The Economist recently ran an obituary of Swatch magnate Nicolas Hayek, and this offers me a concrete example to explain why management consulting is a weak long-term goal for MBA admissions.
(Yes, I’m always pushing clients to give clear examples or anecdotes to back up their MBA admissions claims. So this is me “practicing what I preach.”)
In 1982 Hayek was brought in as a management consultant by a group of banks to advise them on the sale of Switzerland’s last big watchmaking conglomerate which they had bailed out a few years earlier. But, rather than merely consult on sale-exit strategies, Hayek created and led a group of industrialists who bought the conglomerate from the bankers, and built it into the world’s largest watch company, with almost a quarter of the global market, with Swatch as the lead brand.
As the Economist says: “Mr Hayek’s strategy of making cheap watches more cheaply and expensive watches more desirable helped lift the rest of the Swiss watch industry, which is once again leading the world. Last year Swiss firms exported nearly 23m timepieces worth more than $12 billion, a figure that would undoubtedly have been far, far smaller had Mr Hayek stayed in management consulting.”
The point is: Hayek had two careers ahead of him in 1982. He could have stayed a management consultant, advising on deals, for a fairly prestigious, reasonably well-paid life. Or he could do what he did: turn the ailing consortium around through industry-innovative operations, cost restructuring, and marketing management, to totally renew the Swiss watch industry. He was a leader, innovator, decision-maker, and business-builder at the ultimate level.
If Hayek was to have presented his career options to Harvard or INSEAD or LBS, etc., which of the two routes do you think the b-school Adoms would have favored more?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to say you want to spend some time in MC in the short term, taking advantage of the rapid exposure to different industries and skills. But at the end of the day, management consultants are advisors, not doers. They are always the bridesmaid, never the bride. If Hayes had stayed a management consultant his value to everyone (including his MBA alma mater) would have been a fraction of what it became, and his obituary would never have been splashed across the world’s financial media.
When the admissions committee of a top MBA program is looking at you, they want to think that you may possibly one day be somebody like Hayes (in your own industry and in your own way.) If your career goal is consulting itself, you are telling them there is no chance of that.