Laura Marsden Payne
If you had told me when I was at university that I’d end up as a Management Consultant in Procurement, I would have stared at you blankly, wondered what that means, and how someone would possibly know that’s something they want to do. Even now when someone asks me what I do, my stock answer is usually “we go into companies and help them buy things better” – a response that only really scratches the surface of the super interesting and diverse activities I do in my role at Efficio.
Management Consulting was not on my radar when I graduated from Oxford University in 2016 – honestly, I became a little overwhelmed by my peers snapping up incredible-sounding graduate roles before they’d even finished their studies. I decided to focus on doing my best in my Modern Languages degree, and that the job market could wait until I wasn’t up to my eyeballs in revision.
I remember feeling a bit self-conscious at my graduation listening to all the impressive things my friends were doing – looking back, I wish I’d realised that there’s no need to judge yourself against others’ successes: everyone is on their own path. I spent a gap year teaching and decided to apply for graduate schemes related to my absolute favourite thing: food.
My first role was on a leading retailer’s commercial graduate scheme, in the most clichéd millennial job I could have landed: Avocado Buyer. I was thrown in at the deep end, heading up a category worth £68 million – negotiating prices with suppliers, devising the long-term sourcing strategy and planning ranges/promotions.
My second role involved ensuring products were safe, legal and ethically sourced – invaluable in teaching me the importance of collaborative supplier relationships. After two years I felt I was coming to a bit of a crossroads – I found ‘buying’ fascinating and knew the skills I’d learnt would be applicable in other industries, but I didn’t really know where to start.
This is when one of my friends suggested I look into a company called Efficio, a management consultancy that helps clients identify, deliver, and sustain improvement opportunities in their supply chain and procurement processes. Overcoming my negative self-talk that a management consultancy would never be interested in taking me on (they only go for Economists, Engineers and other STEM grads, right?) – I shot off my CV. The rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve been with Efficio for nearly 18 months now and have already worked across a broad range of industries. I started off in our Digital team on a secondment, using new skills in SQL and Tableau to build dashboards to help our clients visualise spend. I then moved on to work with a client in the Oil & Gas sector to devise its Supplier Relationship Management programme, using my first-hand experience in SRM to apply a practical lens to supplier engagement.
More recently I’ve been working in the Public Sector, leading the development of multiple end-to-end category strategies. I also still get to be involved in the Food industry through the Efficio Food Practice (an industry interest group). This means I advise project teams and participate in business development opportunities in the sector, pitching our services to prospective clients. My industry experience has been invaluable and is hugely respected by my colleagues, despite the fact I am one of the more junior members of the company.
There are, of course, challenges in consulting work – it is a fast-paced environment with very high standards, and weekly travel to the client site can be tiring, as much as it is good fun and great for team bonding (obviously in the current climate this isn’t so relevant!).
When life returns to normality, I hope to be staffed on one of our many projects abroad so I can use my French and Spanish language skills: something that Efficio really values. It is so rewarding helping our clients become more efficient and working alongside incredibly bright people from all over the world – I’ve already learnt so much in my short time in consulting, and I feel well supported in my progression by my team.
If I could offer any words of advice to people early in their career, it would be not to worry too much about whether you fit the “mould” of the stereotypical Management Consultant profile. You haven’t missed the boat if you didn’t jump on a graduate scheme straight out of university, and the skills and experience you can glean from time in industry can give you a valuable professional differentiator. In a sector in which you’re constantly interacting with a range of people, diversity is paramount – so take a gamble and put yourself out there!