Alumni Spotlight – Kevin Ko SVMP ’09

An SVMP ’09 alumnus reflects on his experiences in the “enigmatic” world of management consulting.

A priest, a rabbi and a consultant were traveling on an airplane. There was a crisis, and it was clear that the plane was going to crash, and they would all be killed. The priest began to pray and finger his rosary beads, the rabbi began to read the Torah, and the consultant began to organize a committee on air traffic safety.


Jokes about consultants are a dime a dozen. A popular quip is that consultants steal your watch and then tell you the time – a stereotype reinforced by Showtime’s recent portrayal of the profession in House of Lies. Even people close to me don’t understand what I do as a consultant. My parents are set on the idea that I’m a financial advisor. Friends imagine me as George Clooney from Up in the Air, spending my life on the road firing people. While I have spent 200+ nights in hotels over the past year, I am happy to say that I have never been responsible for anyone losing their job.


So what does a consultant actually do? A “50,000-foot view” of consulting can be summed up as supporting organizational leaders to solve their most critical issues. While accurate, this description is so high-level that it risks being devoid of meaning. At the very least, it raises more questions than answers. The best way I can describe consulting with any level of granularity is by providing anecdotes from my own experience. Since joining Deloitte in July 2010, I have worked on nine projects at eight clients in over a dozen cities. I helped a major insurance plan comply with Health Care Reform. I devised a global reference data strategy at a bulge bracket investment bank. I supported acquisitions in the coal and super metals industries. I developed a health plan imaging solution at a major telecommunications client. I enabled a technology transformation at one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Currently, I am advising a large pharmaceutical company on devising clinical trial quality standards. For the sake of brevity and client confidentiality, these examples are hardly robust, but hopefully they provide some flavor of the types of clients and nature of problems for which consultants are leveraged.


For readers with a healthy sense of skepticism, my experience should raise another question: How does a recent college graduate advise clients on such high profile, complex issues? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no savant in any of the aforementioned industries, but that’s the beauty of joining a consulting firm straight from undergrad: No one expects you to be an expert. In fact, I have never been afraid to admit, “I don’t know…” so long as I can follow up it with an enthusiastic “… but I will find out.” One of the most valuable assets a fresh-faced consultant can bring to the table is the ability to manage change and ambiguity. Over time, this competency enables new consultants to develop expertise by teaming with others. I have worked with and learned from senior practitioners who have deep industry and technical knowledge. While I may not be a subject matter expert, I am able to contribute to discussions with these specialists by offering a fresh perspective, challenging assumptions and synthesizing findings in a manner that is relevant to the client. By amalgamating a cornucopia of complementary views and skill sets in this way, consultants are able to support clients in solving their most difficult problems.


And now, again for the skeptics out there, the million-dollar question: Do consultants actually create value? With all the jokes made at consultants’ expense, one would be apt to ponder their ability to have a meaningful impact. The short (and admittedly biased) answer is yes. “Consulting” is somewhat of a misnomer as it implies that consultants are in the business of telling clients what to do. Oftentimes, clients know their own businesses and organizations better than consultants ever will. As such, effective consultants work with their clients to develop a solution in tandem – framing the issue, transforming data into insights, weighing potential solutions and providing a final recommendation. A former senior manager of mine referred to this as “taking the client along for the ride.” Ultimately, combining the client’s understanding of their organizational dynamics with consultants’ fresh perspective leads to a truly impactful solution – one that is not only elegant and comprehensive, but, more importantly, one with the client’s buy-in.


Given the nature of this publication, a discourse on consulting would seem out of place (or at least incomplete) without mention of how this all relates to SVMP. Fortunately, the linkages between consulting and SVMP are plentiful. The goals of consulting parallel those of SVMP – to develop a broader understanding of the challenges business leaders face and the many dimensions of the business world. Each consulting project represents an extended live case study, requiring the same skills that were employed in preparation for and during SVMP class discussions. Clients tap consultants to solve their most complex, top-of-mind management issues. The “right answer” is rarely clear, and arriving at a workable solution requires the ability “to examine and debate ideas through lively interaction.” Sound familiar? Check out the About the Program section of the SVMP site. In many ways, our experience with SVMP was an inadvertent venture into management consulting. While this connection may not have been evident previously, hopefully this exposition has lifted some of the “enigma” around consulting, revealed its meaningful relationship to SVMP and, at the very


Kevin Ko is currently a business analyst with Deloitte Consulting.  He participated in SVMP during the summer of 2009, and he graduated from The Wharton School in May 2010.


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