A civil service job may offer stability and good financial benefits, but for Steven Davidson it also proved to be an excellent springboard to a successful career in business consulting. After a nine-year stint as a civil servant in the UK, he joined a professional services firm in 1989 and, since then, has had the chance to work on a wide variety of challenging assignments with clients in both Europe and Asia.
Now the leader of strategy and change services for IBM Global Business Services (GBS), Asia Pacific, Mr Davidson says his civil service experience proved invaluable and is something on which he can still draw. "The skills I learned in policy analysis, resource management and efficiency improvement are still very important," he explains. "I also draw heavily on the interpersonal and political skills I learned, especially when working as private secretary to a minister in the UK Home Office. Working with clients also requires skills in relating to people, understanding the issues, and putting across a persuasive argument."
His early experience in a government department with responsibility for criminal policy, emergency services and civil liberties gave Mr Davidson a talent for looking at the big picture and hands-on experience in data protection legislation. Therefore, when he decided to move to PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, he rose rapidly through the ranks to become managing consultant and, in 1996, a director.
At that point, he was seconded to the Hong Kong Government to provide dedicated advice and support for a programme of public sector reforms. These included improvements to efficiency, performance management and technology-enabled change. In late 2002, a corporate takeover resulted in the firm becoming IBM Global Business Services.
Working with clients requires skills in relating to people, understanding the issues, and putting across a persuasive argument
The diversity of Mr Davidson's business portfolio means his work is never routine. However, a typical working day might include around three hours meeting clients or running workshops for them. "I spend plenty of time trying to understand the nature of my clients' business and their goals," he says. "I can then assess whether they are equipped with the appropriate strategies, expertise and resources to deliver effectively."
When first dealing with new clients, he assembles a special project team which brings together a mix of professionals with the appropriate skills. "For this, we can tap into a 55,000-strong global GBS workforce and, if necessary, will even look across the entire IBM set-up, or even outside the company, to find the necessary expertise," he explains.
Mr Davidson also makes a point of sparing time to coach or mentor less experienced colleagues, and to help in trouble-shooting specific problems they encounter. He pinpoints working with great clients and very able colleagues as the best thing about the job, as well as being part of a truly global network.
He finds that, nowadays, organisations in both the public and private sectors face increasingly complex problems. "In this environment, companies have to develop effective strategies to ward off competition, while making the most of the opportunities brought about by globalisation and the accelerated development of information technology," he says. "The key to success is innovation and collaboration."
The Global CEO Study 2006, for which GBS interviewed nearly 800 CEOs around the world, confirmed the importance of innovation. CEOs said that collaboration, partnering and technology integration are the essential elements. "Our analysis also showed a strong correlation between innovation and financial performance," Mr Davidson adds.
At present, candidates who want to get into business consulting are not short of opportunities and recent graduates are encouraged to apply. "It doesn't matter whether they have a degree in computer science, business administration, law or history," says Mr Davidson. "What we look for is whether candidates can think on their feet, understand and solve problems, and have a high level of intellectual ability." He adds that good communication and interpersonal skills are obviously important in what is basically a people-orientated business. There are also openings for mid-career professionals considering a change of direction. If applying, such candidates will be judged on relevant industry experience and the overall skill sets they can offer.
Mr Davidson expects the demand for business consultants in mainland China to continue to increase. "More and more international companies are moving from seeing China as a cheap base for manufacturing to wanting to break into the domestic market," he explains. "They will have to count on the expertise and contacts of business consulting firms." In parallel with this, he notes that the major professional services organisations are also ideally positioned to help mainland companies upgrade their operations and expand their business on a global level.