulting".

My friend's observation is that the guys with quant backgrounds don't tend to stick around in MBB. Maybe better use of talent for these guys would be something like data science, computer engineering, or quant trading?

    • 2
Mar 7, 2018

Hi KyleKatarn,

Unfortunately, I think the answer is "it depends." To share some personal experience, I worked in Corp Strat this summer at a big F500 company (think billions in rev, headcount of about 20k, public, etc). Because we had billions in cash, the CFO is on an M&A roll. Needless to say, we were looking at lots of deals and putting analyses together to justify (or not) acquisitions. However, my group was structured as "Strategy & Corporate Development," so we did deals when deals were hot and other strategic initiatives (CEO offsite materials, board decks, etc) during other times. I was doing about 60 hr/wk as an MBA intern, but the full time people were working much more.

One of my friends also worked in Corp Strat at a different company (but similar industry) and she was busting banking hours type weeks and doing super time-sensitive stuff 24 x 7. Also the people she worked with sounded like a**holes the way she described them to me.

Depends on the culture at the end of the day - most firms have a lot of ex bankers in Corp Dev/Strat; think McK, Bainy's, GStypes, etc in those groups so there is always a unique sub-culture. You learn a ton and you DO get predictable vacation and a decent amount of respect. It's a great living; easily $250+ and more at the higher levels depending on options and bonus structure. I liked it way better than banking, but that's just me.

Feel free to PM me if you want; hope this was helpful.

Cheers,

offthegrid

Mar 7, 2018
OffTheGrid:

Hi KyleKatarn,

Unfortunately, I think the answer is "it depends." To share some personal experience, I worked in Corp Strat this summer at a big F500 company (think billions in rev, headcount of about 20k, public, etc). Because we had billions in cash, the CFO is on an M&A roll. Needless to say, we were looking at lots of deals and putting analyses together to justify (or not) acquisitions. However, my group was structured as "Strategy & Corporate Development," so we did deals when deals were hot and other strategic initiatives (CEO offsite materials, board decks, etc) during other times. I was doing about 60 hr/wk as an MBA intern, but the full time people were working much more.

One of my friends also worked in Corp Strat at a different company (but similar industry) and she was busting banking hours type weeks and doing super time-sensitive stuff 24 x 7. Also the people she worked with sounded like a**holes the way she described them to me.

Depends on the culture at the end of the day - most firms have a lot of ex bankers in Corp Dev/Strat; think McK, Bainy's, GStypes, etc in those groups so there is always a unique sub-culture. You learn a ton and you DO get predictable vacation and a decent amount of respect. It's a great living; easily $250+ and more at the higher levels depending on options and bonus structure. I liked it way better than banking, but that's just me.

Feel free to PM me if you want; hope this was helpful.

Cheers,

offthegrid

Wow, that is immensely helpful and a ton of good info. Thank you very much, OffTheGird.

Feb 15, 2018

@latempo Thanks for your insight! That's disappointing to hear that the work isn't challenging. Funny enough, I study statistics haha. So I guess that doesn't bode well for me.

Mar 7, 2018

Very informative. Thanks!

Mar 7, 2018

Depends on the company, but generally corp strat roles have no "teeth". Authority and decision making abilities usually reside in the operating P&L. Also, corp strat people tend to be a bit more senior, having worked that given industry for a while and have a lot of experience / relevant viewpoints or they come from management consulting where they were VP / principal level.

Mar 7, 2018

I'm a recent college grad who works in Corporate Finance, with an eye on moving into corp. strategy or development. Are there any parts of the finance organization that your companies routinely recruit from internally? Perhaps FP&A?

Thanks for any info you guys can give me!

Mar 7, 2018

Not sure if BamSucka was referring to his company or in general, but it pretty much matches up with what I've seen.

The primary exception is FDPs. Certain companies offer corporate strategy rotations and some participants will get CS offers, but you have to be the best. Also, some companies the don't offer CS rotations for the FDPs sometimes allow participants to do a CS rotation if they convince the right person (read: network with guys in strat).

Mar 7, 2018

There's a wide spectrum of work/balance in CF. I worked at a F50 and our hours varied greatly depending on earnings, forecasting, planning, etc... Generally we were putting in 50-55 hours a week, never out before 630, but there were definiely a few weeks where I hit 75-80. Our VP was always drumming up work for us to do at the worst time. Definiely not banking hours, but more than I expected in CF. Our company had a pretty shitty vacation policy too and there was a general overhanging sense that you "shouldn't use all of it". In short, it depends, but my experience was not one of a healthy work/life mix.

Mar 7, 2018

@tommygunz - usually are recruited from IB's, not much internal.

Best Response
Feb 19, 2018

I did MBB -> Corp Strat at an F100 CPG company. Answers below:

What's the day to day like? Like in consulting, it varied by project. But the general cadence of the day was very similar to what I saw in consulting. The only difference was that I was sometimes working on multiple projects at the same time.

What do you like most about your job?
I got to work on top-of-mind strategic initiatives for the executive team. We worked directly for the C-Suite, and I got to interact with them regularly. And I got to see the projects through from the beginning to the end (unlike in consulting where you're there for a phase of it).

There was also a lot less of the arbitrarily manufactured sense of urgency pervasive in consulting. Because there isn't a client yelling at you on the other end, we got to cut out a lot of the iteration/review process and be a little more flexible with the timeline if we needed to be.

Finally, I had a lot more control over how/when I worked. While my hours weren't significantly lower than what I saw on chill/average projects in consulting, I had much more flexibility to set my own schedule as long as I got the work done.

What do you like least about your job?
More so than in consulting, you have to navigate the internal politics when coming up with solutions and implementing them. You see a certain level of it as an external consultant, but it becomes more important since you have to work with your functional partners repeatedly.

Do you frequently get the opportunity to think strategically and come up with novel solutions? (Or are you supposed to always follow a specific kind of framework)?
Do you find the work exciting? Challenging?
Absolutely yes to both. I worked with extremely smart people on very challenging problems and produced high-quality work. And often with less resources than what I had in consulting.

If you could do it all over again, would you still have picked the path you did?
Yes. For me, it was a stepping stone to a P&L role in an industry I liked. Being on the Corp Strat team gave me an amazing crash course on the industry as well as the ins and outs of an F100 company.

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Feb 15, 2018

Thanks for your response @pnb2002 !

Feb 15, 2018

Thanks for your response, I really appreciate it!

Feb 23, 2018

Choose as according to your interest.

Corporate strategy roles can take a number of different forms from requiring experience in investment banking or consulting to an understanding of data-driven business analysis.

The most important skill for anyone working in corporate strategy is the ability to focus. It sounds simple, but there are a lot of challenges and opportunities that come across your radar in a strategy role, related to competitors, potential partners, product development, etc.

Before considering any strategy position, you should be clear on what's expected in that role. A strategy can encompass many different types of work depending on the company: business, finance, development and strategic planning. It's easy to apply for a strategy role, expecting one type of work and find yourself to be engaged in something completely different.

Large consulting firms pay employees a lot of money to travel the world and meet with Senior Leadership. This money, experience, and a network is desired by all potential businesses.

The most important skill for anyone working in corporate strategy is the ability to focus. It sounds simple, but there are a lot of challenges and opportunities that come across your radar in a strategy role, related to competitors, potential partners, product development, etc.

Feb 15, 2018

Thanks for your response. Yeah, I guess it would be hard to say at this point exactly what kind of corporate strategy work I'd like to do. I know I like the thought process related to consulting (the strategic thinking), so I'm trying to go from there. I'd say I'm able to focus pretty well when I need to, so that's good to hear. Thanks again!