This month, WCC spoke with Chris Petersen, a 2000 graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison currently working as a Principal for the Boston Consulting Group.
WCC: What was your area of study while at UW-Madison and how do you apply those skills to your everyday job at BCG?
As an undergrad at UW, I was Marketing major. Throughout my career, I’ve used my degree and the lessons learned at UW to help Fortune 500 companies make better decisions on a range of issues. My experience at UW also played a big part in helping me get into the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.
I use the marketing, finance and strategy skills I learned during undergrad every day. We advise clients on a large range of topics that require insight across many areas of business. In my current work, we’re helping one of our global clients get a better return from their marketing investments. In that role, I use all of my core marketing skills, as well as finance and strategy knowledge to help them make smarter choices that drive the business and have a positive impact on their bottom line. My learning at UW gave me the foundation to provide a balanced perspective when advising clients on a wide-range of issues.
WCC: What were your first steps after leaving UW and work background before landing at BCG?
When I left UW, I went to work for Sony Pictures in Los Angeles. I later left Sony with my boss to help him with a start-up agency. We helped global companies like Disney, Visa, eBay and Mercedes-Benz, leverage sports and entertainment messages to improve overall marketing effectiveness.
In 2007, I decided to go to business school at Kellogg – and from there was recruited by BCG and joined them as a Consultant.
WCC: What does your current role at BCG consist of and how, if at all, have your duties changed as you have progressed through BCG?
I’m currently a Principal at BCG – and in that role manage the project teams and interface directly with senior clients. When I started at BCG, I immediately had the opportunity to work directly with individuals and client teams to help them solve specific business problems. Those problems could vary from helping identify a new growth strategy, to streamlining operations, to changing their corporate structure to improve shareholder return, to changing the value proposition for a brand or group of brands to enhance their competitive position in the marketplace.
In my time at BCG, I went from working as a part of those teams, to leading small teams, to now leading larger teams, and sometimes multiple teams, at the same time.
Over the years, I’ve also taken more and more responsibility, especially relating to efforts outside of normal client duties. As a specific example, I recently took on the task of leading the Associate recruiting efforts for the BCG’s Chicago office.
WCC: What type of person succeeds at BCG and what do you see as the most important skills to posses on the job?
We look for intellectually curious people who are passionate about learning and enjoy the collaborative nature of working with others. Many of our team members also have a little bit of entrepreneur in them – because people at BCG are quickly given the autonomy to go and determine the best path to solve a particular problem. While there can be a steep learning curve at times, it’s incredibly stimulating – and people who enjoy that type of continuous learning tend to have a great time.
WCC: Within management consulting, what do you see as the key differentiating factor that BCG provides to either its employees, clients or both?
BCG partners with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and have a transformative impact for their enterprises.
I like to focus on the fact that we strive to work WITH clients, not necessarily at or for them.
As a firm, we’ve been listed in the top 5 of Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” the past 3 years. We take pride in putting our people first – providing employees with the opportunity to chart their own career path and giving them the opportunity to get immediate exposure to senior level executives at some of the world’s largest and most successful companies. But we also take an active interest in helping our people prioritize the things in their lives that are important to them. Client service roles can be pretty demanding, and we have programs and systems in place that help people manage the work so they can do what they think is important, both inside and outside the office.
WCC: What is the company culture like at BCG?
I would say it’s equal parts collaborative, supportive, team oriented, fast-paced and intellectually stimulating. A firm’s people are what defines its culture, and our people never cease to surprise and amaze me with their sense of humor, intelligence and support for each other.
WCC: What would be your top three pieces of advice for a Badger trying to start a career in consulting?
Academic performance and professional experiences do matter when recruiting and applying for jobs. The college experience is about exploring different things and growing as a person, but being able to take care of business during school is important – and putting your best foot forward in terms of grades, extracurriculars, and internship experiences makes a difference.
Do a little bit of research on your own about whether the intellectually rigorous and fast-paced client service environment is for you. There is a lot of info on-line that can help illustrate what consulting is all about. BCG’s website (bcg.com) is a great resource for anyone looking to get a better idea of the kind of work we do.
Once you know it’s something you want to pursue, there are specific things students can do to get ready. Do some reading on what the interview process entails, and how to practice and prepare for it. Doing practice cases, and rehearsing your answers to typical “fit” questions, will help you feel more at ease during the actual interview itself and allow your natural intelligence take over. The process may be different for different firms – so it’s always a good idea to ask someone at the firm about any specifics if you have questions.
Finally, identify the companies you would most like to work for, and then start reaching out and making yourself noticeable. It’s always better to have made contact with a few people at a given firm – it gives you a leg up in understanding what they’re looking for and helps you get a sense of whether their culture is a good fit for you.
Many of the same principles apply for anyone who has already graduated but is looking to transition into consulting. The best way to change jobs is to find someone who works at that company – that will help you most efficiently navigate the environment. LinkedIn and other professional networking services are useful but there really is no substitute for a personal connection.