Strategy Consultant of the Year 2013

Yunus Ozler is a Director at EY and the 2013 MCA Strategy Consultant of the Year. We spoke to him about possible divides in the industry, the challenges in the energy sector, consulting abroad and what he looks for in a team.
How did you start off in management consultancy? What attracted you to the industry?
I joined the industry straight after university and haven’t got out of it since!
Being a typical student I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but, being curious and studious, I knew that a career that would allow me to learn about different things and issues would suit me.
I was also lucky that my university in Turkey was targeted by consultancy firms for graduates. After I graduated in Industrial Engineering and International Economics, I had a number of job offers, and chose consulting to get a broader experience of different sectors and different problems.
You were awarded Strategy Consultant of the Year at this year’s MCA Awards. What do you feel makes a world-class Strategy Consultant?
I have based my career on three principles: insight, influence and integrity.
It is the insight and knowledge of the issues you are working on that brings commercial benefits to your client. People will listen to you if you can provide deep and unique knowledge not just generic ideas. Also, I see it as a big part of what we do that we need to be ahead of the problems that our clients face. Be able to foresee them and work on innovative solutions to tackle them.
The network you build as you progress in your career, the people and organisations that you have around you is also important. It is through that network that you can impact the direction things are going.
Integrity is the way you work with your clients and your team. Strategy consultants are famed to be arrogant and to believe that they hold all the answers. I’d rather build trusted relationships with my clients and understand what they really want to get out of a project.
How important is strategy consulting to the mainstream industry? Do you feel there is a divide in the industry?
In the past you’d almost get strategy consultants on the one side coming up with valued ideas and chunky reports and then implementation consultants on the other.
This divide no longer serves the industry. More often than not you now have the two “camps” working under the same roof, but also the nature of the services that our clients demand from us has changed. Clients are no longer after hefty reports alone that they can put on a shelf; they are looking for help when it comes to implementing the recommendations of that report.
In a way it is a new chapter for the industry and one that creates great opportunities for companies like EY.
You have worked hard at building relationships and having a strong profile in the energy retail sector. What tips would you give to someone trying to raise their profile in their own specific sector?
It comes back to insights and influence. Firstly, have something to say. Have an informed point of view and think about how this can help solve your client’s problems.
Then make sure your views are heard. Use the established relationships that your company has, or even if you are with a not so well connected firm, be proactive and find those external routes that will ensure your views reach the client.
What do you feel are the most important challenges facing the energy sector?
In the UK the main challenge is the damaged relationship between energy providers and the public that slows down the investment needed. In a nutshell what we are faced with at the moment is:
1) The need to secure future energy supplies. Our energy plants and infrastructure are old and can’t generate enough supply for the future. So we need investment to build new ones.
2) Against an increased demand: By 2050 the energy demand in the UK is expected to double. We need to seek ways of reducing the demand through energy efficiency, demand response etc
3) Investment in Renewable energy: To achieve an optimum energy mix and meet increased demand., and doing so in a low carbon and clean way
For all this we need around £200bn worth of investment. Who is going to fund that? A big part of it will have to come from the customers.
So what we need to focus on is repairing that broken relationship and re-establishing trust between the consumer and their energy provider. This debate is still in its infancy, but needs to happen.
What do you look for in a consultancy team? What do you feel is key to a great team environment?
When I put a team together I look for people who are ready to go the extra mile to solve their client’s problems. I also need my team to be good listeners. They need to engage with clients and relate to them.
I also take into account team dynamics: Be competitive but not destructive, ambitious but not envious. Someone who will help and support the team around them.
As well as the UK you have worked as a consultant in both Turkey & Dubai. What differences did you notice in business culture?
Different ways of working in different countries reflect the local culture. The collaborative way of solving problems in the UK, for example, fits in really well within consulting. We make decisions together with people, everyone has a point of view, everyone can share it and our clients do appreciate that.
In Turkey and Dubai you are expected to come up with a solution pretty much on your own. The more you engage with your client, the more you are being perceived as not having answers.
When you work in the Middle East, the UK is seen as best practise. In the UK consulting is a way of coming up with innovative ideas. You have more pressure to come up with innovation and new things.
At the same time when you work in the Middle East you feel like you are solving problems that affect the country and its people. The impact you make is far greater than in the UK and you receive the recognition that goes with it.
What future challenges do you think management consultancy will face?
Is not easy for consulting to measure the impact of our projects and I think it is increasingly becoming a challenge for us. We need to do more to develop ways to measure the impact our projects have and show commitment to the solutions we propose.
We also need to focus on solving tomorrow’s problems. In the past regulatory changes and technology made consulting relevant. To secure the future of our industry we need to start thinking about innovative solutions to new problems.
We also need to get better at articulating why anyone should become a consultant and not join one of these big firms that now use their own people to solve their problems. We have a unique opportunity as consultants to make the working world a better place and that’s what we should focus on.
What advice would you give to people climbing the consultancy career ladder?
From day one I would value every client relationship I build. 10 years down the line those first clients are going to be key people influencing businesses and sectors.
Be open, especially in the early stages of your career. Take up any challenge thrown your way. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty even if a project seems boring to start with! When you start in a project try to see it through. You will build confidence in your ability to lead projectsif you have a broader view of the consulting life cycle.
Put integrity at the heart of everything you do. We need more consultant who can make a difference in building a better working world.