Being a strategy consultant at PwC

Hannah Langworth meets a junior member of the team

Sophie Armour joined Strategy Consulting at PwC three years ago, straight after graduating from the University of Oxford with a degree in politics, philosophy and economics. Here she explains how she came to join PwC, introduces its strategy consulting work, and gives a personal perspective on a career here.

How did you first become interested in strategy consulting?

I did an internship during the summer after my second year at university with a small consulting firm, which first got me interested in consulting in general. I then went to lots of consulting careers events in my final year, particularly case study events. These led me into strategy consulting, because that sort of thinking is typical of strategy consulting and very much appealed to me.

Why did you choose to join PwC?

I enjoyed PwC's application process. It was well-organised, and the people that I met were engaging and friendly. In the interview they encouraged me to express my opinions rather than grilling me or challenging me aggressively. It felt like a collaborative process, and that they wanted to give me the chance to perform at my best.

How would you describe working in Strategy Consulting at PwC?

We go in at a high level and ask the kind of questions that the chief executive of a company might ask - for example, "Where should my business aim to go in the future?", "How can I grow my business?" or "What are the greatest threats to my business?" Strategy consulting is about helping a business make decisions about what it's going to do rather than finding the best way to implement a decision, which is what management consulting tends to be about.

Most of our work falls into two categories. One is due diligence. If a company goes up for sale, we'll be instructed by the buyer or the seller to review the business plan for the business being sold prepared by the seller and say whether we think it's achievable or not.

The other side of what we do is idea generation. A company might have new management, be in the process of being restructured, or be facing a threat in the market like a new competitor. In these cases, we'll say, "This is what we would do in the next three to five years - these are the market dynamics and here are some ways you can take advantage of them."

At the moment I'm working on a project to do with baby products. My last project involved working with the financial services sector. I've done work involving gyms and dentists, nuclear valves and safety equipment. It's so varied - because a project typically lasts about four to six weeks, you get to experience many different industries quickly.

As you get more senior, you begin to specialise more. For example, in the last six months I've started to get a much higher concentration of energy sector work.

What does your work involve day-to-day?

We do a lot of research and analysis. For example, if you're working with a gym business you might be looking at whether being more health conscious is still a strong trend. To what extent are people willing to pay for gym membership in difficult economic times? And to what extent are they looking to the budget gyms that are emerging?

After we've done this research and come to a conclusion, we have meetings with the client's management team. We come with a new, fresh perspective as we aren't embedded in their organisation and they value the fact that we think differently. But, equally, we want to respond to what's important to them. So our work is always a two-way process - we ask them what they want, then tell them what we're finding and thinking, and they then steer us in the direction they want us to go in.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Because our teams are quite small, you always have a particular role and distinct tasks, however junior you are. So, for example, on day one you might be sent off to find out about something quite simple - for example, how economic conditions are currently driving consumer spending. But you'll always find out something that no-one else on the project will know, and if you don't speak out, no-one else on the project will make that point. So you have lots of responsibility and the opportunity to make an impact, right from the beginning.

The work is highly intellectually stimulating. It's all about opinions, not just crunching numbers. For example, nobody ever asks me to just fill in a spreadsheet, but they might ask me to analyse sets of figures and think about what they mean for a business.

The calibre of people here is another real bonus. People are all intelligent, interested in what they're working on, and keen to do things to a high standard. This means that things happen quickly. If you email someone, they'll get back to you as soon as they can. You always feel like you're getting somewhere.

Is there anything that you find challenging about your role?

Everything I do here is challenging, but in a good way. For example, you could start a new project on a Monday and be asked to produce a report by Friday on an industry you know very little about at that point. But by the end of the week, you'll find yourself having in-depth discussions with people who've worked in the industry for years. In every single project there's a huge learning curve, so you leap up very fast.

How do you see your future at PwC?

PwC can be a stepping stone into all kinds of career areas because it's an excellent brand to have on your CV and because you learn so many skills here that are transferable. But personally, I'm very happy here at the moment - there's still a lot of scope for me to get experience of new areas and work my way up further.

What do you enjoy doing outside work and are there any links between it and strategy consulting?

I work part-time for a charity, and being at PwC has helped me identify things it could do to function more effectively.

Also, I recently wrote a musical with my boyfriend - he's a primary school teacher and the musical was for children at his school to perform. My job at PwC allows me some time to explore outside interests, which is enjoyable and also productive for my working life.

What would you say are the best reasons to become a consultant at PwC?

If solving problems and making evidence-supported arguments interest you, consulting could be what you want to do. I think a part of every student secretly wants to be a consultant as they focus on giving their opinions - and who doesn't enjoy giving their opinions?

Consulting at PwC always involves big questions and varied contexts, and gives you the chance to work with interesting people who are fascinated by what they're doing.

Finally, at PwC we always tailor what we do to each client and offer them really good customer service. Here, you'll be doing work you can be proud of.

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