Q&A with Retail Specialist and Consultant Karen K.

Karen K. is a consultant in L.E.K.'s Boston office, having started as an associate in 2009 and having quickly found her way up in the company.  Early in her career, Karen's path wasn't unlike those of her peers in that she experienced case work in a variety of sectors and helped companies make strategic decisions for their futures.

More recently, however, Karen became dedicated to a practice area and now focuses on L.E.K.'s Retail & Consumer Products sectors. I asked Karen the following questions about her path to specialization in retail and what helped to narrow her focus.

1) What led you to management consulting?

Like that of many consultants, mine was a convoluted path to finding my position at L.E.K.. I was a history major in college, a major which generally encourages a strong interest in research and building an argument based on thesis-driven investigations. This, coupled with a completely inexplicable love for Excel that I developed at a young age, led the Boston College Career Center to recommend that I explore consulting. I was drawn in by the descriptions of the field that I read: for those who love problem-solving, research, and analysis on fascinating challenges of well-known companies. When I realized I was having fun going through the case interview process … rather than feeling anxious … I knew I had found the right job!

2) How did you find yourself so interested in the Retail & Consumer Products sector?

Like most associates at L.E.K., I spent my first few years as a generalist exploring the wide variety of sectors and industries L.E.K. works in. As I did so, I found myself increasingly drawn to cases that focused on the consumer and how to improve his / her experience with a company throughout the purchase cycle. In Retail & Consumer Products, I found a very relatable industry where this topic is constantly being evaluated to drive serious change for the companies that choose to consider it. That, coupled with the availability of fantastic data sets to crunch and turn into insights, makes it a fascinating sector on which to focus.

3) When did you decide to specialize (or take more cases in the R&CP sector)?

I increasingly sought cases and conversations with L.E.K.’s experts in the Retail & Consumer Products sector in my associate consultant year, around the 2.5 year mark. By that time, I felt I had been sufficiently exposed to a variety of industries and felt I had gained enough market-wide insight to attempt to dive deeper into an area of focus. After working on a few exciting cases that took me across the country to work with interesting clients and getting the opportunity to work with the members of the Retail & Consumer Products practice in Boston, I sought (and accepted) a dedicated position in the practice at the beginning of my time as a consultant.

4) What is your recommendation for those who want to come into consulting and specialize right away?

One of the many features of consulting – and specifically, consulting with L.E.K. – is the ability to work on many cases that cover a broad spectrum of sectors and industries in a relatively short period of time. There are few, if any, other careers that enable this kind of exposure and I would highly recommend that any incoming associates and consultants take advantage of the opportunity. Consider that truly innovative thinking can often be stimulated by fresh points of view. If you wait to specialize until a few years into your consulting career, once you have gained a wealth of multi-industry / sector experiences, you may really be able to help incumbents think outside the box!

5) What tips can you give those who wish to take on consulting as a career path?

If you want to start down this path, I would recommend finding friends or alumni to talk with to help you determine whether the field fits your development goals and personality. Then investigate the firms to find your ‘fit’ and practice away for your case interviews! Consulting is a wonderful job for those who want to learn a lot and want to learn it fast. Be prepared to work hard every day and to push yourself to improve and reach for the next level. With consulting, you get as much out of it as you are willing to invest. This goes for your working relationships too; as a team-based job, the relationships you develop are some of your best assets.

6) You participated in Inspire. What made you choose to do that? What is the best part about working with Inspire?

As a part of my associate career at L.E.K., I participated in Inspire. Using my skills and talents to give back to my community has always been important to me, and Inspire offered a clear path to being able to do this while still at L.E.K.. As I became more senior, Inspire provided me with the opportunity to take on leadership roles (e.g., executive director) that are difficult to come by for a 24-year old, but enabled me to run a company and see a business more from the perspective of my clients. This perspective and experience has been beyond valuable.

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