Consulting poll: Have you been to France?

What a tough week for France and the World. 

Why people (terrorists = may not be people) create pain, hurt, death . . . in the name of anything . . . I am not sure. Sadly, it just makes it harder for everyone. Xenophobia spreads. Hurt begets hurt. Terrorism is cowardice. Driven by desperation. Alienation.

So many things from France to admire, enjoy, and celebrate: Descartes. Voltaire. Renoir. Cezanne. Matisse. Gaugin. Degas. Debussy. Brie. Camembert. Comte’. Coq au Vin. Crepes.  French Bread. Salad Nicoise. Croque Monsieur. Eclair. Croissant. Pont Neuf. Coco Chanel. Carla Bruni. Medecins sans Frontieres. Cartier. Hermes. Louis Vuitton. Club Med. Clarins. Versailles. Seine. Rive Gauche. Tour de France.

Everyone on Facebook shows these three colors. 

French Flag

I went to France once, loved it. My wife has been twice. How about you?


Excel tip: How to clean duplicate rows

Data is often imperfect. As consultants we know that perfect data is a myth. No matter the organization or website, data is gunky, irregular, and often broken.

Was at Starbucks this morning doing my travel and expenses. Went to the American Express website and downloaded the last 6 months of corporate charges, or about $34K in planes, hotels, rental cars, Fedex prints, and restaurant bills. So far so good.

Oddly, the sums did not match my records. Hmmmm.  After a little bit of sorting and filtering, I saw that there were duplicate expenses. Come on Amex, what’s up?

How to eliminate duplicate data in excel? There were about 370+ expenses, of which 1 in 5 were duplicates (same date, same vendor, same amount). Sorted by $ amount and you can see the sporadic duplicates. Oddly, only some were duplicates. Sheesh.

Consultantsmind - Sort by amount

The novice approach would be to eye-ball the duplicates and selectively start deleting. Obviously that is a weak and fallible approach. Trust me. . .this kind of ad-hoc data clean up happens all the time in corporate America.  It’s okay when you have 15 rows of data, but what happens with you have 24,000 rows?  Need scale, need auditing.

1. CONCATENATE. Not an excel formula you use often, but super useful; it simply combines two cells into 1 cell. In this example, we are just combining “apple” + “watch” to get “applewatch”. Ta-da. Simple, a bit boring, but trust me, useful.

Consultantsmind - Concatenate 1

For my file, I combined column A (date) + column B (amount) to get an unique id; The two YELLOW cells became the ORANGE cell. Copy down, all rows get a unique id.

Consultantsmind - Concatenate

2. SORT. Then I sorted the file by my new new id to put things in order (column D).

  • Data –> Sort (this might look different depending on your MS Office version)
  • Or you can do what excel wizards do. .  .[ALT] D, F, F.

Consultantsmind - Sort

3. IF statement. This is something analysts use all the time.

  • The formula works like this: = if ( A relationship B, then C, if not then D)
  • One example: if the test score is greater than 75, I am happy, if not I am sad

Consultantsmind - If 2

For my file, I told the excel to see if the cell was the same as the one directly below it. (Remember I SORTED them in order). If ORANGE = YELLOW, then 1, if not 0. Consultantsmind - If 3

Copy down, this is what your get. . . a series of 1 = yes duplicate, 0 = not duplicate.

Consultantsmind - If 4

4. Copy / Paste as Values. This is a critical step lots of newbies miss (trust me I have made this mistake 100 times). . . copy the newly created formula columns and PASTE AS VALUES. This is how you keep the 1s and the 0s matched up the correct rows.

Consultantsmind - Copy Paste as Values

5. Sort by Duplicates.  Since the 1s are duplicates, you can sort again and see there are 79 duplicates. If you eliminate those, then you have clean data.

Consultantsmind - Sort 1s

6. Caveat #1.  This method is not infallible because you conceivably could have legitimate expenses which were the same date & amount.  Perhaps a “safer” way to go would be to also concatenate the vendor.

7. Caveat #2. When you are cleaning data, I recommend that you:

  • Keep 1 tab of your original data, and just copy data over to a new worksheet
  • What ever you remove from the old data set, “cut” and paste on a different tab

Consultantsmind - tabs

To newbies.  Let me know if you want a copy of the source data to play with.

To excel wizards: I know this was rudimentary.  Let me know what other quick tips you have for deleting duplicates in data?

P.S. In the comments, Kevin noted that there is a REMOVE DUPLICATE function in Excel. . under Data –> Data Validation. In the exercise above, you will want to keep the original file to make sure you can audit what the “blackbox” functions are doing.

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Without trust, a diversity of opinion is an argument

I was on a strange call recently. The call lacked an agenda (bad sign), involved too many people (bad sign), and was a round-robin style of updating (bad sign).

The leaders of the call were frittering at the edges, a bit nervous, fearful and entirely bureaucratic. Disorienting because I don’t know if the angst came from anger, jealousy, or just a straight shortage of leadership. It was cringe-worthy. Not founder’s mentality.

Sky clouds

Be positive. By my nature I am a realist – libertarian – lazy – optimist. Too many people waste time fretting over the past or the future; they don’t focus on fixing the present. Don’t be a culture terrorist or a gossip.

Don’t find fault, find a remedy – Henry Ford

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. – Thoreau

Be the change that you wish to see in the world – Gandhi

We live in a flat corporate world. It is not the hierarchical Asian corporate culture of the 1980s, or the US corporate culture of the Mad Men era. People we work with – educated, professional, (somewhat entitled), traveled, and good-paycheck-earning folks – are not afraid of speaking up. . . which is both good and bad. Good because it creates engagement, diverse thinking, synthesis towards a solution, and active culture building. Bad because with an open culture comes with some responsibility – to respect other people, pre-wire the meetings, and frankly – move the conversation forward.

Without trust, diversity of opinion does not work. 

Jealousy is all the fun you think they had – Erica Jong

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected – Steve Jobs

You cannot fix adults. Clearly, what motivates me will be different from what works for other people. It’s not my job to convince adults – older than me – to act differently. It’s too late. Truett Cathy, founder of Chik-Fil-A said it best with the title of his book, It’s Better to Build Boys, than Mend Men.

I think all managers can agree on these two fundamental things:

  • Let’s stay focused on doing great client work
  • Let’s be good parents and bring up the next generation of consultants

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Good day for me, Tableau stock up 20%

I am a terrible stock-picker.  Trust me, my portfolio returns lag the general market. If you read about a stock on this consulting blog – just look the other way. I am writing about it because management consultants need to understand how the capital markets, annual reports, investor relations presentations, and investment research work. If you can learn a thing or two – AND make your own good financial decision – great.

I am a big believer in Tableau (DATA). This is leading data visualization company – based in Seattle – which makes Excel charts look childish. It is the easiest and fastest way to portray data, and honestly, is a consultants’ best friend. Wrote about it here, and many consulting firms are wholesale embracing it, including Deloitte here.  If you have any questions, look at and you will see several job openings:

Consultantsmind - Tableau Consultant

Bought stock too high. I bought shares in DATA about 3 months ago, and it quickly lost value. All I can say is “#$^@ – not the savviest stock picker. It dropped 20% with all the market turmoil. Nothing really changed with the story – so held on to it.

Stock bounded back 20%. On Friday, DATA announced strong growth and beat Wall Street estimates on both revenue and profits here. Looks like I am back at break-even.

  • Q3 revenue grew to $170.8 million, up 64% year over year.
  • Q3 earnings were 14 cents a share up from 6 cents a share last year

Consultantsmind - DATA stockListened to the webcast here.  If you are passionate about an investment, gotta listen to the CEO and CFO talking to Wall Street. Do the due diligence. Do the studying.

A few of my takeaways:

  • Macro-trend: There is a secular trend towards more democratized, self-service business analytics. Data is clearly the asset, and the more people in the organization who can “play with the data” the smarter you are making yourself.
  • Collaborating with large consulting integrators: This change in data strategy is also a culture change. They are tying up with Deloitte, Accenture, and other system integrators to help create this change.
  • Start of the good part of the S-curve. There is a market progression from 1) skepticism to 2) selective use to 3) rapid scaling. Currently at start of #3.
  • Social proof. They have A-list clients like Credit Suisse, Target, Disney, Comcast, Google, PepsiCo, DP, Consolidated Edison, Electronic Arts etc. . .
  • Data continues to be a distributed mess for most companies.  Rarely will a company buy Tableau for 1 use case. Too often, companies have their data all over the place (Oracle, Hadoop, MySQl, Amazon RedShift)
  • Grow, grow. Revenue, expenses, R&D spend all 50%+ YoY growth
  • Top of mind. Completely happy to compete against free (e.g., QlikSense) because DATA has more functionality (analytics platform), more connectivity (mobile, cloud), and product development (DATA is version 9 vs. QlikSense v2)
  • Winning wallet share. Once a company uses Tableau, they end up buying more licenses; there were 12 companies who spent $1M+ in Q3 alone.  Most ever.
  • Growing Internationally. This is not a geographic or industry-dependent story.
  • Solid management. You can tell from the discussion – the founders have passion, a strong sense of the market, and vision to where this is going

Acquisition? Jim Cramer mentioned here last week that Tableau is the kind of company that IBM would acquire, as they are trying to claim the BIG DATA analytics as their space.

Caveat – as I mentioned early – this is not advice to buy/sell stocks. It’s a free blog and this is just a discussion of my own investments and thinking. Do great work at the client, save money, and be careful with stocks. It’s an easy way to lose money.

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Management consulting stocks, quick comparison

Most management consulting firms are privately held. They start off as partnerships and remain that way: McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, PWC, AT Kearney, PA Consulting, and LEK etc.  PRTM, Monitor and others were bought out. It takes a lot of patience, trust, and brand-building to build a management consulting firm – and that is probably why so few of them go public. Wall Street looks for quarterly returns, which does not always help the building of a professional services firm.

Publicly-traded consulting firms.  Using Finviz here, I down-selected a few firms that we would consider management consulting or related. Note that I did not add in IBM, CSC, Wipro, Tata, HP or other companies which have a large IT consulting division:

Consultants Mind Consulting stocks 1

  • Market Cap. Clearly ACN is the beast here.  $70 billion . . . vs. everyone else
  • Employees. ACN has 300K employees, everyone else has significantly less people, and also
  • Incorporation. All located in the US, with the exception of ACN – who is incorporate in Ireland. Clearly a case of finding the most attractive tax regime.
  • Sales and net income. These need to be looked at together. FTI Consulting 2x the sales of Huron, but the same net income.

Consultants Mind Consulting stocks 1-2

  • Dividend. Only a few firms give out dividends, indicating a bit more stability, and typically slower growth. Management somehow sees giving $$ back to shareholders as a better return than investing it in the business.
  • Net margin. (Un)surprisingly, management consulting has a low net margin. After paying the expensive resources (read: consultants), there is not a lot left for shareholders. It is a high-cost business. Utilization and retention matters. The only firm that seems to be converting revenue into profits at any scale is ACN and MMC, the largest of the bunch.  Question: Does this argue for economies of scale with larger firms?  Initial indications say “Yes”.

Consultants Mind Consulting stocks 2

  • Quick Ratio. This is a metric which tells you how easily a company can pay its short-term obligations.  Formula = (current assets – inventory) / current liabilities. In non-CFO talk, if your quick ratio = 2, that means you have $2 in liquid assets to pay your short-term debts. The higher the number = more easily pay short-term debts. Here, Gartner and Corporate Executive Board have the lowest ratio, but also have an arguably less-capital intensive business – more research.
  • Return on Equity. This is disorienting because some are too high (which you would think is a good thing. . ) except this means that BAH and CEB just don’t have enough equity in the business. Completely funded by debt. Some are too low: FTI and Huron are giving their investors a 8.5% or 10% return, not even factoring in potential downside risk. Not a good deal.

Consultants Mind Consulting stocks 2-2

  • P/E. Price / Earnings multiples are in the mid 20s. Not cheap. Gartner looks expensive at 46x. In other words, it would take 46 years of earnings to get the stock price back, assuming no growth in earnings.
  • Stock performance. Not sure why, but both FTI and Huron are on their heels

Stock price. Looks like the stock market was unkind to FTI and also HURN last week.

Consultants Mind FCN HURN

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Consultants eat well; don’t get fat

Consultants eat well. No question about it. Consultants are foodies. We treat good restaurants like wild game. Find them. Eat there. Of course we cannot, do not go to $$$$ restaurants on our client’s dime, but we do eat at $$ restaurants and expense it.

Rarely do you miss a meal when traveling. Breakfast at the airport/hotel, lunch at the client site, dinner with team or at the hotel. Too often, life revolves around meetings and meals. The client pays for meals – per diem or actuals; there is an incentive to eat.

Concierge lounge. Consultants with platinum hotel status – most do – have access to the lounge. Full breakfast available – eggs, bacon, yogurt, bagels. If you want a 1,000 calorie breakfast every day. This the same place where there is finger foods and cookies at night. Usually, it’s not fancy – but if you want to get on the freeway to fat, this is the place where it usually starts in the morning, and ends at night.

Snacks in the team room. If you are with a team of any size, there is a box/closet/drawer full of snacks, gum, nuts, chocolate, coffee k-cups. As managers, I know that keeping consultants well-fed, and focused is a key part of our job.

Team dinners. These are usually the highlights of the day. If you want to be a part of the team, influence the culture, and develop life-long relationships, go to the dinners. Don’t let it get in the way of your deliverables, but don’t be a recluse. Some teams eat together nightly (exhausting), while others choose 1 night a week share meals. In the end, the meal is free (paid for by the client); the food is good, and usually the company.

Good food. Some of the better meals from the last few months would include:

  • Bluepoint oysters and local craft beer
  • Rosemary lamb chops
  • Steak Frites (ribeye)
  • Black linguine with lobster
  • Hamachi kama (collar of yellowtail fish)

Fast food. Every night is not fancy – we have our share of Jimmy John’s and Chipotle. Lots of client cafeteria meals. Lots of meals eaten while typing on the computer. Yes, those are pizza stains on the keyboard. Airport meals. Meals in the car.

Learn about the food. It’s nothing short of amazing to watch how food-cultured a consultant gets after a few years on the road. They won’t know gazpacho from tapas, or rainbow rolls from bibimbap when they start. Eventually, they will be the ones recommending appetizers for the table. For the true food geeks, America’s Test Kitchen is my foodie-podcast of choice here.  A few places I ate at over the last 2 months:

Yankee Lobster Fish Market. Boston. The lobster roll of course.

Din Tai Fung. Seattle. Watching them roll the dumplings up front makes it worth it.  Mings BBQAtlanta.  Great duck and pork.  Saw a Top Chef there.

Ippudo. Manhattan.  Ramen heaven. Could 7,500 Yelp reviewers be wrong?

Warning. Don’t get fat. This is a warning to myself. Eating 3 square meals a day, M-TH, including glasses of wine, beer. Late nights. Flights. Sitting at a computer. Dude. As I told a colleague last week, “I am on the road to fat.” Blood pressure is still way too high. Looks like this lover of rib-eye, cabernet wine, and steak-frites is going to start chilling out. Looks like I will have to stop making fun of vegetarians and teetotalers.

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Autumn leaves, New York 

Worked like a dog this week. Got a $284 speeding ticket. Need some changes in the working team. However, life is still good.

Check out these leaves from New York, where the client site is.


Consulting tips: Excel formatting nit-picks

Every senior manager has a different style. This is one of the hardest parts of being a consultant who rotates on projects. Have to cater to the preferences (some say whims) of managers. That said, some of it is common sense too. I reviewed a presentation today, and here are some nit-picks (minor things) which I noticed:

Right align for numbers.  This is a bit basic, but something to watch for.  If you just center the numbers, it is impossible to see which numbers are actually bigger or smaller. Like your 4th grade teacher said, “line up your ones, tens, and hundred columns”.  Yes, I know the bankers, CPAs, and finance folks are laughing.

Consultants - Right Align

Tables have to total. Once again, to finance folks this might be insulting. If you have a table of the top 10 or top 15 of anything. . . . you still need to make sure it totals. I often put in a “plug”. . . count up the remaining products and put in the total.  = 8,394 – 5,123 – 2,532 – 234 = 505.  Whatever you put in a table, should total.  Basics.

Consultantsmind - Does not Total

Order things. Whether it is alphabetical or in descending order, have a reason for the order of your items. Remember consultants are the kings and queens of structure.

Consultantsmind - Order things

No twerked words. Okay, now we might be getting into preference. For me, I think it’s unnatural to write words sideways. It’s unnecessary, and awkward.

Consultantsmind - No tilted words

These are not deadly sins. These are somewhat cosmetic problems. They are not mathematical errors which would get your fired from a banking internship. Yet, they do show a lack of rigor, attention to detail, and verve. If you want to stand out, take the excel to the final 10% and make it easily understood.

What are some of your excel formatting nit-picks?

From Kirk (see in comments):

  • Spell check.  “No excel doesn’t give you a handy little squiggly red line with things are wrong, but it’s not hard to hit F7 before you save something.”
  • Grid lines. “Turn them off, makes your workbooks look unfinished. Alt-W-V-G FTW.”
  • Worksheet Names. “Do not send me a workbook with anything named “Sheet 1”, or a blank “Sheet 2” and “Sheet 3” sitting there. Be intentional.”

From Simone (see in comments):

  • Currency $.  “It’s ambiguous whereas  USD / CAD / HKD are not”
  • Date formats.  “With D-M-Y / M-D-YY / Y-D-M vary around the world, why not always specify DD-MMM-YY so your international audience are not confused”

From Paul (see comments): 

  • Restrained colors. Recommends 1 day course by famous Edward Tufte here.

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Consulting confession: I love the white board

Who does not love using the white board? It makes the experience creative, tactile, interactive, and open-ended. It’s a running joke with my teams that I will take any opportunity to pickup a dry-erase pen and head towards the whiteboard – like a moth to a night light. I actually have a 8 ft one in my personal home. Geek.

Consultantsmind - Use the White Board

When the client takes the discussion in a different direction. I used the white board in two separate meetings this week to good effect. No matter how much we prepare, pre-wire the audience, think through the deliverables, there is a chance the client goes “off-script”. You have to be ready to re-trench, re-set the conversation, and re-start.

White board = neutral place. In the first meeting, folks expressed doubt in our hypothesis. In fact a few participants went into elaborate reasons why it would not work. It’s touchy because if you are not careful, a mob mentality can quickly ensue.The white board can be a refuge to organize thoughts and slow the discussion down.

White board = peace offering. It’s important to acknowledge what is being said. Don’t be the ugly consultant who says yes to placate the client, then forgets everything. There is the cynical consulting adage that says, “Repeat what the client said, and they will think you are a genius”.  There is a lot of truth there.  Write down what the client says.

White board = brainstormWe are all kids at heart. It’s fun to innovate, and put ideas on the board. We all want to be team players. We want to be heard. 1) I wrote down the reasons why it wouldn’t work 2) then wrote down the reasons why it was important to come up with alternatives. From there, we “brainstormed” answers.

One of the initial detractors, perked up and pitched in, “It might not work, but what about. . . .”  Then the next person replied, “Well, I would be willing to . . . ” Not exactly a fire of ideas, but a few sparks.  At that point, I was happy to see the mood shift.

White board = outline.  Once you have the ideas up there, it’s time to start summarizing the results and take on the role of the conversation architect. Don’t be afraid to circle the key points, number the items #1, #2, #3. Keep the pace and drive the conversation, until there is synthesis. Don’t present data, but drive it to a conclusion.

As usual, it’s important to structure the problem, and put it into buckets for easier decision making. We are in the idea grouping business.  Buckets, I tell you, buckets.

White board = meeting minutes. Ironically, writing things down make it seem more permanent.  Once it’s on paper or on the white board, there’s an implicit understanding that we agree with what is there. It serves as a form of meeting minutes.

Without the flexibility to shift and pivot the discussion, both meetings were headed towards an impasse.  One of my team mates noted, “I am glad we had a white board here, was able to turn those two meetings around.”  Completely agree.  Every room needs a white board and the flexibility to re-orient the conversation. As Jim Collins says, we have to be prepared AND flexible. We need to be logical AND empathetic.

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Consulting is tribal; pick a tribe

Consulting is tribal.  Each of the partners (chieftains) typically have a group of “go-to” principals, senior managers, and network of consultants (tribe) who work on their projects. For even the unobservant person, these tribes become clear:

  • He is one of “Dave’s telecom guys”
  • Sue only works for Jim; she is “on deck” for senior manager this year
  • Jennifer has 2-3 senior managers who run all of her projects

Consultantsmind Pick a Tribe

Partners cultivate talent.  If you were a partner, you would look for principals, senior managers and managers you can rely on. Do you really want to train, and coach a new set of team leaders?  Hell no. Waste of time. Find good people, work them hard, and reward them. Singular mind of a small business owner. Singular mind of a partner.

Consultants specialize over time. Although newbies come in as generalists – working across a diversity of industries, functions, and roles – as you rise in the ranks to more senior levels you specialize in an industry and/or function. That’s sensible:

  • You’ve spent 20+ years selling and running dozens, hundreds of similar type projects. You develop a name for yourself, doing what they do .  Doing it well.
  • You need to put in the proverbial 10,000 hours to get really good at something
  • Your network of clients and colleagues will be in the same industry

Partners want no-fuss consultants. While some partners are heavily involved in practice-building (recruiting, solutions development, committees and boards), other are there to just do the client work. They sell, they staff projects, they deliver results. They go home. These partners want a team, a tribe, of consultants who they can readily deploy on their projects and consistently get the work done. No fuss, no whining.

While some partners are heavily involved in practice-building (recruiting, solutions development, committees and boards), others are there to just do the client work. They sell, they staff projects, they deliver results.  They go home.

Enjoy the early days.  If you are new to consulting, enjoy this time. Rotate among industries, project types, and managers. Enjoy the variety, training, and breadth.  After all, there are a lot of different skills to learn as a consultant: excel, powerpoint, client interaction, proposal writing, interviews, industry research, business modeling.

Don’t stay a generalist.  As you progress, become a manager, senior manager and principal – you better start specializing. You better start lining up under a key partner or two. Start focusing your energies. Start placing your bets on your career – by industry, by function, by partner. Don’t be wishy-washy. Have a point of view.

Select a tribe.  Select the right tribe.  In the end, find work you like to do and people you like and trust. Work with people you can relate to, people you can learn from. Yes, the work matters, but as you get farther in your consulting people – the partners matter. Don’t forget that. As Jim Collins says, focus on WHO before you focus on WHAT.

In the year-end review process, only a select number of people get promoted. Like the shape implies, there are fewer and fewer seats the higher you go. By some estimates, only 1 in 10 entering consultants make it to partner, and personally, I think those odds are optimistically high. Basically, it is the same entrance rate of getting into Harvard. . .and this is from a set of people who actually went to places. . .like Harvard.  Sheesh.

Pay attention to (subtle) feedback.  Don’t want until the year-end review to find out if you are contributing to the consulting practice – recruiting, tool development, proposal writing, sales presentations, coaching, project management, client delivery.  Feedback does not have to be formal “sit-down” sessions, but a real-time awareness of how effectively you are leading your peers, and creating change.  Are you a linchpin?

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