Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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Can a consultant choose “high class homelessness”? Part 1 …

Posted by Rishiray on April 5, 2010


Being a traveling consultant means that one has access to myriad of travel and lodging options that most people with 9 to 5 jobs will never have

  • Hotel lodging paid for by clients
  • Per-diems that pay for your meals and incidentals
  • Flex-travel options that allow one to fly off to another city instead of flying home as a benefit and no cost
  • Corporate apartments
  • Frequent flier miles allowing even more travel to exotic locales
  • Hotel points/programs that also allow more free accommodation in 4 or 5 star hotels or a fraction of the going rate
  • Always getting upgraded at your hotels and flights

Many consultants look at the option of maintaining a home as “wasted money” since some consultants can be at home for a total of 5 days of the month. Sometimes I used to think that “I’m tired of wasting money, I could rent a storage locker, change my permanent mailing address to a friend’s place and live in hotels”. For a long time, when I got home, I would spend most of my time running errands, cleaning the place and paying bills. Up to mid-2008, it was completely possible for me to pack a huge suitcase at the hotel I was staying at for work, use a small weekend carry-on suitcase and go visit friends on weekends and not go back home to Toronto for weeks.

Like everything, there is a high price for this “upper class homelessness”, in that one becomes disconnected from their friends and family. Being in a normal relationship where you see your boyfriend/girlfriend on a daily or even weekly basis becomes next to impossible. The allure of the road and the possibilities of new and exciting places that beckon on weekends becomes irresistible – for a while.

For a long time, home was wherever I could connect online, yet I continued to pay almost $2,000 monthly (rent + bills) for an apartment in downtown Toronto. When I did the cost-benefit analysis, it was like I was paying $400 a night to sleep in my downtown apartment and store all the stuff I accumulated.

So is “upper class homelessness” really an option?
Well a couple years ago, upper class homelessness was a quite viable option for me, yet I never went head first into it and become completely nomadic – simply because I was raised in a culture where everyone had a home and I was in a phase where I was still interested in accumulating “stuff” to increase my social collateral. Today, I’m in my early 30’s, traveling full time and being nomadic isn’t that interesting anymore – I like coming home to my place, downloading and watching  movies, cooking a meal and seeing my friends (when I can).  That being said, I still love the travel aspect and the flex weekends to some exotic locale but after a while, you still want to come home to a significant other – if just to tell them your stories and know they care 🙂

“It’s hard to maintain two lives as a consultant, one at home and one on the road,” said Shelby Clark, who worked as an analyst for Mercer, the consulting business of Marsh & McLennan Cos.

He should know. After getting posted to a project in Mexico City, Clark crammed his “life” into two suitcases and rented out his Chicago apartment.

“Traveling on the weekend lets you have just one life, the one at work, and then do some amazing stuff on weekends,” he said.

Jie Yu is based out of Accenture’s New York office. She is currently assigned to a project in Des Moines, Iowa. So she stored her furniture at her parents’ home in Brooklyn and travels nearly every weekend to visit her boyfriend in Chicago or to relax in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. She said many of her colleagues were likewise traveling full-time rather than sinking money into rent.

“We call ourselves the nomads,” said Yu, 23, a graduate of Northwestern University. “You get addicted to accumulating free points for flying, hotels.”

I even went through the process of a “pros and cons” question list to figure out whether it would make sense to become nomadic – I figured if I answered “Yes” to all of these questions, then I should go the nomadic route.

  1. Are you on the road more than home?
  2. Has your main residence become more of a storage unit than home?
  3. Do you have dry cleaning waiting for you to pick up in multiple places?
  4. Are you seeking comfort in your new locale – just a feel of hometown cooking, or similar?
  5. Are you looking to get a good local feel for where you are headed before you get there?
  6. When someone asks you where do you live, do you have to think about for a couple seconds … or do you say “What do you mean by LIVE?

Unfortunately, I could never say Yes, to question 4 … I liked being in a new locale, but it was a comfort to go back to my old locale in Toronto. That being said being a consultant, isn’t all that great either .. the following gem of a post from the Corporate Whore details the week of a new consultant – enjoy… I’ll have to continue the homelessness post in Part 2

A week in the life of a consultant bitch (courtesy of Booz Allen Hamilton)

*Edit
It would seem that the profile of Mr. Booz Consultant has been removed from the newly formed Booz&Co. How fortunate that the analysis of his profile took place prior to his profile demotion.
*

“Many people claim to hate Mondays.”

Claim? Sadomasochism must be rife in Booz. I don’t know anybody that enjoys waking up around 5am. However, I assume there must be a few that have no social life outside work, sleep at 9pm on a Sunday evening, refreshed for the 5am start.

“The fun and relaxation of the weekend ends all too abruptly and is replaced by the depressing monotony of a car/train/bus journey to the office. However such regularity is rare, if not non-existent, in the life of a Booz Allen consultant.”

The regularity is replaced by an unwavering sense of despair, deriding your youthful innocence thinking that YOU really could make a difference to your client’s business. Forget the seasoned professionals, forget the MBA grads, it’s your uniqueness and distinct view of the world that will shape the organisation of tomorrow.
Somehow, 5am starts did not factor in your plans of saving multinational organisations.

“During my two years at the firm, most Monday mornings have involved a early trip … ”

A early trip? I’m usually very forgiving of grammatical errors (no doubt I’ve fallen prey on many occasion), however, Mr. Booz consultant, if you and your firm are vying to be recognised in the same ranks as MBB, then you’ll need to dodge these school-boy errors.

“… to Heathrow. Cab at 5.45am, automatic check-in machine, shoes off and laptop out for security check, one ham, cheese and tomato croissant (or two if I’m feeling especially daring), … “

Two croissants is your idea of daring? Would I also be correct in assuming that Jeeves also drove the “cheap” Benz to collect you from boarding school when mummy and daddy were away skiing? Or do you model your daily calorific intake? God forbid what that extra croissant will do to your model! You might even have to create a new pivot table in light of such an occurrence!

“ … and a couple of hours’ sleep on the flight to Munich, Geneva, Barcelona or wherever the week’s work takes me…”

Mr. Booz consultant was instructed to include this line by Ms. HR colleague, hoping to attract prospective analysts with the “wonders” of international travel and also subtly attempting to tease the notion that they’ll be able to visit local sites, exploring the culture of a foreign location, all whilst being expensed to the client. HA!
The reality is more sobering; wake at 7:30am, arrive on site by 8.30, 20 minute lunch break at your laptop, work til 11pm, back to hotel, repeat.

“But this is where any routine element abruptly ceases. Once you have landed, the mind has to switch immediately to the reason you are here: the client.”

The demanding, narcissistic, bastard of a client. You’ll grow to despise the client almost as much as you despise yourself at 5.01am on a Monday morning when the alarm has disturbed your brief nirvana.

“Once at the client’s office ­—where we spend approximately 75% of our time … “

Read: 99% of our waking time, the other 1% being journeys to/from client site.

“ … the activities are always varied. One’s level at the firm, the client’s industry, the functional work stream and your specific role within the team are just some of the factors that will determine how you spend your days.”

Lies, regardless of your level (bitch), client industry (you won’t care), functional work stream (anything but IT), specific role (bitch) you’ll spend your day exploring the wonders of Microsoft Office products, namely PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook.

“The regular ‘value-chain’ of activities that we enjoy are client meetings and workshops (clarifying what the problem actually is), doing practical or computer-based analysis (working out the answer), and writing and making presentations (stating the answer).”

You enjoy client meetings where you’re bent over and anally raped, then forced to remain on site until midnight each and every night? Workshops are boring, you won’t be clarifying much. You’ll be taking notes. You took notes at uni, it was shit back then, it will be shit when you know you’re in some way being judged on the quality of your notes. At an amazing stretch, writing and making presentations can be fun the first time and for the first draft. When it’s 10:30pm and your 7th draft has been returned asking for you to scrape and synthesise some obscure data from a data source that may not exist, the fun is removed and has been fully replaced by a sense of hopelessness.

“Working hand-in-hand with the client, you are truly brought into their world.”

Their world that ends at 5:30pm. You’re brought in and teased with images of a sanguine lifestyle.

“Suddenly your ability to understand their challenges improves exponentially, and consequently the enjoyment that you take from the experience also dramatically increases.”

Suddenly? Where did it “suddenly” come from? You don’t understand their challenges. You learn to bullshit just enough so that everyone (apart from your consulting colleagues) is mystified. The enjoyment only comes from having the knowledge that you know nothing and escaped, leaving the client thinking you had a true grasp of their challenges. Mr. Booz consultant 1, client 167.

“Unlike other firms, our consultants do not simply write a presentation from our offices in London, give it to the partner and let them present it to the client.”

No, you write presentations from their offices, expense the journey and related shenanigans and bill the client for it. The partner still does the presenting.

“Instead we get stuck in, working with the client’s in-house experts to come up with the most appropriate solution, tailoring our recommendations to the nuances of their situation.”

Tailoring involves little more than ensuring the correct client name has been appended to the standard deck.

“It is this breadth of service that makes your time at Booz Allen so special – one minute you are writing a high-level strategic recommendation for the CEO, and the next moment you are trying to implement it on the ground – which are both fantastic challenges.”

Simply put, no they are not. These are consulting lies at their best. You as an analyst won’t be writing much for the CEO. You as an analyst will be cursing all and sundry; from your firm, your colleagues, the CEO, his mother, mistress and daughter.

“The hours can be long, but there is no ‘face-time’ culture – when you are finished, you leave the office. Evenings away from home normally involve some sort of team dinner or activity, giving you a chance to discuss things other than ‘line 45 in Excel’; and this is the setting where some wonderful friendships are forged. The importance of team-bonding should never be underestimated, as it makes the work much easier – cultural and personal barriers are soon broken down over a Caesar salad and a bottle of Corona. If you are going to spend a considerable amount of time with your colleagues, then it is imperative that they are good people.”

The hours are very long, be prepared to cancel anything in your social calendar that could even remotely clash with the client and any of their requirements. There may be no explicit face-time culture, but you dare not leave at 6pm. You’ll find your team a collection A-type backstabbing wankers. Out of the office, you’re forced to engage with them as you don’t want the label of the social misfit. Even when you do meet up, you find you’re interests are so dissimilar that the discussion will eventually turn to ‘line 45 in Excel’ and for a lengthy period of time, longer than anyone should spend discussing Excel. You will be spending a lot of time with your team and you’ll curse the person responsible for staffing you on a project full of arseholes.

“Fortunately, and I say this with great sincerity, Booz Allen is crammed full of them.”

No dispute there, arseholes aplenty!

“With Wednesday or Thursday afternoon comes the return flight to London. Shoes off and laptop out for security, quick drink in the lounge, and recharge the body with an in-flight meal. Once back in London it is time to catch up with friends and loved ones. Booz Allen’s tremendous diversity of people is reflected in the variety of ways that they spend their free time.”

You won’t escape before Friday afternoon. Diversity means 60% Oxbridge, 30% Imperial/LSE with 10% from ‘international pastures’

“Despite the energy and enjoyment one takes from working with clients, Fridays tend to offer a much deserved change of pace in your home office. It provides the opportunity to catch up with colleagues (both socially and on internal issues), carry out many of the administrative tasks that cannot be done from the team room in Helsinki or wherever, and of course, enjoy the Friday evening drinks trolley…a lovely tradition that brings an end to the week in truly great fashion.”

The Friday evening drinks trolley is a sham. After spending the week with your “great” colleagues, you won’t want to spend any more time with them than is necessary. You’ll leave the office and drink yourself into a stupor to forget the week you’ve just had. Or an equally morose task of completing chores that you couldn’t attend to whilst on client site. The weekend rolls by far too quickly, Monday morning returns and the alarm clock wakes you from your temporary nirvana, you curse yourself and begin the cycle again.

Some great consultant lifestyle articles:

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