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A graduate of the Universities of Pisa and Copenhagen, Dr. De Filippo is an experienced atomic physicist and researcher who, after an extensive review of his career prospects, decided to move into the world of management consulting.

I always wanted to be a scientist. So, it is not too surprising that during my physics studies I intended to remain in research in a university environment. I loved teaching undergraduates. I wanted to transmit what I knew to the next generation of scientists and hoped that what I had learned would benefit others and that they in turn would produce even more useful results. But having received my Ph.D., and thereby achieving one of my dreams, I began to seriously think about what motivated me: It was challenges that I found very exciting. I love change and making things happen quickly.

Direction change

Although I was offered a number of postdoctoral positions, I wanted a job that would allow me to spend time with the person I loved, without obliging her to uproot. My adventures in the world of management consulting began when I read an advertisement for McKinsey in a science magazine. I became curious about this other world, which seemed to have only a vague connection with my scientific training.

What I learned was that, although consulting had some less attractive features, such as long hours, and much travel, it offered location independence; intensive, in-depth project work; and the possibility of seeing a significant impact resulting from my efforts. And, the money sounded quite attractive, too. I decided to leave physics, to pursue an exciting new path to personal satisfaction.

Science skills

What I did not leave behind were the methods I had learned, the analytical skills I had acquired, the rigour of the thought processes, the friends I had made in this community, and my love of science. My goal here is to explain why the new path that I took, management consulting, was exciting to me and could potentially be exciting and satisfying to others. I want to show that the talents scientists have, and the skills they have learned, could be of the highest value to them, and to their customers, in a management consulting career.

Who and what management consulting firms are looking for

McKinsey and other management consultancies are interested in properly qualified people who are able to understand, structure, and solve complex problems quickly and under time pressure. McKinsey is looking for people with good communication skills who are extremely curious, resourceful, confident, and capable of extraordinary commitment and outstanding efforts. These qualities are also the hallmark of an exceptional scientist and that is why the recruiting efforts of management consultancies in the scientific world have steadily increased.

Many different types of firms and companies call themselves management consultants. The term is often misused, as it is very difficult to define the field in an exact manner. McKinsey describes itself as a strategic management consulting firm.

Strategic consulting

By strategic consulting, McKinsey means providing the highest levels of management in an organisation with insights and advice on their efforts to sell their services and products. It is a way to add significant value to the client company. In a for-profit company, we help increase the value of the enterprise by identifying how it can be more efficient and effective, how it can adapt to competition and, just as important, how they could give their customers extra value for money so that the company wins, and the customers do too. We help identify opportunities and what would attract customers and we suggest the portfolio of products that would constitute the offer.

We also do research--but of course not in exactly the same way as in universities! We broaden and deepen our knowledge of certain issues, such as the characteristics of successful financial products or the best practice for IT architecture in a telecom environment, while working on a client study. We share insights with our colleagues, complemented by the knowledge of external experts, and we make our research accessible to the whole of McKinsey. This is not merely encouraged by the firm, it is obligatory that we share what we know.

McKinsey's Business Technology Office

McKinsey carries out studies and projects in almost every industry: in energy, financial services, media, pharmaceuticals, retailing, and telecommunications. And we contribute in ways that really change how companies are run and even how entire industries work.

To assist our clients in creating real value through technology, McKinsey & Company launched the Business Technology Office (BTO). In the BTO, where I work, strategic advice is often formulated in the form of specific recommendations, for example, an IT architecture ideally suited to deliver a business proposition. We remain independent advisors while aiding the client in the selection of technology partners and vendors who could carry out the implementation.

Cross-fertilisation

Staying in touch with the scientific world is very important since the ideas we learn about there can trigger related development and application of ideas in the consulting area. I spend a considerable amount of time reading, not only newspapers and business-related magazines but anything that can stimulate my mind: physics, biology, mathematics, and so on. Obviously, the level of detail is very different and I am looking at things from a different perspective, with more of a bird's-eye view. These ideas are not merely metaphors for business processes but can be related in a more subtle and specific way. In one issue of the McKinsey Quarterly titled "Biology and Business," evolutionary theory is applied to other complex systems such as business markets.

Individual competencies and teamwork

Are your expertise and interests different from what is needed in management consulting? Probably not. Almost any special interest is highly appreciated, as it broadens the perspectives available to help solve a problem. There is always an opportunity to apply your knowledge and capabilities. And there is also ample room to increase and improve your skills. You gradually feel comfortable in your new role, developing confidence in your ability to make a contribution to the team, and others soon learn to rely on you. New consultants without a business background receive several weeks intensive training on the key basics of business. In addition, at the BTO, each consultant attends a specially designed training course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our training, by the way, never stops.

I do not program and, generally, I do not have too much to do with computers, either. My main tools are my brain, a pencil, paper, and a pen. The brain is for thinking, analysing, and even intuiting. The pencil is for drawing diagrams, and I use the pen to jot down the ideas I have. Incidentally, I do carry a laptop, to store files and to connect to our e-mail system and databases when I am on the road. And, naturally I also have a cellular phone as an ever-present companion so that I can be "almost always" available.

There is a widespread misunderstanding that I would like to clear up--"consultants are lone wolves in a dog-eat-dog society." Of course, each person has to carry out his or her duties and responsibilities. But more important than this is our work in teams. Yes, I know, everybody says that. This is because it is true. Consulting without team spirit is not feasible. At the end of the day, any day, it is the team result that matters--and there is no competition as to who has contributed more to the project.

Global, cross-border problem-solving

It is amazing to me how easy it is to work around the globe with people from so many different cultures. The shared goal of delivering the best result is what really makes it happen: Geographical and other boundaries do not matter. Professionalism, shared values, and the determination to solve the problem often achieve amazing results.

I hope that I have succeeded in giving you an idea of what management consulting is about and--more important--why and how it can be an option worth considering at whatever stage you are in your science career. If you would like to learn more, please contact me or a recruiting team in any of our offices around the world. You will find the list of contacts on our Web site. We would really like to hear from you.

McKinsey & Company, is sponsoring Insight Europe 2000--a programme designed for European postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers with limited business experience who are interested in learning about how their talents can be leveraged in the wider world. The 3-day programme has been designed around three core experiences: leadership, business problem solving, and exchange. For more information, visit www.mckinsey.com/insighteurope2000, which includes all the details on how to apply. Applications should be submitted no later than 18 August 2000.