Career Advice Recruitment tips

Growing demands from clients mean the entry standards for the business advisory sector are rising, says Michael McCool of AlixPartners

The business advisory sector has adapted to a series of changes in recent years. Michael McCool, managing director of AlixPartners, a consultancy that advises businesses on increasing performance and profitability, outlines the sector’s current situation.


What trends have you seen shaping the business advisory sector in recent years?

With the explosion of internet and mobile over the last decade, advisory services have changed from being a provider of information to being a provider of insight.

Slowing growth in China brings the operational efficiency of business there into sharper focus. To survive and grow, business needs to become more efficient, better managed and sharper. The days of riding the growth wave irrespective of efficiency are behind us.

Also, the quality of mainland management and technical skills has increased. Management and leadership teams are more likely to be based now in Shanghai or Shenzhen, rather than Hong Kong, and much more of our work takes place there.


What effects are these trends having on careers in the sector in Hong Kong?

Increasing pressure on profitability means we need to find talented and experienced people. Entry standards are always rising. Where we once looked for good raw material in our recruits we now look for people with hands-on experience of driving turnaround and improving performance.


What are the current recruitment challenges for firms like AlixPartners when looking for talent?

Our standards are extremely high, both in terms of personal qualities and proven experience. The right people are hard to find and in high demand. We see recruitment as a two-way process where it is as important for AlixPartners to be selected by the candidate as it is for us to select them.


Has AlixPartners made any changes to its recruitment strategy recently?

Like many companies we have had to widen our net to make sure that we have a sufficient flow of candidates. This means multiple recruitment channels in play at all times; executive search, web postings, staff referrals and so forth.


Can you outline the path your career took to get to your current role?

Like many business consultants I joined my first consulting firm to get a few years of intensive experience to accelerate my career. Then I fell under the spell of the business. We work on the most challenging and interesting problems, under intense pressure and scrutiny, and we work in new situations all the time. That’s why I stayed after my first few years. It’s been over 20 years now and it is still exciting.


Are there any formal qualifications you would recommend business advisory professionals acquire?

I’d advise people who want to join the profession to do their research on the sector and the firms that they want to join. Some firms recruit mainly those with technical or engineering backgrounds and degrees, others require an MBA for entry or for advancement. So it varies widely.


How easy is it for professionals from other sectors to move into the business advisory industry? What do they need to consider?

The biggest challenge is adapting to client-first consulting. Someone with, say, a supply chain or manufacturing background will probably have little problem getting to grips with the technical aspects of our work. But doing that in a client context is hard.


What is the hardest part of your job? And the most rewarding?

The hardest part of my job is having to balance the needs of several clients at the same time. You can see that the challenge with several clients is that each of them needs to be put first. The most rewarding part is helping develop and coach our people; and seeing them gain independence.


Is a good work-life balance possible in your line of work? Do you have any tips on how to achieve this?

Being away from home, working long hours and under pressure is part of the job. What’s important is being at home when you are home. What I mean is making sure that time with family and friends is guarded jealously and that the job does not get in the way of that; and to use that time as well as one can. 


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Turning it around.