Career Path

Managing for change

by Edward Chung

Management Consultant
Sidney Yuen
Chairman &
Executive Director
HK Benchmarking Clearinghouse

The road to becoming a management consultant is long, but Sidney Yuen, Chairman and Executive Director of the Hong Kong Benchmarking Clearinghouse and a moderator at the upcoming Worldwide Lessons in Leadership Series VI, explains that the position can play an influential role in helping companies realise their potential.

The general trend for industries over the past couple of decades has been to outsource projects and services to specialised third parties, and management consultancy is no exception. According to Mr. Yuen, this industry has seen exceptional growth in recent years as local firms come to grips with a rapidly changing global economy.

"We help companies transform themselves; if they are unable to change with the times, they cannot succeed," he says. "Many companies cannot cope with change, and so are like a caged lion - they are unable to survive in a new environment."

Building credibility

Mr. Yuen has been in the workforce since the early 1980s, yet when he started his career, management consultancy was hardly the first thing on his mind. Starting out in HR, Mr. Yuen subsequently worked his way through a variety of line positions, earning valuable experience along the way.

Among his postings include spells as HR Manager with Swire and British American Tobacco as well as Customer Service and Quality Director with American Express. Mr. Yuen was previously Director of Business Development and headed the Change Management Consulting Practice of Andersen Business Consulting, Greater China.

" Many companies cannot cope with change, and so are like a caged lion - they are unable to survive in a new environment "

Mr. Yuen only became a management consultant relatively recently in his career, and points out that there is no direct career path to this position. He recommends that prospective management consultants first train with an established firm for a couple of years as a research assistant.

"During that time, they will learn how to gather, analyse and process information for clients," he remarks. "After two or three years, they can move on to handling projects and presentations. They can begin to specialise, becoming a subject matter expert focusing on particular industries and competencies."

At this stage, Mr. Yuen advises the fledgling management consultant to take a break from the business and switch to another industry.

"It is very important that a management consultant has line industry experience," he explains. "Generally speaking, you must have that credibility when working for clients, so you can show them that you've been in their position before and have proven problem solving abilities."

Mr. Yuen says that about 10 years of industry experience is a good benchmark for switching to management consultancy. By this stage, the prospective consultant should have reached senior manager level and be very marketable.

Profile of a consultant

A management consultant can expect business to grow both during times of economic growth and decline, making it a good prospect for those who have the qualifications and the right qualities for the job. In recession, the role focuses on employee reengineering and marketing to bring in more business, while during good times, the emphasis is on improving the workforce for greater productivity.

The profession is not for everyone though, warns Mr. Yuen. Perhaps more important than academic qualifications (he recommends a minimum of a good first degree plus an MBA) are attributes such as a great learning capacity and strong communications skills.

"A consultant must be able to demonstrate a good knowledge across different industries and be able to pick up new material quickly," says Mr. Yuen. "He must also be able to express himself and remember that a client is not looking just for opinions, but for facts and solutions. Previously, a consultant's job was finished the moment he handed over his final report to the client; now we need to do much more."

Worldwide Lessons in Leadership Series VI will be held on May 14, 2002 in the JW Marriott Hotel.

China Opportunities

As Honorary Secretary of the government-funded Hong Kong Management Consultancies Association, Mr. Yuen is very closely involved with mainland business, and sees plenty of potential for Hong Kong firms to market themselves.

"With China's WTO membership, its businesses must become competitive very quickly; Hong Kong can help in a number of ways, including benchmarking," he says. "The market is now open to competition and these (Chinese) firms cannot continue to follow the old business model."

Mr. Yuen believes that the key lies in improving processes across the board in mainland companies, and that SAR firms are ideally placed to offer their expertise. "Many Hong Kong companies have adopted overseas firms' best practices, and these can be benchmarked and applied to other organisations," he says.

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 10 May 2002, p. 30
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