Top of the Class

#44 How to Pave a Path to Management Consulting During High School

April 24, 2021 Crimson Education Season 1 Episode 44
Top of the Class
#44 How to Pave a Path to Management Consulting During High School
Top of the Class
#44 How to Pave a Path to Management Consulting During High School
Apr 24, 2021 Season 1 Episode 44
Crimson Education

The number of students aspiring to a career in management consulting has exploded in recent years and it's easy to see why. With big pay cheques, prestigious companies and the idea of solving problems across multiple industries, it's definitely an appealing pathway.

But how do you start to pave a path to consulting while in high school? With a cousin at McKinsey and an eye on the Ivies, Ibrahim is already making waves being a key part of the Boost NXT program for high school students, taking on extra subjects, courses and more. Take a listen for Ibrahim's tips to get started today!

Show Notes Transcript

The number of students aspiring to a career in management consulting has exploded in recent years and it's easy to see why. With big pay cheques, prestigious companies and the idea of solving problems across multiple industries, it's definitely an appealing pathway.

But how do you start to pave a path to consulting while in high school? With a cousin at McKinsey and an eye on the Ivies, Ibrahim is already making waves being a key part of the Boost NXT program for high school students, taking on extra subjects, courses and more. Take a listen for Ibrahim's tips to get started today!

Podcast Host  00:05

Hi, Ibrahim, welcome to the Top of the Class podcast. It's fantastic to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Ibrahim  00:24

I'm Ibrahim. I'm from India, but I'm living in Dubai, the most probably famous city in the Middle East. I grew up here, I was born here. And right now I'm a 16 year old turning 17 in a few weeks. But yeah, that's me. And I'm mostly looking towards a career in management consulting.

Podcast Host  00:45

One of the things that I know is that you brand yourself as a failed entrepreneur. Now, that's a pretty brave stance to take. And I think that does fly into the face of many other LinkedIn profiles out there that kind of only celebrate the successes. So what was the thinking behind that?

Ibrahim  01:03

So I started my company about late December 2019. It was a very fun experience for me and my co founder, both of us, but I think it people like if you go through my LinkedIn posts, you can see a running theme of me celebrating failure. And I think the reason for that is because most like most people these days are thinking entrepreneurship is, you know, very easy, it's the cool thing, you know, you start a company and boom, you're a millionaire. But really, you know, it's, it's really the hardest thing you can do as a career. You know, as Ilan Musk said, It's like eating glass and staring into the abyss, if you're wired to do it, then do it. And if you need inspirational words for it, then don't do it. So really, like one thing is that, like, it's really, really hard. And I worked like, as a student, I work 12 hours a day, or even more sometimes on on my company, when I started it. But you know, as, as a company, owner, I worked really hard, but it really it failed by the time. I mean, it failed to be honest, early on, but I didn't want to accept it. Right? So I sort of just pushed it and pushed it and kept putting funds into it just to try and work something out. But I also learned from navall, who is the founder of I believe it's Angel list is a very big entrepreneur, you have to know that there's a time where you quit, there's a time where you have to stop with that company, because it's just not gonna work out anymore. So, you know, I accepted that. And I finally, you know, shut it down and filed for bankruptcy, I guess. I mean, I haven't done that yet. But that's something to do. But yeah, so my sort of thing is, I worked on this company really hard. And I'm proud of that, but not, I'm also proud that it didn't work out because it led me to this career management consulting. But what's important to know is that it's hard, and my co founder actually quit earlier, and now actually hates entrepreneurship. And every time we bring up anything related to entrepreneurship, he's like, Nah, man, I don't want to speak about this.

Podcast Host  03:16

I'm not surprised. It is a very tough journey. And I know, you know, from my brother's story, my brother here in Melbourne, he's trying to do his business. And it's been bumping along there for a little while. And I think he's very much in that zone of like, feeling as if he probably should just give it away and quit, but also not wanting to face the reality of being a failure. I feel like that's a bit of a challenge that a lot of entrepreneurs face. And for you, what was that moment exactly where you were like, this isn't working, I need to pack it up?

Ibrahim  03:48

Well, it was about, I think, October or maybe August, I was actually doing the part time job as sort of like a Regional Director of Development slash marketing agency. And I'll get into that as well later how I got that job as well. But I was sort of just doing the job. And I mean, regional director is a fancy term for it. But I was mostly like cold calling and, like, trying to get clients, I can get some money to continue running the company. But there was a point where I just faced so much rejection from people that I'm like, you know what, I can't deal with this anymore. It's like rejection after rejection and then failure with the company itself. So you know, I'm just like, okay, maybe this is just not it. I have to focus on something else. So it was really those cold calls that sort of put the failure in in my head.

Podcast Host  04:44

I can understand and empathize with you in that moment. There must have been a pretty low point for you or was it like relief when you finally made the decision to quit like what was your general feeling? Was it mixed emotions as you were kind of giving away this thing you've been working on for over a year?

Ibrahim  05:00

Looking back at it now, I'm like, right now I feel quite happy. And to be honest, I feel that I should have quit, you know, earlier. But you know, it is what it is. But I think at the time I was, I was really sad because, you know, if you've actually started a company, if you've actually worked 12 hours, 13 hours a day on it, you know, it's sort of like your baby, you know, it's something that you sort of nurtured. It's something you built. So seeing that all of that go away is really hard. But right now, you know, I don't feel that sad, because, like, I know that that has helped me become the person I am right now. And that's way better than what I would have been, you know, back then. Right. So yeah, that's what I feel about it.

Podcast Host  05:47

Yeah, it's interesting. I know that entrepreneurs that we've had on the show, actually, Nathaniel comes to mind is one person who has really, I guess, understood failure as an entrepreneur, and has given away a few different ideas that he's had, like, worked on it for a while realized that wasn't the right thing for him. And he said, like, one of the things that entrepreneurs need to get good at is separating themselves from their idea. And kind of externalizing The idea is not necessarily part of them. So if the idea fails, the idea fails, the markets not ready for it, you know, whatever happens happens, but it's not necessarily a reflection on you as a failure. It's just the idea wasn't right at the time, and it didn't really hit the mark, and you just have to go again, right, like the entrepreneur side of view, shouldn't necessarily die with the failure of your first business, for instance, and I guess, like, with your co founder, it may well have died as he died. You know, he was like, This isn't for me. But you know, as you said, with that, like Ilan, Musk, quote, if it is for you, if you're hardwired to do it, you'll keep doing it. And the idea may change, but your entrepreneurial mindset never dies.

Ibrahim  06:56

Yeah, that's true. But I think there's a balance to it. Like, obviously, you have to, at some limit, separate yourself from the idea but you also have to keep yourself to like, there's a very weird balance there because I don't know if you've seen like, like, I'm gonna mention Ilan Musk, like because he sort of my entrepreneurship heroes. But there's, there's an interview where an interviewer was asking about how three of his, you know, rockets were failed, then you could see like, the tears in his eyes, like, and there's the people like Neil Armstrong, and like other big people in the space industry, and everyone's like, you know, going against them. And you could see that, like, the tears in his eyes, because he obviously loves what he does. He loves the idea. He's attached to it. That's why, you know, he's getting emotional. But there's also a time where, yeah, just enough capital to run either company, but he still decided to split, split it into Tesla and SpaceX. Right? And, you know, he put the chances in both of them, because so I think to be an entrepreneur, you really have to have that coldness, but also, just try to find that balance.

Podcast Host  08:03

Yeah, yeah, it is a very tricky thing to find, particularly when you've got other things to worry about, like school, etc, which we'll get into as well. So we've got a couple of things to cover. But before we get into everything else, I want to just quickly ask, what was the company that you actually created? Like, what were you doing?

Ibrahim  08:18

Right, so we created this thing called exam up. Initially, it was just like an online like, exam resources company, where we sold, sort of revision guides, etc. But it was it was meant to go on to serve as the hub for revision for all kinds of revision. We started off with only like GCSE, and I wrote my own guides, because I was doing GCSEs at the time. But we went on further, we hired some of our friends, we hired some of the people, the upper grades, we even hired some teachers to write some of our guides. And they were to be honest, they were turning out pretty good and very useful. Like, we tested them out with some students, and they really liked it. So you know, we sold them. But that allows sort of, you know, in every startup, you're supposed to have an MVP, then move on, with more features and more features. So this was sort of our MVP, we're just starting out, maybe, maybe this was the problem. But, you know, who knows. But we sort of wanted to start off with this build a reputation and, you know, sort of vision. We wanted to create sort of a platform where, you know, anyone can revise any sort of topic in a specific curriculum without having to worry like how they're going to do it. Like, they would just come to our platform, and you know, boom, like, that was sort of the long term vision, right? So that's how we started but the problem was, we didn't sort of execute it correctly. You know, we, we took on a lot of debt, and we've paid so many people to write guides, and we had so many guides, and we spend so much on marketing, but like it wasn't converting, right. We were we weren't getting Any sales? So yeah, that's sort of what happened. And I guess, you know, again, this is this is going to link to management consulting when we get into it. But we didn't work on an idea I don't like, if I look back right now, I think we may have spent only like a week or two, even discussing it like the other times when I've worked on ideas, we've sat down together, we've done so much research gathered so much data to prove that, okay, there's a market for this, you know, and this is how we should go about it. But for this, I don't know why I just didn't, we just sort of went ahead, right, we just went to execution straight out, we had the cash, we had, you know, the connections to start it off. So we're like, you know what, let's start off and see what happens. So linking this to management consulting, people always think you need like a business degree, or you need to have strong knowledge in business, or finance. But really, you really don't like many of the management consultants I've worked with are industrial engineers, or they've got a degree in politics, or, you know, maybe economics. And, you know, people think economics is like about stock markets, or finances something but economics is, you know, the science of sort of incentive incentives and how people have governments or businesses at the point is that there are people who aren't specialized in business, who are management consultants, why? Because management consulting is such a broad field, it's literally if you if you're to define it is basically helping business leaders make decisions. Yeah. Now you're gonna think like, Okay, what type of business leaders that's the point, right? Like in my internship at boost, I've already went through the span of four months, I've been exposed to healthcare, you know, construction, education, tech, real estate, like so many industries, and that one of the, you know, sort of core attributes of a management consultant is that you're ready to learn.

Podcast Host  11:57

That's very true, very true. So take us through what are the first steps you as an aspiring management consultant take when you're analyzing a business problem.

Ibrahim  12:08

So, you know, before every session with my with my sort of mentor at boost, we go through this sort of thing, it's like wax on wax off, you have to go through it. So it's sort of a triangle of the skills you need to have as a management consultant. So in the middle, it's context. And without context, without knowing the context of anything without like, being able to comprehend and you know, look at the context, you cannot be a management consultant, that's sort of a given. Okay. At the top of the triangle, it's communication. And the right side, and left side is analysis and analysis and content. 

Podcast Host  12:48

Okay. Sorry, let me just go through that, again, you've got analysis and content, communication and context.

Ibrahim  12:54

Yeah, context in the middle, that's a given.

Podcast Host  12:56

Okay, is there context in the middle, and then you've got analysis and content, and then you've got...

Ibrahim  13:02

the communication, communication is on the top. Okay, so you've got a triangle, the top sort of point is communication. The right side is analysis. And the left side is content. And then in the middle of the triangle, just in the middle of the triangle is like a context. So the triangle, right, we always go through this context is the most important. The reason for this is there's this thing in the management consulting world, it's called the jumping distribution syndrome. So what you do is, okay, you see the problem, you know, let's say, or we're not generating enough sales, you know, the jumping to solution syndrome, people would be like, okay, but marketed more heavily, right? You're not even looking at what's going on in the company, what the company is, what's their business model, maybe they don't even have, you know, something to sell. And we sort of tested this right before every session, we used to send out a LinkedIn post saying, Okay, the next session is on, you know, this, this is company, and we're going to cover this problem, you know, any ideas or something like that. And then we see, like, hundreds of comments that are like, you know, they should do this, or they should do that, I think this would be a good option for them. While they don't even know like, what's the context of the company, what's the context of the problem, you know, what sector they're looking into. So we used to sort of joke about this, how, you know, they're terrible management consultants. So that that's what links to entrepreneurs to entrepreneurship, you know, you have to really work on the problem that you're trying to solve. And it has to be an existing problem. Like for example, there's two ways to make a company you either solve an existing problem or you create a problem and then solve it. But the second one is only like mainly done by like bigger companies, you know, that already have an influence on like, millions and millions of people right, for example, apple, they removed the headphone jack and then this they sold this solution to you As airports, right, so that's sort of an example of creating the problem. But you like, for example, you and me, we're sort of insignificant, you know, we have no influence on like millions and millions of people. So we have to just look for a problem that is already there, that, you know, maybe people don't even know it's a problem, and, you know, make a solution for it. So that's how basic entrepreneurship works. And that's what management consultants do very well, they look at the problem very, very well before even looking at the solution. So that's what we talk about, mainly in our sessions, we just go over the problem so much we discuss so many ideas, when none of which are the solution itself. It's all just related to the problem, you know, we look at data, we look at graphs, we look at numbers, everything related to the problem itself. And then near the end, we figure out some hypotheses. And we propose a few solutions, right? So that's how basic sort of management consulting timeline looks like. So going back to your point about why exactly it's it's an interesting field, it's because my cousin she just graduated from Well, not just it's been, I think two years by she graduated from u Chicago, she got an offer from McKinsey. She was I think a politics major, right? So why would she get into McKinsey, she doesn't know business, right? That's not how it works. Because she, she displayed one or two of these skills, right? Maybe it was analysis, maybe it was communication, maybe it was content. So as I said, context is a given. But to be a successful management consultant, you need context plus two of the other skills any to and the more, you want to go higher up the hierarchy, you have to lean more towards communication, that's sort of the big thing in management consulting, right, you have to be able to sell, you have to be able to communicate. So going back to students, she told me, so during the tiger global case, competition, we sort of interviewed her like her experiences as a management consultant at McKinsey. And she explained very well that you don't need to know business for this, you just need to just have the sort of the hunger to learn. So this is manual consulting, I think it's a perfect career for people, we're not like, perfectly sure on what they want to do. Or maybe they're very knowledgeable in one like sector, maybe, you know, industrial engineering, maybe biotechnology. So they would, they would sort of be experts in that sort of sector in management consulting. But mainly, I think people who are not sure what they want to do, they could get into management, consulting, get exposed to like 1020 fields, and then you know, move on to maybe, let's say, do a master's in in biotechnology, or like, maybe computer science, and then get into the tech field, or maybe do bachelors in engineering and then get into you know, engineering, it's sort of like exposing you to each field and how they operate. And one of the things that I've also seen that management consultants do, like on a day to day basis, sometimes they get hired to just work at a company as if they're their employee. So, you know, you can tell how much exposure you're getting to, like so many different fields, to sort of, it'll help you figure out what you're interested in what sort of drives your passion, right?

Podcast Host  18:23

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think it's interesting to look at your profile, because obviously, for someone who is interested in management consulting, I think a lot of people would be like, Okay, I'm in high school, and I'm interested in management consulting, I've got no idea what to do next type of thing. But you've been really proactive in understanding what you need to do to kind of lay a solid foundation to hopefully get into a university that has a good reputation for getting into a top firm like McKinsey and CO, which is one of your targets as your sister went there as well. So can you talk us through some of the things that you've done that you think can contribute to a future career in management consulting?

Ibrahim  19:00

So currently, I'm enrolled in this thing called Boost Academy, right. And that's what I've been talking about this whole time. It's like sort of a training program that was reserved for like university graduate, but I managed to sneak in the program. And with the help of the founder, I also helped open boost next. So this is basically a sector that we a division that we sort of made specifically for 11 to 17 year olds interested in consulting. So how it works is we usually have just like weekly case studies, where we go over just any random, you know, sector and the random problem in a very fun and entertaining way. Right. Like one of the case studies we had is like on Batman, and you know, Gotham, it was really cool, because, you know, obviously Batman and Gotham are not real, but we like we made up some statistics. We took some statistics from real countries, and we sort of played around with it and came up with a real solution that is applicable to real countries, you know, we were trying to get Gotham's like livability index up to like the top 10 or something like that. So I mean, to be honest, for all the Batman fans out there, the solution was that we should eliminate Batman. So that's sort of what we're doing in these case studies, what we do is we develop these skills that I talked about, you know, analysis content, because there's a running joke that all management consultants do is make presentations, which is true, like a lot of like, a lot of the time is presentations. So if you're good at making presentations, making good slides, as well as communication, you're sort of already leading towards the top. So when you want to go up in the hierarchy, it's communication. But when you want to get in, you could have communication, but it's sort of just like a luxury.

Podcast Host  20:47

I mean, obviously, like you're doing a few things, you're doing the you know, the Wharton course and you're doing the boost next, then you're also doing some extra academic courses. You talk us through that.

Ibrahim  20:59

Yeah, so currently with CGA, Crimson Global Academy, I'm studying business, the business a level, as well as the mathematics a level as well as economics. And I'm self studying the accounting a level. So these four, you know, may seem like they're the same thing. I mean, except mathematics, but like they each sort of have their own thing that I'm interested in. So yeah, these are the four courses I'm doing with CGA. And I also am going through a few books on behavioral economics. That's an interesting field. But I guess this stuff is not related to management consulting.

Podcast Host  21:37

But do you feel like the academic side that you're working on now and all the things you're reading and studying, do you think that helps you to be more prepared than others who might go into a field like biology or politics,

Ibrahim  21:48

it depends on what sort of project you're working on. Like, you can never say, you know, you need the specific skills, generally put it, it's those skills that I told you in the triangle, that's all you need to get started. The rest, you learn on the job. For example, if you're, for example, doing a business degree, then you'd be more comfortable in on the business side of things. But that same business person once he's tossed on, you know, a construction project, he knows nothing, right? He has no clue he has no clue on what construction is, or, you know, maybe he's talking on a real estate project. So it's mostly learning on the job. You know, I've heard from McKinsey consultants that like the first few weeks, or even a month or two is spent just learning about the field and talking to experts gathering information as a group. So there is no one thing that I can recommend to you guys. It's just mastering those basic skills, and then the rest is just

Podcast Host  22:44

on the job. Yeah, well, obviously, there are some extracurriculars that students can get involved in, you are a part of the Tiger Global Case Comp, which is put on by Crimson each year, which challenges students to solve an actual business problem. And I guess, take on the role of a management consultant create that slide deck presented as part of a team to do all the things that management consultants, I guess, usually would do. But in this case, it's a competition for high schoolers, which I guess is rare in the space. Usually, you know, when you're thinking of case comps, usually see them at a university level. But then, of course, you know, you've been part of boost and boost next, which you're running. So you're doing a few more things than most people would be doing in the space, that's for sure. But in terms of like McKinsey and CO, and where you want to see yourself in the future, why McKinsey and CO in particular, because for those people who may have only heard of the name, like it's one of those things that in the world of management consulting is quite famous and is up there with you, Goldman Sachs and those kinds of things. But what's the appeal of working for a company like McKinsey and co for you in particular?

Ibrahim  23:46

For me, it's really sort of the brand of McKinsey itself. I don't know about the Western world, but here in the Middle East, like sort of the McKinsey title, like ex McKinsey, or, you know, something like that is like highly respected. I don't remember the exact statistics. But there's a certain amount of unicorns, or certain amount of big startups that were that came out of the Middle East, and the founders were ex McKinsey, or ex BCG, or something like that. So it's really the brand that's attached to McKinsey. And to be really honest, there is no I mean, there is there are a couple of things that are special to McKinsey. But like in general, it's really their brand that they've built up, you know, the reputation in the Middle East, especially that they've built up that I want to associate myself with them for you. 

Podcast Host  24:36

Which University do you think would be top of mind if you're looking at a career in management consulting? I'm going to guess the Ivy's a pretty hot contender for you.

Ibrahim  24:47

Yeah, I believe is definitely a hot contender. Oxford is also a pretty big name out there for management consultants, especially with the Oxford Strategy Group that I hope to be part of if I get it Oxford. But yeah, Harvard, Stanford. I've heard Yale a lot more than Wharton for some reason. But yeah, Yale and Wharton, all these top Ivy League's are on there.

Podcast Host  25:11

Yeah, that's interesting that you bring up like the Oxford Strategy Group, because I think there's a lot of great clubs and organizations within universities that can really help prepare you for a career in these big name companies. So Oxford Strategy Group, What makes you say that, like, have you done much research into them in particular, and know what they do from day to day?

Ibrahim  25:32

Not too specific. But I do remember when I was really obsessed with going to Oxford, I remember doing a lot of research on them. I remember like most of the people in the sort of management area, were not even like business or economics majors. Right. So that's also what I found very interesting.

Podcast Host  25:52

Yeah. So I think that's worth he about for students who want to go down this path is like not just the university you're going to, but what you're going to do at that university outside of the course. Now, what are some of your favorite resources that you think students could also learn from to push them along on this path a bit faster.

Ibrahim  26:10

I don't know something too specific on let's say, analysis or content, but for communication, and listening to this podcast called becoming great calm, there was like a three part episode, just communication and how to become a great communicator. I'm still not like, perfect at it, but I'm working towards it.

Podcast Host  26:30

I guess that whole kind of work ethic from a early stage, you know, when you get into university, and then when you're going for these job interviews, because they are like, so competitive. I think there's a lot of people who say, Oh, I want to be a management consultant, but not really understand the amount of competition that exists for these kinds of roles, because they pay so much really like it can be a pathway to six figure salaries fairly early on in a career. But in any case, what's next for you? You're in high school at the moment, you're doing a lot of different work outside of high school boost necks taking on all these different subjects. How are you finding the last couple of years of high school? Is that going to be a super stressful one for you? Or are you feeling pretty confident with it?


I am pretty confident, but it is pretty stressful as well. Because I have a lot of things on my plate. So I need to start sort of shaving things off and focusing on the important stuff. But yeah, I think I'm set.

Podcast Host  27:28

Nice. And then you're going to be working on your applications to either the US or the UK, or both?

Ibrahim  27:33

Both. Yeah.

Podcast Host  27:34

Both, you're a brave man. Ibrahim, It's been awesome having you on. If students wanted to follow your journey or get in touch, what's the best way to do that?


The best way would be to connect with me on LinkedIn. And I guess I'll leave my LinkedIn or in the show notes. And you you all are welcome to message me and asked me about things. And I'm also happy to even get on a call to help you with maybe your career or what you're thinking of doing maybe management consulting. But yeah, feel free to reach out. Awesome, Abraham.

Podcast Host  28:05

Thanks so much for joining us in the top of the class and I look forward to sharing the episode far and wide.