Lee Kuan Yew – Statesman or Autocrat?

Lee Kuan YewWE were saddened to learn of the passing of Lee Kuan Yew last Monday. Harry is recognised as the founding father of modern Singapore and, from the time he was sworn in as Prime Minister in 1959, played a central role in building the fledgling city state into an Asian Tiger economy.

Having spent a week in Singapore in late 2013 with an Oxford classmate and his family, your author witnessed firsthand the level of respect and admiration that many Singaporeans feel for Lee Kuan Yew.

Under his stewardship Singapore’s GDP enjoyed a meteoric rise from less than US$450 per capita to more than US$55,000, lifting Singapore from third world to first in a single generation. Singapore was once a small colonial fishing village with limited natural resources and today its economy is the envy of the world.

In show of support to our Singaporean friends we posted some articles on Facebook and lamented the passing of a great man. To our surprise, one of our friends in London tersely responded “I guess we’ll just gloss over the fact he was an autocrat as long as the economy did well.”

A slightly unfriendly comment, we thought, given that Lee Kuan Yew had just recently passed away. However, over the course of last week it became increasingly clear that many people in the West hold mixed or unfavourable views of the way in which Lee Kuan Yew ran Singapore.

With Singapore suffering race riots in 1964, and being forced to leave Malaysia in 1965, Lee maintained stability by curtailing certain civil liberties: quotas on public housing to ensure racial integration, restrictions on inflammatory speech to limit racial tensions, and harsh penalties for lawbreaking extending even so far as to place a ban on chewing gum. His People’s Action Party maintained a continuous and firm grip on power, in part thanks to Lee’s strong arm tactics which included imprisoning political opponents and launching defamation suits to pacify the media.

On the one hand, Lee championed racial equality and instituted policies that helped income levels rise by two orders of magnitude; a remarkable achievement which roused the interest of China and many other governments who sent research teams to study Singapore as a model economy.

On the other hand, Lee used draconian laws and sometimes ruthless tactics to maintain a firm grip on power largely unopposed. Lee may have been a statesman, but he appears to have been an autocrat too.

How can we reconcile these two contrasting views of Lee Kuan Yew? And do we even need to? Is it a problem if Lee was both a statesman and an autocrat?

Well, depending on how you look at it, potentially yes.

A key part of the problem seems to be that Lee’s economic success has been used by less scrupulous authoritarian regimes (Russia for example) in order to legitimise their strongman politics.  These regimes have used Lee as a central character in a slightly troubling counter narrative that conflicts with the Western ideal of liberal democracy; a form of government that protects the rights of the individual and supports fair elections, freedom of the press, separation of powers and the rule of law.

We will leave it for others to discuss at length the political ramifications of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy. However, given his success in building Singapore’s economy, it might pay for us to consider his approach.  What lessons can business leaders learn from the life of Lee Kuan Yew?

There are many things that could be said, but we want to highlight just three leadership lessons that jump out at us.

  1. Focus on others: Lee saw the opportunity to build Singapore as the chance of a lifetime. It appears to have been his constant focus. While many autocrats and democratically elected leaders pursue power for its own sake, and are largely self-regarding and self-serving, Lee’s thoughts appear to have been always on Singapore. He believed in something larger than himself.
  2. Work hard: Different leaders have different ideas about how to pursue prosperity, for example Russia appears to quite enjoy annexing land. A key factor which distinguished Lee’s leadership was his belief in the need for hard work and self-reliance. He believed that everyone should be afforded an equal opportunity to do well regardless of the person’s race or religion.
  3. Think long term but be pragmatic: Lee had a long term vision for Singapore and combined this with a pragmatic approach to solving problems and getting things done. He had a clear understanding of the geostrategic landscape and an ability to communicate with and gain the cooperation of more powerful players like America and China. He looked internationally to find solutions that could be applied in Singapore, and took active steps to recruit Singapore’s best and brightest students to work for his government.

Below is a letter which expresses British PM David Cameron’s sentiments on the passing of Lee Kuan Yew:

Letter from 10 Downing Street

(Image sources: Flickr and Straits Times)

Researching Consulting Firms

Research 2

(Source: Flickr)

IN this post we look at researching consulting firms.

Why, how and what should you research?

Below we provide some ideas to help make your research as effective and efficient as possible.

1. Why should you research?

Take control of your career. Researching consulting firms doesn’t just help you prepare your application and improve your interview performance, it will also help you decide whether you are really interested in pursuing a career in the consulting industry.

The objective is to get a job offer. This point sounds obvious, however it can be easy to take your eyes off the prize.

Researching consulting firms will help you figure out which firms suit your personality and career goals and will significantly improve your interview performance.

It is important to show a genuine interest. Being knowledgeable about the consulting industry and the firm for which you are applying is an easy way to demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in the consulting industry.

It is important to remember that, regardless of your university grades, the firm will need to spend a lot of money training you. A consulting firm does not want to hire people who are not keen to be there.

Keep the stress levels down. Being well informed can help to lower your stress levels. For example, if you have done your homework, questions like “Why do you want to work here?” and “What is it about our firm that interests you?” should not faze you in the slightest.

2. How should you research?

Talk to people. The best source of information about a consulting firm is from people who have had direct contact with the firm. Talk with current and former employees, friends who have gone through the interview process or the firm’s HR personnel.

Read the firm website. Every candidate will read the firm website, and so this is necessary but by no means sufficient. The amount of information that a firm provides on its website will vary but this will at least be a good starting point.

Read widely. The more you know about the economy, different industry sectors and the management consulting industry, the better.

3. What should you research?

Know the company basics. Having an understanding of the firm to which you are applying will demonstrate your knowledge, professionalism and interest in the consulting industry. Basic information that you should know includes:

  • The firm’s background,
  • Services and industry sectors,
  • Key office locations,
  • Recent media mentions, and
  • Key factors that distinguish the firm from its competitors.

When researching consulting firms, ask yourself questions such as:

  1. What services does the firm offer?
  2. Which industry sectors does the firm serve?
  3. How many employees does the firm have? How many offices?
  4. Does the firm offer a formal training program?
  5. How much partner contact and client contact can junior consultants expect?
  6. What are the typical working hours? What is the firm’s travel model? Is it possible to transfer between offices?
  7. At what level of experience are consultants required to specialize by service and industry sector?
  8. How are consultants reviewed? Does the firm have an “up or out” policy?
  9. How many positions is the firm looking to fill? How does that compare with previous intakes?
  10. What exit opportunities do the firm’s consultants typically pursue?

Understand how the firm interviews. In addition to learning about the firm, you should also find out about its interview process. What qualities are they looking for in applicants? How many interview rounds are there? Do they ask case questions? Does the firm put an emphasis on asking questions with a numerical component?

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Conversation with Partners in Performance

Partners in Performance 5WE were grateful for the recent opportunity to talk with Amanda Melo, recruitment manager at Partners in Performance.

Partners in Performance is a global management consulting firm and we were interested to learn more about the firm and its recruitment process.

Please read the edited transcript of our discussion with Amanda below. This will be of particular interest for students and recent graduates who are looking to pursue a career in the management consulting industry.

Tom: Partners in Performance started in Australia in 1996, and is now a global consulting firm with over 300 consultants and is growing at over 30% per annum. From your website I understand that PIP serves clients in Australasia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America and South America. Where are your current office locations?

Amanda MeloAmanda: PIP is one of the world’s most highly regarded consulting firms and is growing quickly. The firm has a global footprint with offices in Sydney, Dublin, Johannesburg, Atlanta and Chile. PIP Consultants spend most of their time on site with the client. We enjoy being hand-to-hand with our clients which they love, and our commitment to clients lasts well after we are done on site.

Tom: PIP appears to offer a broad range of services including Coaching & Training, Operations & Maintenance, as well as Strategy. Where does the firm do the bulk of its work?

Amanda: We work with our clients on four main types of engagements:

  1. Business Improvement – We help clients to earn more, spend less, and do things more efficiently in their current operations;
  2. Sourcing – We help clients buy things better: better price, better service and better products for the job;
  3. Capital Projects – We help clients to earn more, spend less, and do things more efficiently in planned new operations; and
  4. Commercial Due Diligence – We help clients with investment decisions by identifying commercial risks & opportunities in a business and its market.

Each engagement can involve one or more of the services you mentioned.

Tom: For all of the hopeful yet discerning graduates out there, what would you say distinguishes PIP from other management consulting firms?

Amanda: We believe PIP is the best career option if you truly want to implement results, as opposed to making recommendations. Our clients value practical, implemented solutions over elegant theory or advice. At PIP, you will personally impact the client’s bottom line, you will learn how to make companies more valuable over time, you will accumulate tangible experience tied to delivering results and develop your own personal results story – a story which will help you achieve your long-term career goals at PIP or beyond. PIP people are smart, but not interested in being the smartest guys in the room. We are pragmatic, collaborative, fun and humble.

Tom: In which regions are you currently hiring?

Amanda: We are looking for graduates and post-graduates on every continent. We are looking for driven people who are passionate about results and are not afraid of rolling up their sleeves and digging in.

Tom: Can you tell me a little bit about your interview process?

Amanda: We look for strong problem solvers, and believe that the best way to assess that skill is by providing candidates with a real business problem. A qualified PIP Consultant will give you a business problem and ask you to solve it live. This allows us to better understand your ability to think on your feet, to be creative, to communicate your ideas and to drive towards fact-based answers. Additionally, we also give you the opportunity to share your challenges, deliverables and achievements from your past experiences as well as your career drivers and passions. It’s a two-way conversation, and our team of interviewers will share with you information about our business, our career path, people and culture. It’s very important to us that you understand what being a Piper means and that you get connected with our purpose and beliefs.

Tom: What’s the most common mistake that candidates make during the interview process?

Amanda: “Talk first think second”, jumping into hypothesis generation and problem solving immediately without structuring the problem or asking clarifying questions is the most common pitfall.

Tom: What kind of training and mentoring programs does the firm offer for graduates?

Amanda: All new hires receive two weeks of training on the PIP consulting toolkit and methodologies within their first month of joining. The program involves modules that have been developed by and will be presented by PIP consultants. The tools you will learn equip you to work on engagements and on the job coaching is provided by peers and Managers on every new engagement.  Within your first 3 months of employment you will shadow another peer to learn what is required in your day-to-day role; we have formalized this process and the program is ‘The apprenticeship model’. All employees are provided with a development leader (mentor) who is jointly responsible for your professional development and will help you achieve your career objectives.

Tom: What is the firm’s travel model?

Amanda: Our consultants typically work on the client site from Monday to Friday. Potential candidates should expect heavy travel days.

Tom: Does PIP employ an ‘up or out’ policy?

Amanda: PIP’s requirement for BA/Associate/Senior Associate hires is that they can exhibit the competencies to reach Manager level. Experienced Manager hires are required to achieve Associate Principal level but beyond that there is no requirement for people to move up to Principal and Director level if they prefer to stay as delivery consultants; that being said there is a clear path to Director for those who wish to pursue this career track.

PIP is a meritocracy so promotion is based on merit; there is a strong support network to help people progress in their careers; the minority who do not progress have either chosen not to do so for a period of time, for family or other personal reasons, or discover other career options for which they’re better suited, with the support of PIP’s leadership team.

Tom: Amanda, thank you for your time! I enjoyed talking to you about Partners in Performance and the recruitment process. I am sure that many aspiring consultants will find this information valuable as they consider their career options.

Well, there you have it, we hope the above conversation provides you with some useful information about Partners in Performance and its recruitment process.

If you want to learn more about PIP, you can visit the firm’s website by clicking here.

On the boundary

On the boundary

(Source: Flickr)

Failure can be painful but it tends to mark the boundary between what’s proven and what’s possible, between your comfort zone and your potential.

Failure is feedback, an opportunity to learn and grow stronger.

Keep pushing.

Consulting Interview Expectations

Consulting Interview Expectations

(Source: Flickr)

IN this post we consider some consulting interview basics: what to expect, what to wear, and what to bring.

1. What to Expect

Consultants are the public face of a consulting firm, and firms need to be able to trust consultants to interact with senior clients including CEOs and executive board members. As a result, consulting interviews are a rigorous process designed to assess not only an applicant’s analytical skills but also their confidence and professionalism.

2. What To Wear

Professionalism includes not only what you say, but also how you say it and how you appear. You should arrive at interviews looking as though you are already a consultant with the firm.

For men, appropriate interview attire includes a dark pressed suit, clean and ironed shirt (white or light blue are safe colours), tie, dark belt, dark socks, and dark polished shoes.

For women, appropriate interview attire includes a dark suit, blouse, stockings, and nice shoes.

3. What To Bring

It is a good idea to bring the following items with you to the interview:

  1. A black leather portfolio containing a pad of graph paper and a couple of pens. You will need to take notes during the case question;
  2. A few copies of your resumé – one for your reference and a few additional copies for your interviewers.

[For more information on the consulting interview, download “The HUB’s Guide to the Consulting Interview“.]

10 Tips For Nailing the Case Interview

10 tips for nailing the case interview

(Source: Flickr)

ARE you preparing for consulting interviews?

In this post we provide 10 tips for nailing the case interview, written in stone.

1. Practice, practice, practice

When it comes to the case interview, preparation is crucial for three reasons:

  1. The interview process is extremely competitive. You are unlikely to succeed without a lot of practice;
  2. Case problems are indicative of the type of work that you will have to do as a consultant, and so your ability to answer case problems indicates your readiness to hit the ground running; and
  3. Your preparedness for the interview is an indicator of your passion for consulting. If you can’t be bothered to prepare, then you probably don’t want the job badly enough.

2. Take notes

You should take notes when the interviewer is giving you the facts of the case. Remember to bring graph paper and a pen to the interview so you can write things down.

3. Don’t make assumptions

Your interviewer will most likely leave information out when giving you the facts. You should not assume facts that have not been given to you.

4. Ask questions

Your interviewer expects you to ask questions in order to understand the situation and to clarify vague information. For example, if you don’t know the first thing about the automobile market, ask how much it costs to manufacture an engine. If you are asked to estimate the demand for hamburgers in Sydney, feel free to ask how many people live in Sydney and the surrounding areas. Your interviewer is likely to direct your line of questioning to a specific area, but you must be ready to control the conversation if the interviewer does not direct your reasoning.

5. Engage in active listening

Don’t ask a pre-prepared list of questions. Listen to the information that the interviewer provides and assess how it affects the problem. What is unclear and what do you still need to know? Make sure you respond to the information you receive and incorporate it into your analysis.

6. Maintain direct eye contact

Eye contact is important because it demonstrates confidence and authority. As a consultant you will meet with upper management and boards of directors regarding matters that you have been briefed on only hours before. The case interview is practice for the real thing.

7. Take your time

At the beginning of the interview, it’s okay to take anywhere up to 90 seconds to collect your thoughts. It is more important to give a well thought out and structured response than to respond immediately.

8. Clearly structure your answer

Structure your answer by setting out a framework for analysis. For example, “firstly I will consider X, secondly I will consider Y, and finally I will consider Z.”

A large part of a consultant’s job is to explain complex ideas clearly and succinctly. By structuring your answer, this will help you to structure your thoughts and may alert you to factors that you would have otherwise failed to consider. Providing a clear structure will impress your interviewers and help you to avoid giving them the impression that you are making it up as you go along.

9. Think out loud

The case question is an opportunity to show the interviewer how you think. As you analyse the elements of the case, be sure to talk out loud and explain your reasoning. This is the only way the interviewer can assess your performance.

10. Summarise your conclusions

You should be able to summarise your conclusions at any time, supported by the key findings that have been noting down or highlighting as you progress through the case.

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Gatekeepers vs Enablers

OVER the past weeks we have been reaching out to various university career services teams to let them know about the free consulting resources that we have produced for students.  If you missed this development, you can access all the resources here.

The interesting thing about this process of reaching out to different universities is the vastly different responses that we have received.

And it’s basically the opposite of what you would expect.

Before reaching out we expected that, if responses differed at all, then it would be the most prestigious and well endowed universities whose career services teams would be the most reluctant to consider new career resources. After all, these universities are already well resourced and are hardly in need of help.

Strangely, we experienced the opposite.

Schools such as Wharton, LSE and HKU responded promptly and with thanks for letting them know about the new resources that we have made freely available for students.

In contrast, career services teams at some lesser known schools, which will remain nameless, seemed a bit put off by the new resources. Adding a link to the website or sharing an email takes about 1 minute, but perhaps that’s more work than they are accustomed to?

What exactly explains the difference in response?

The answer, it seems to us, lies in the distinction between gatekeepers and enablers.

If you are the director of career services at a prestigious university, then you probably quite qualified, motivated, well resourced, and see it as your role to help students with their careers as much as possible, even if that means referring them to a third party resource. In short, you are an enabler.

In contrast, if you are in the career services team at a lesser known school, you might be slightly under funded, and trying to make do the best you can. You are constantly juggling for time, and when new demands are placed on you, the best response is usually to to defer, delay or say ‘no’. In short, you are a gatekeeper.

A fair assessment, or are we being too harsh?

Do you have any experience dealing with gatekeepers? What strategies have you developed to get around them? (or to go over, under or through them?) Please share your thoughts in the consulting forum.

Stress Interviews


(Source: Flickr)

In this post we look at the stress interview. If you’re interviewing for consulting positions, then you may be subjected to one.

The aim of the stress interview is to put you under pressure in order to see how you will react and whether you can calmly defend yourself.

Your interviewers might do this in one of two ways.

They might ask you questions, one after another in rapid fire succession, while at the same time making disparaging or rude comments about your answers.

Alternatively, they may give you the silent treatment, sitting sullenly in silence, waiting for you to start talking and then making you explain even your most basic comments.

Stay calm, it’s only a test.

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Consulting Interview Structure

IN this post we look at the structure of the consulting interview.

Firms will normally conduct two or three interview rounds, and each round will consist of two or more interviews back-to-back.

The case question is the cornerstone of the consulting interview, and some firms will employ a fixed structure for the case question, asking each candidate the same set of questions. In these firms the interviewer will lead the interview.

Other firms use a more open ended structure for the case question where the candidate will be expected to drive the case. This is done to see whether you can deal with ambiguity and drive towards a solution.

In addition to the case question, consulting interviews will usually also contain personal experience questions, guesstimate questions, math questions, brain teasers, and factor questions.

[For more information on the consulting interview, download “The HUB’s Guide to the Consulting Interview“.]