* At the time of this interview Dave was the Vice President of Strategy at Pernod Ricard SAYou recently left BCG for a VP, Strategy role at Pernod Ricard, a multi-billion dollar wine & spirits company – what was your experience leaving consulting like, and what is your advice for consultants who are considering a move? For example, you announced to BCG that you were going to leave, and you worked with their Career Services Center. Not all firms offer that – but do you recommend using these services when they are there?
I absolutely recommend using the Career Services Center, and think it’s a huge benefit for the folks who have them on a few levels. First, it’s a form of counseling, providing a floor for discussion where you can bounce your ideas off someone as you are considering a move. There’s also just the basic professional services component, where you can utilize resume editing resources and get help on interview techniques / presence. The third is that, just like in consulting, staying connected brings about a different kind of database – an “unofficial database” that goes much beyond the standard job database at every firm. If you stay well connected, people will think of you and approach you with opportunities and connections you would not have heard of otherwise.
My other piece of advice is for consultants to absolutely be open and transparent about wanting to move – you need to be decisive and able to pull the trigger (with the caveat of being practical, of course). When you decide what you want and are able to communicate it clearly to people, that’s when you are able to get the most from your resources. When Partners, recruiters, etc., think you’re wishy-washy and don’t actually want to move, they won’t spend the time and effort they would otherwise.
You worked in four of BCG’s major offices (Chicago, New York, Shanghai, and Sydney) during your 6+ years at the company. What (if any) impact do you think it has had on your career?
My international experience has 100% impacted my career. It is absolutely important to have that experience in today’s world – if you don’t, you will lack credibility and a context to make well-informed business decisions. Until you are outside of the U.S., you don’t really appreciate its size and importance; at the same time, you may also lack a knowledge of its flaws. Taken in terms of operating level, it is also critical at the senior ranks – when you are working with senior executives they want you to be able to talk the same game.
Did you ever consider the Partner path?
I definitely considered the Partner path, and left at a time that is unusual in the typical consultant track. It really came down to the fact that I felt the need to own and deliver something – I knew in the long run that consulting wasn’t something that would wake me up in the morning.
A lot of our readers want to jump right into a P&L role as they leave consulting, passing on strategy roles in hopes of a GM opportunity. Considering your most recent transition, can you help our visitors appreciate the exciting elements of your position and why you chose it over some of your other options?
To put this back into consulting language, if you are a new Project Leader or Associate Principal, you want to go right to Partner – the problem is that you would never learn how to be a good manager. Drawing a parallel to that essential middle step, a corporate strategy role gives you the opportunity to learn the business while staying in your comfort zone. You are able to rely on your strategy fundamentals, and at the same time master the ins and outs of the company you are working for.
That being said, there is a lot of benefit to jump right to the P&L roles. I would have jumped at the chance if the right opportunity had come along.
From your own experience and knowledge, what separates a great Head of Strategy position from a good Head of Strategy position?
One thing that definitely separates a great strategy role from a good one is the level it sits within an organization. In my job, for example, I report to the CEO, and that functionality is at the right layer for consultants because they are used to working at that level and having a certain amount of influence. For strategy roles that are folded under a finance or marketing function, those will probably not be as exciting for consultants, and might even feel like a step down compared to the senior interactions they are used to. Another aspect that I feel elevates my role in particular is my responsibility beyond traditional strategic planning – I also have end-to-end innovation and project management for products. Currently, I am following a product from design into completion, which is pretty exciting for two months in.
What would you say is the most important skill that got you where you are today?
If I’m being cheeky, I’d have to say luck…but I also think it has to do with not saying “no.” When I was in Australia and had the opportunity to go to Shanghai, my wife and I went “Yea, let’s try that.” You can’t limit your options – you have to be open to get the best opportunities.
Considering your experience within and exposure to different consumer goods companies throughout your career, is there a reason you picked to work in a wine & spirits company in particular? For readers who are considering moving into consumer / retail companies, are there any differences they should consider when looking at the spirits space specifically?
Put simply, I get to go work on wine every day. It’s something I really enjoy because it is a passion of mine. When leaving, you have one major opportunity to follow your passion and do what you want to do – take the time to consider your options and go with what excites you.