Management consulting and mountaineering: my life at PwC | Consulting on The Gateway

Management consulting and mountaineering: my life at PwC

Senior consultant and accomplished high-altitude climber Heather Geluk talks about the opportunities that the firm has given her

Heather Geluk is a senior consultant in the "People & Change" consulting team at leading global professional services organisation PwC.

She's also an accomplished high-altitude mountaineer who has climbed on some of the world's highest peaks, including Mount Everest.

Here she talks about her career, the opportunities that PwC has given her professionally and personally, and how PwC has provided the tools to help her to combine work as a management consultant with pursuits outside her job.

"When I first joined PwC I tried to think of it as a university campus - so many incredibly bright people to meet and so many chances to direct your own future.

Whether you're clear on your ambitions or need some help finding your way, you'll find many opportunities at PwC to choose from."

Change and progression

"My first job after graduating from university was as a ski instructor and English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. I had just graduated with a geography degree from McGill University in Canada and was looking to take a "gap year" before applying to teachers' college.

Teachers' college never happened as through my experiences in Korea, I networked my way to new opportunities that opened up. One of these opportunities turned out to be my first "proper" job, a business development and account manager for a tax management company in Australia. This opened the door for me to live and work in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cyprus and eventually the UK.

It was a very steep learning curve, and the key lesson I learnt was the importance of building good relationships and trust in business, something that's proved to be the foundation of the work I do today as a consultant.

My career then led me to consultancy, first working for a niche management consultancy as an account manager and then for a global bank in a business development and then consulting role. I then joined PwC in London, where I've now worked for nearly five years.

Organisations are going through tremendous change. Leaders within these organisations sometimes get so absorbed in the details of what changes are going to take place that they forget to engage with and seek feedback from the people who will actually be impacted by the changes.

As a consultant, my role involves working with organisations to put people at the heart of change, ensuring that the changes are communicated to the right people, in the right way, at the right time."

Bank of experience

"I'm currently working on a 3-month project within a global bank. I'm responsible for developing a communications and training plan that will engage their people in new ways of working as part of a wider project that has been set up in response to pressure from regulatory authorities.

While most of my experience has been in financial services, I've also worked in the consumer products and pharmaceuticals sector and internally within PwC. I recently worked on a project at PwC to raise awareness through better communications about digital resources and opportunities within the organisation.

I've had a number of opportunities at PwC that I might not have had elsewhere. There are obvious perks like working with bright people on some fantastic and challenging client projects, both in the UK and globally. I've also been able to gain unique insights into the way that businesses are run around the world.

At PwC I'm also given the opportunity to develop myself both personally and professionally through the extensive learning and development programmes on offer.

To give one example, just over a year ago a PwC partner and I sat down and did a "strengths assessment" to allow me to better understand my strengths and how I can use these strengths effectively to achieve my goals, both inside and outside of PwC.

The time that the partner took to go through this exercise not only helped me professionally and personally, but also made me feel like a valued, unique individual and encouraged me to do the things that I love to do.

The best moment I've had while working here was at a "go live" event at a client site on a project that we'd worked on for over a year. The event included speeches, a cake, and a great party with an "Olympics" theme - it was incredibly rewarding to see all our hard work pay off and have everyone come together as a team to have some fun and celebrate our achievements together."

Climb every mountain

"PwC runs a number of initiatives to help women progress professionally, which usually involve both women and men. These include events aimed at students considering joining PwC (see box).

There are a number of initiatives aimed at promoting diversity at PwC, and a push for employees to make time for commitments and interests outside work.

Being involved in these initiatives means you can get insights, support and mentoring from leaders within the business. I've personally found it really beneficial to work with more senior women, especially in understanding how to manage my "work-life balance".

Work-life balance is really important to me. My interests outside of work include high-altitude mountaineering, a passion which I discovered about five years ago.

Over the course of the past five years, I've spent about 12 months in total on expeditions to some of the highest mountains on Earth, including Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu, as well as peaks in Argentina, Scotland and the Alps.

I've had to take up to two months off for some of these climbs, and they all require a high level of physical and mental fitness.

PwC have provided me with support to do this, including mentoring by others within PwC, flexible working arrangements and other creative options to help me find time for my training. I once even had a client come with me to a fitness class!

PwC has also encouraged me to consider how my performance objectives in the office can support my interests outside work."

Finding a balance

"After returning from an expedition in November 2012 I took some time to reflect on how my love for the mountains fits into my career. I love and appreciate every moment I spend in the mountains, but I also love the time I spend in the office, drawing insights and inspiration from my colleagues and clients and helping individuals and teams reach short and long-term goals.

Given the choice, I don't think I could choose one over the other. The contrast between the two environments - basecamps and boardrooms - has helped me to shape the way I approach my life, make decisions, manage risk and manage my time. I often think that I'm a better climber because I'm a consultant and I'm a better consultant because I climb.

I do have to be creative to find sufficient time for both my work and my mountaineering activities. In practice, this means I'm constantly learning to prioritise and say "no" when I have too much on my plate. I have to be disciplined in managing my time.

In the future, I hope to be able to continue to balance my work and my passion for mountaineering as I develop my career and continue to push my limits at high altitude. And at the end of the day, it's not so much the activities you do but the people you meet along the way that make life such an incredible adventure."

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