Having outlined the various pros and cons of Partnership (“Making Partner: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) and how to get there (“Sink or Swim? Assessing Your Chances at Making Partner”) our last installment in the Raines International Partner Series, “Life After Partner,” identifies the reasons why consultants leave the Partner Path and offers advice for those looking to make their next move.
According to Gil Krakowsky, Vice President, Global Strategy & Business Development, The Gap, Inc. and A.T. Kearney Alum, “the consulting career development track is geared to focus on Partnership as a prize. It is not geared to having you sit back and look across your professional and personal life and decide what is right for you at that particular moment in your career.”
But what comes next?
When thinking about next steps or leaving, Partners find themselves asking a different yet eerily familiar question to the one asked when initially joining the firm:
“I know I wanted to make Partner, but do I want to stay Partner?”
After eight years in consulting, former McKinsey & Company Partner Usman Rabbani, “had written a plan to stay at McKinsey for the rest of [his] career” despite his original plan to remain at the company for only two years.
“While I was open to new opportunities, I felt that there were very few things that could be as compelling as what I had as a Partner” at McKinsey, Usman, now Director and Technology Operating Lead at KKR Capstone, explains.
Having reached the near top of the management consulting food chain, Partners are left with two options: Either remain in the role for the rest of their days or transition into the corporate world.
Several former Partners from top-tier management consulting firms shared with the Raines team their advice for Partners who are thinking about transitioning out of management consulting and how to identify and secure the best next opportunity.
Making the Decision to Leave
There are many reasons successful consultants and Partners may choose to pursue opportunities outside of management consulting. For Alison Levy, Group Vice President at Ross Stores, Inc. and former Kurt Salmon Partner, the increasing difficulties of maintaining a proper work-life balance drove her decision to leave the firm:
“I started to consider other opportunities at a point where my family situation changed. Consulting is really fun and dynamic, but I have never seen it in any context across any firm where it isn’t also extremely intense. The more senior you get, the more intense it becomes. You don’t really give up responsibilities – you just take on additional ones and you take them more seriously because you are a shareholder in the firm and you are responsible for driving your own revenue.
“As a Partner, there were so many more competing demands on my time right when I had my first child. I realized that perhaps I would look back on this point in my life and not feel good about how I was prioritizing my commitments.”
Echoing Alison’s concerns, Delaney Steele, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Marketing for Ross Stores, Inc. and Boston Consulting Group Alum elaborates on the ways her personal skill-set ultimately were not a perfect match for the role:
“I did not like the commercial side [of being Partner]. Frankly, I wasn’t as good at the commercial side as I had expected I would be. Some people really like that side, too. You just have to realize that’s the single biggest difference in the role between Principal and Partner. The pressure is absolutely enormous to bring in revenue and build-out clients. Unless you’re someone who really likes to be in what is basically a sales-oriented role, it may not be a role that you like. I did not like it as much as I thought I would, because I really like content and problem-solving, but I did not like having to sell work.”
While Alison and Delaney’s experiences highlight some of the cons of the Partner role, other’s may choose to leave the partner track behind in order to embark down a different path towards an industry role.
Usman, like many other partners, had not set his sights on the Partner role since Day 1. Once finding himself in the position, however, he “never found a mix of things that was as compelling as what McKinsey had to offer.”
He was open to new opportunities because he wanted to be challenged again and when the right opportunity came along at KKR, Usman was ready to transition. Usman explains:
“I felt that the KKR opportunity had everything that I valued at McKinsey, and then much more. The people, the professional development, the level of responsibility, the autonomy, and the sense of ownership are all unbelievable at KKR. The quality of future opportunities is probably higher here than at McKinsey.”
Even if you aren’t looking for a different opportunity, it still is good to keep an eye out just in case.
A former Partner at the Boston Consulting Group and currently Executive Vice President of Strategy & Revenue Management at US Foods, Dave Rickard shared with us the harsh, but true realities of staying on the Partner path for too long.
“When I was on the fence about whether I should stay longer,” Dave remembers, “another BCG alumnus was very blunt with me. He said, ‘Look, you’ve been a consultant for 16 years. No one has any doubt about your skill set in that vein. Every incremental year you spend in consulting, you’re just getting older and less employable.'”
It “is pretty harsh,” says Dave, “but probably has a lot of truth in it. I would encourage folks to take that leap sooner rather than later.”
When deciding whether or not to take that ‘leap’ into the unknown, Gil asserts that you can only make the best decision after cultivating “your own definition of success.”
When asked what advice he would have for a Partner at a top firm who is thinking about leaving and wondering how to identify and secure the best next opportunity, Gil admits his own fears when contemplating leaving the Partner path and how he came to the right decision:
“I was thinking about taking this job [outside A.T. Kearney], and I was a bit hesitant because… I had just become a Partner and I was going to make all this money, I was going to fly around the world, I was going to get all these clients… I just started building this list of all of the things I had been told. At some point I had to sit down and really define what success meant for me. I think it’s really about defining what’s going to make you happy, and separating yourself from all of the things you are being told about how to define your happiness.
So while there are many reasons Partners choose to leave or stay, at the end of the day it is most important for Partners to make a decision that he/she can stick to and run with.