‘Do not come to consulting unless you aspire to be a partner’- Ram Periyagaram (Consulting Partner, PwC)

Over twenty four years in the consulting industry with a considerable experience in the US, Mr. Periyagaram, in an interview with the Media Cell, shared his opinions about a variety of topics ranging from the GST to the crash of the China market to big data and its applications in the current context. He also provided valuable insights about survival strategies in the consulting industry which lead us to the question of whether or not to go for consulting sector.


As we speak today with the crash of the China market, what is your take on the current and near term future of the global economy?
In the long term, India needs to be cautious while still being optimistic. However in the short term, I think there is enough economic stability to sustain. And this is necessarily attributed to our RBI governor who has been instrumental in preserving the fundamentals of finance, from the regression standpoint the economy of the banking sector, the currency regulation – everything is under strict supervision and we can be assured that we are in good hands. Having said that, the macroeconomic conditions are still a concern for us, questions persist on decision making, problem solving and how these would impact our country.


How much impact does global economies of Europe, US, China have on the consulting sector?
The consulting market for US, UK, Australia and all such developed countries grow at 3-5% a year and are well matured and advanced. Acceptability of consulting is better because consultants are viewed as a means of addressing business problems and helping in the derivation of business values as opposed to the Indian scenario which needs some catching up in this context.


In today’s competitive scenario, how significant is the role of ethics in an organization?                            Ethics is a centerpiece in any organization. Without ethics you cannot build relationships, you cannot generate trust and you cannot create a brand value. Today PwC as a brand could come out of the Satyam scam because our fundamentals are very strong and a few tainted folks could not tarnish the time tested worth that PwC stands for. Other firms might have collapsed completely in such a situation.


What is your say about GST considering that PwC is working closely with the Central Govt. in this?
According to my speculation, GST might not be rolled out until next year. I think it will bring huge opportunities for supply chain management consulting as well as in the tax advisory services. For example suppose I have started my business in Kerala and later I extended it to Ahmedabad, and all this while I did not apply my mind prudently about what can be the best network for providing services to my clients in Pune and Nasik since I had factories set up in Ahmedabad and Kerala. How GST helps in this context is, it allows you to take a step back and analyze holistically as to how to take advantage of the tax structure, how to rationalize and optimize the network of logistics, so as to service goods effectively in a consolidated way, which thus opens up opportunities for consulting firms for implementing this change.


Consulting has been one of the most coveted jobs in b-schools as compared to marketing, finance or operations. What do u think can be a plausible reason for that?There can be two reasons behind this – either the students know about it or they don’t know about it. As far as I have seen, nine out of ten people have no idea about consulting, it seems to them that this sector is different from the others and they dive for it. But when they come and join, they find it to be entirely different from what they had perceived. I feel, consulting is not for everyone and if one does not aspire to be a partner in a consulting firm, one shouldn’t get into consulting. The path to become a partner is difficult too, as it requires a certain amount of attitude, strength of character, discipline, passion and aggression and one should have ample clarity about one’s strengths and weaknesses.


So what all skillsets are required to sustain in the consulting domain?
A person needs to have an inherent knack for problem solving and this means coming up with not just one, but three to four solutions for each problem. The thought process for taking up problem solving should be fundamental and voluntary. Also articulating the problem statement and approach to the solution to the client in a way that suits the agenda of both the stakeholders is a major concern. My challenge is to ensure that my company gets the deal and not my competition, and the client’s concern is that he has to trust on my company’s ability and capability to provide an optimized solution to the business problem. So this extend I need to tell and sell my story.
So ideally having analytical skills, a problem solving mentality, clarity in communication and the ability to think on the fly are some of the key traits required to survive in the consulting domain.


If someone is averse to travelling and would rather prefer doing a desk job, then should he/she be recommended for consulting?
Not necessarily, but then reiterating on what I said earlier, success in consulting firms comes to those who can learn, adapt and progress with the traits I mentioned, including flexibility to travel and being open minded.


What are the characteristics that you look for in an individual while recruitment?                                       During recruitment, we look at the attitude and intent of the individual and the level of curiosity and aggression that is displayed by him/her. We try to find out whether he/she has been involved in solving problems, either in professional or personal life. Overall, we try to judge a person on the basis of the characteristics mentioned earlier to figure out whether he/she is suited for the organization.


Is there a predominance of big data based projects in the consulting sector?
Having gathered ample experience in data analytics, my take on big data is, it is a myth, it is a hype. People use the term ‘big data’ right, left and center, like a few years back, when people used to say “transformation” for everything they wanted to do. In India at least, any industry is trying to rechristen whatever they are doing to big data. The situation is something like this: you are in a room crowded with executives, the world is filled with a buzz about big data and none of them want to admit that they are not doing anything related to big data, whereas in reality they are actually doing something with data. Big data is a myth and a misnomer in the sense that, you don’t have real use cases in the industry. From whatever little I have understood about the theoretical aspect of big data, it is about the volume, the velocity, and the variety of data. But one needs to find a real business use case where all these can be optimized. Say for example, the telecom industry has large customer data and I want to analyze text messages. Now what is the benefit of analyzing this to the company? Does the company really want to invest in this project from the ROI point of view? Typically R&D is the only sector to address such cases but the depth and purpose of research remains unjustified if there are no industrial test cases available for application.


How can someone be equipped with the necessary skillsets required to be retained in the consulting sector?
My suggestion is to pick one or two good industry mentors for guiding you professionally. These will be the people who would back you and with whom you can be open and honest. Once or twice a year you can share insights about how your career is going and try to extract some feedback and suggestions for improvement. It will also add to your benefit if these leaders are well recognized in the industry. Nowadays most of the companies allocate buddies or mentors but according to me these mentors should preferably be someone from the industry, someone outside your organization.


How has your career progressed to have brought you at the helm of an internationally acclaimed firm like PwC?
My career has progressed by learning and adapting based on many failures that I have gone through. I was in the US for around ten years and while it offered me great perspective about the consulting world, on retrospect I feel that at that time, I was not prepared for it. I was unaware of what I was keen to do and I lacked the seriousness and maturity to assimilate the mantras of having a career in consulting. However, with time, I learnt by keeping myself updated and connecting with the real world.


What are the readings that you would suggest to an MBA student?
Consulting is a knowledge based industry, and you have to find for yourself the domain in which you have your passion and interest towards. For example, some people like manufacturing because they have family business, and they can understand and relate the various facets. Likewise, if you know what you are good at, if you align your thoughts towards a particular area of interest, delve deeper into it. Learn about the fundamentals of those domains so well and deep that you become a master. For example, if you are interested in banking, you have to know not just traditional banking systems, but about the current vital trends in banking like payments, credit cards, digitalization in banking etc. You need to be inquisitive and find out what are the use cases which are vital in the global as well as Indian markets and you need to study those use cases.


How do you think a professional degree in management helps in consulting?                                                 See, there is no straight line route from where you start to where you want to end your career. Because, many external factors are involved in your career advancement. A management degree definitely enhances you with the skillset that might be required to be a good consultant. But along with that, you need to introspect, ideally after every three years, and evaluate where you are, whether you are good for the company, whether the company is good for you and based on that realign your career path and progress towards your objective.


Any message for IIM-K students.                                                                                                                                         When you are appearing for the recruitment process, do lot of due diligence, surprise them by showing that you know more about the company than what they say. Secondly, have this problem solving mindset and know how to present your story to the client. Today, my failure is when my daughter asks me what I do for my living, I am at a loss of words, if I tell her I solve business problems, she would not be able to relate to that. Likewise, develop the skill to articulate your thoughts with clarity and to present that in a way in which the audience is able to connect to it.


Interview conducted by Noel and Tushaar – Media Cell, IIM Kozhikode