How Roland Berger helps young strategy consultants learn fast

08 April 2021 6 min. read

The strategy consulting sector is renowned for its steep learning curve and entrepreneurial spirit. Junior Consultants Jana Farhat and Sidar Alagoz both work at Roland Berger in the Middle East – they spoke with about their experiences in the industry and with the firm.

The consulting industry is one of the most popular among graduates looking to jump-start their post-academic careers. According to one estimate from Universum, between 15% to 20% of graduates worldwide would love to enter the industry – with challenging work, compelling projects, a diversity of industries and clients all being cited as reasons for heading into consulting.

In particular, many of the best and brightest graduates are drawn to the strategy segment of the consulting sector. According to Sidar, a Junior Consultant with Roland Berger, life at the firm has already imbued him with a wealth of knowledge which will serve him well throughout his career. Having initially studied in Italy, beginning his Masters in London led to an encounter with a Roland Berger partner at a recruitment event, and the rest soon fell into place.

Jana Farhat and Sidar Alagoz, Roland Berger

He explained, “We had a nice chat about politics, different industries, and suddenly I realised that I wanted to be part of the firm. This was different from the other recruitment events I had been to. I was really engaged, and I want simply to be in a place where I am engaged all the time.”

Sidar initially studied finance and economics, then financial analysis, and confesses to still being “deeply in love with financial statements,” however, he soon realised that life with a strategy consulting firm would equip him with a different skill-set that could compliment that knowhow. Thanks to the challenging work and big responsibilities Roland Berger hands to young consultants, he has already started to develop these abilities.

“I enjoy being entrepreneurial,” he elaborated, “navigating ambiguity by finding my own solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in the economy and society. Strategy consulting gives you these responsibilities early on, in your 20s, and teaches all these skills to you in a rigorous fashion.”

Learning curve

Jana started with Roland Berger on the same day as Sidar, in September 2019. Having initially joined as an Intern while studying at the American University of Beirut, she was offered a job upon graduating, and is now a Junior Consultant with the firm. Similarly, she was quick to enjoy the benefits of the steep learning curve.

She expanded, “I learned about the Middle East, about regulations, public entities, about how things work there, before specialising in certain industries. I have been learning a lot about healthcare for example, the main pillars, dynamics, governance, and more.”

Meanwhile, the spell at Roland Berger has enabled her to build skills in strategic analysis and financial modelling – “I studied mechanical engineering – so everything I have learned related to ‘business’ has come from my time with Roland Berger.”

As well as on-the-job learning, Roland Berger’s close-knit team has supported both Jana and Sidar with extensive training as well. After kick-off training which lasted a week, side training then commences at varying intervals, with experienced consultants offering new recruits skills or industry training. Meanwhile, new members are encouraged to ask questions regularly to pick up best practices from their surrounding team members – something Jana said is “the way we learn the most.”

At the same time, the firm’s entrepreneurial spirit means that team members are encouraged to develop training sessions on new trends which they think might shape the future of their work. According to Sidar, this can help give employees an edge with future work, even if current projects do not involve such trends.

“This is a company where you can come, take the stand, speak and no-one will try to block you – there are no hundred-page manuals,” he asserted. “You say, ‘I want to do it,’ and you can go out there and do the training. For instance, a colleague of ours put on a training for sustainable finance, directed by himself – and he’d only been in the firm for one year.”

“I’m convinced that this is a unique feat at Roland Berger – and this a major aspect I like about the firm. The firm’s consultants all enjoy an intellectual challenge and are pragmatic and open in how they share knowledge with team members.”

Lockdown connections

The formerly travel-intensive consulting industry relied heavily on in-person work prior to the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, many firms initially struggled with the transition to remote working; however, Roland Berger soon managed to adapt to the ‘new normal.’

Jana noted, “When the pandemic first hit, it was difficult, especially for our clients, who had to cope with being offline. In my case for example, I was on an implementation project and the client would really appreciate the team being on the ground, which we couldn’t – however we quickly came up with a contingency plan; a really structured way on how to manage an implementation project remotely.”

In terms of internal life with Roland Berger, meanwhile, the firm was also aware that it would need to quickly shift to maintain its networks of support and knowledge sharing on a remote basis. The company started having bi-weekly office calls, and so instead of the pre-Covid-19 era meetings and office lunches, the company used these remote sessions to update teams about the business, the pandemic and travel, while confirming what could still be expected of staff, and offering support to help them meet those demands.

According to Sidar, the crisis may have actually brought out the very best from the firm. On the project side, “we are consultants – we are agile! Put us into a difficult position and we can still succeed,” he argued, before suggesting as people felt “these are hard times, we need to deliver more” they had pushed harder for their clients. On the team-building side, meanwhile, Roland Berger did a thorough job of protecting its entrepreneurial and supportive culture.

“We were each given an allowance to build a home-office space,” Sidar continued. “At the same time, we tried to make the office available [for those who could not work at home] by keeping measures really strict – so in a healthy way people could visit the office to not lose the touch. And through various events we stayed connected.

Roland Berger quickly adapted the communication and made the shift to working remotely smooth for its members, focusing on enabling a connection with both clients as well as colleagues. As Jana said, “we have links between different people, regardless of seniority, and we keep in touch to make sure we are feeling well and supported. We have a hybrid approach to things now, which will go forward even in the post-Covid-19 era.”

Founded in 1967, Roland Berger is the largest European-origin strategy consulting firm.