Katz Students Address $200M Opportunity for PPG Industries
Consulting is an extremely hard field. At the graduate level, you never know what project you are going to get and what clients you will have to deal with. Personally, I really love a client based career. That is why I chose to start my career in Big 4 auditing. I really like experiencing different businesses, clientele, and methodologies. In my MBA, I chose a consulting field project class. In this class, we would be paired with a company that had a specific project/need. We were paired up with four other students who would be a part of our team. The end result of our project allowed us to win the final McKinsey Cup competition where our final presentation carried us to the top of 8 teams in the class. It was a very long, hard road to make our final presentation. Winning was a great surprise to our team in the end. Given the chance, I would have loved to read about someone’s perspective in this type of situation. Most comments from past students were that the class was arduous and time-consuming. The same can be said about our project. Hard as it was, there was significant learning that happened along the way. I’m sure others in similar situations are looking for relatable situations to strengthen their drive. Others may want to learn more to assist their approach to future situations. Either way, I think that others can gain a lot of perspective from our situation. .
First challenge, the team. I was paired with four others. One of the members I had worked with before, the other three I met due to this project pairing. Of the total team, two were native English speakers and one was an undergraduate student with minimal work experience. Being an MBA class, prior work experience is crucial for this class. The point of this course was far beyond “Business 101” and I believe coping with a green team member was great experience for the future. Because most teams in large businesses will include others from different countries and those who have minimal experience in certain areas, the exposure to working with different cultures and experiences was great. I say good experience with a slight twist. To me good experiences are the experiences that usually don’t seem too good at the time. These are usually the hardships, the stumbles, the mistakes you make that give you something to reflect on in the future. This project was full of them and you’ll read the specifics later in the story.
The opportunity: We were paired with a very large multinational company. They had made an acquisition a couple of months back. The company had a secondary product (not the focus of the acquisition) that they believed had potential for greater revenues. Currently, it was in the 10s of thousands revenue mark. They made an initial presentation to our team that described the company, their business segment, and the product. At the end of the presentation, they gave us two slides of questions. The first of the two were micro-level questions: What are the specific assets, what is the demand per linear ft, what testing standards do we need, what certifications does this product need? The second slide was macro: 3 year plan, recommendations for market share gain, how to position. Their bottom line was, “How do we sell more of this product?”, “Tell us what we don’t know”. At the very end, they had listed potential customers, the employees who specialized in the product, and an expert network we could use.
First steps: The very first action we had to take in this project was form an engagement plan. This was the legal document to which all of our work and progress was based on. This would include metrics, goals, resources, timelines, contacts, and budgets. Based on the presentation, we assumed the product had existing customers and potential customers. We formed a basis that we would contact existing customers, visit them, determine the current state of the product, how it was chosen; the whole nine. We would contact the potential customers, put on our sales hats, and see how the potential market made decisions and assess if this product was the right fit for this particular segment of the market. We would figure out what made our potential customers tick. In between, we would maintain contact with our client and relay information of how to position, market, and improve the product to fit the potential customer’s demand. Because our client didn’t give us a ‘reservation price’, or the revenues they wanted/expected to hit, we estimated our own numbers and metrics and plopped it into the engagement plan knowing that if we were far off, our client would tell us. In this case being wrong was a good thing because it gave us the opportunity to observe our client’s threshold and underlying interests. In this case, our engagement plan was adjusted and approved with our original plan. Again the bottom line was still, “just tell us how to sell more”.
Our first mico opportunity, proposed sources did not exist: This can be viewed a contract breach. In our case, we were students, and we would finish the project. We were MBA students who did not live in the real world quite yet and the option to tell our client that our original engagement plan had been breached was not an option. Our grades hung on a successful, value added engagement. For about the first month of our project, we were pressed to get some contacts of existing customers. After a month we came to the conclusion that existing customers were out. This meant that our original micro approach to the project was also going to shift. We shifted to a macro level approach which included Porter’s, SWOT, market characteristics, all the wonderful MBA-like things we were being taught in our strategy and marketing classes. At this point, we still had no idea about their product! What worked? What didn’t?
Our second micro opportunity, a forever new technology: The particular product technology we were working with had existed for over 15-20 years but still had very low market penetration. This was insightful, as well as, bad news for us. There was hardly any data out there! This product was a substitute for traditional materials. Tons of data existed for the traditional technology but finding any substantial quantification of the market or product was like trying to find a heflalump. We relied on the expert panel through GLG group for a majority of our information. And even then, 75% of all the prospects we had through GLG declined due to having no experience with the technology. Those that we did get in contact with were essential to our project.
An even bigger learning experience: Not only did we have to go back to our client to explain that because we did not get existing customers we could not continue the true product assessment but, by this time, from the research we had done, we knew their product was not ready for market anyway. This news happened at our mid-term presentation. We framed our presentation in a way that delivered the data collection we had done first. This showed the knowledge we were acquiring and the results from our time spent so far. With this information we framed our audience to understand that their product was not ready for market. When we did come out and say the news, it was not a stark realization. Going forward from that, we described our plan going forward and what ‘value-add’ it would bring them. They knew little about the market, and for them to start to refine their product and prepare it, they needed to understand the market as a whole from a macro view. This was a big deal because it meant that one, they were not going to realize increased sales within the first year or two and two, they needed to actually spend quite a bit of money as an investment into the product.
Even more: After our mid-term presentation, we set our sights on more GLG contact interviews and the potential customers (traveling was also out of the question at this point due to budgetary constraints). We also honed in on our client’s potential customers, but had a hard time finding a way to make them excited about working with students. Eventually, we were able to contact one of their customers and also dug through our personal networks. This ended up being enough for what we needed. We quickly realized through our interactions with those in this market that any financial or budgetary information was highly guarded. The two contacts we were able to talk to, gave us a clear representation of the decision factors for purchases of this type of product. Because most of this market is made up of ‘big players’ and those players tend to communicate, we were confident that the decision factors we identified were key. Additionally, they just made clear sense.
For a first time group, this was quite the project. All of our information was gathered over the phone. We quickly realized that the more our interviewees got frustrated understanding questions, the less they cared to divulge. We adjusted this process by brainstorming questions and allowing a clear speaker to ask the questions. Another interesting experience I had was a cultural difference adjustment. We had a particular member of our group who was very unsure of them-self and because of that, started to raise some concern with our client. They started to indicate that they were not speaking enough through our reviews. We quickly adjusted this by trying to support that member with prompted questions and substantial presentation blocks with enough practice time so that they felt comfortable. In many situations, we find ourselves needing to provide reassurance and teaching to others around us. Looking back, some items I could have adjusted to much quicker had I taken more of a holistic view of the project. Another item was to make very clear defined tasks for each member. This seems obvious, but when you spend so much time on a common goal with a team, it gets to the point where we feel like we are reading each others minds or at least should be. We start to assume that those that have a background in finance will do the financials, those with the engineering background will figure out the metrics, and those with the law background will figure out the limitations. That was the case most of the time, but one factor undelivered could cause us to lose face in front of the client if we didn’t even have a remote idea of where we should look for the answer. Always having clear expectations of member’s work is good practice in any teaming project. Even when everyone is deemed educated or competent, you always need a level of organization.
Through this experience, our clients were great. Things did not go as planned for us or for them. It was for the better because the product that resulted was valuable to both parties. They did respond, they did support, and they did learn right along with us. Some of the most valuable lessons result from the most arduous journeys. Also, the most valuable ideas are not the generic ones that come out of the box. They are not the clear bold letters that anyone could pick out. A lot of value comes in packaging up unconventional ideas in a clear goal oriented manner. If there is one thing I have learned in dealing with management, is it that you will be spending hours to present on action items. Lead with that action item, lead your work with the action items and use your expansive details in support, if needed. Those above you do not want to hear, well we did this, then this, but that didn’t work out so we went to this and after all of that we found this… No. They want to hear the conclusion first and if they have any doubts, they will ask for details. You waste less of their time and earn a very valuable spot in their mind as the go-to. Chances are they know the amount of work that goes into certain projects, they’ve been in your shoes. Those that differentiate themselves are the ones that take vast amounts of data and make observations, of which, they make conclusions that form action items. In a consulting project, you never quite know what you are going to get. Especially when forming and norming with a new group. In our case, we kept our heads down and kept working. With lots of work, a few curve balls, and a little ingenuity, our team had a wildly successful project.
Our final presentation to our client couldn’t have gone any better. We used the simple tactic of baiting in our presentation. We listed our three major findings that included their relevant market quantified. In our case, it was a substantial, mouth-watering, figure. We followed with providing them information about the market and the customers. We would be briefly interrupted to ask to explain how we arrived at a conclusion (which we led with as the title of our slides). In every case, we were able to say, “I knew you would ask, our next slide will give you all the details”. They were on the edge of their seats, and eventually after the third interruption, they knew we had done our work and thought ahead. We had put in the time to foresee any questions they would ask. As an added bonus at the end, we not only added our current recommended action items, but we looked forward 10 years. We asked ourselves, what does our client’s plan look like 10 years from now? Our response was just slightly far-fetched. But, it was an item that left our client’s mind wondering… “could we really do that? ”
If you would like more details about our project, the above link provides specifics. It is a very well written piece from an audience member of our final presentation for the competition. I would love to hear your experiences with clients you’ve worked with. Did your hard work pay off? If your client didn’t think so, did you learn a valuable lesson?