How to Dress as a Management Consultant

Personal appearance counts. Especially in management consulting. This article is intended to serve as an advisory to anyone (males in particular) who aspires to give professional advice to other professionals and hopefully help you avoid some common fashion faux pas, especially in the more conservative business environment of Asia.

General Advice

There is a general way that people dress in any industry. Management consulting is no different. This largely means that you will wear a suit with a full-sleeved shirt & a tie, and keep a conservative hair style. However, it does not mean that you need to look like a photocopy of everyone else. You may aspire to have a flexible ‘statement piece’ which could be a specific hair style, a unique tie collection, or a designer eyeglass. It does mean that you present an image that is professional. Your clothing and accessories should not be a distraction for colleagues and clients. This is achieved by having consistent statement pieces. If your statement piece is a bow-tie, then always wear bow-ties to all meetings with the client. Do not surprise your client by alternating between a long tie and a bow-tie. Similarly, if you wear a stud in your ear, always wear that piece of jewelry to all meetings. While deviating from the norm is fine, you must not deviate from your norm. Stick with the style that you have chosen.

Remember not to have more than one statement piece. As a management consultant, a statement piece helps project an image of an individual who can think beyond the current paradigm, create out-of-the-box solutions and hold your own opinion in the face of opposition. However, a consultant who mixes bow-ties with red socks and ear-rings does not look like such an individual. He merely looks eccentric.

Following the one-by-three rule is a good way to create a professional wardrobe that looks affluent. Instead of buying three average suits, buy one very good suit. Instead of three average ties, buy one great tie. A well fitted, high quality suit is instantly recognizable and distinguishable. And well worth the great impression it leaves. The bottom line – a management consultant must always be formally dressed and therefore prepared for a client meeting.

Suit and tie

Suit and tie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Specific Advice

Suit:

A suit is a suit. A suit is not a sports jacket, or a blazer, or cardigan (no matter how fancy) worn over trousers of matching or contrasting color. A suit consists of at least two pieces – a coat and a pair of pants stitched from the same cloth. The third piece, a waist coat, is optional. A suit does not have leather or metal buttons. The suit should be well-fitted, and have no loose threads, burs, or missing buttons. A dark suit is preferable in the winters, while light colored suits work fine in the summers. To guard against the cold, it is better to use a cardigan or thermals rather than wear a multi-colored v-neck or high-neck sweater under the coat. Polyester and nylon do not usually make a good suit due to their lack of proper ‘fall’. Suits should be made of wool, cotton, linen, silk or a blend of natural fibers.

Shirt:

Shirts should be full-sleeved and well fitting. A ready-to-wear shirt should be of the correct collar size, such that the top-most button should close comfortably, the correct sleeve length and appropriate torso fit (regular, fitted, or big). A rule of thumb is that the shirt collar should be one-fourth to one-half inch above the suit collar and loose enough to fit one finger into it. Sleeves should be up to one-fourth of an inch longer than the suit sleeve. The shirt should be well ironed and crisp, with no wrinkles in the collar, cuffs or front. It should not be torn, stained, or discolored and all buttons should be intact. French cuffs are optional, but should always be worn with professional-looking cufflinks. Plain colors or light colored strips, small checks or light colored self-prints make good formal shirts to be worn with a tie.

Tie:

A tie should be formal; flashy prints such as those with comic characters should be avoided. The tie should fit tightly on the collar with a decent and clearly made knot (see http://www.tie-a-tie.net/ to learn how to tie a tie). The top button of the shirt should be closed. An undone top button looks casual at best and sloppy at worst. If the shirt collar is too tight, use an elastic collar extender. The tip of your tie must lie somewhere on your belt buckle.

Belt:

Always wear a leather belt of the same color as your shoes. The belt must pass through, not over, all the loops on the trouser. Needless to say, all the belt loops on the trouser must be intact.

Shoes:

Shoes must be leather and of the same color as the belt. They should be polished to a shine. While many suggest that a sharp clacking noise on hard floors is the sign of a high quality shoe with all leather soles, it is best to avoid a shoe that is ostentatious.

Socks:

Socks must always be worn and should be long enough to ensure that no skin is exposed from beneath the trouser leg. The color of socks should blend with the pants and/or shoes. Towel socks are not formal wear.

Facial Hair:

Choice of facial hair should be consistent and neat. Well-trimmed beards of any style or a clean-shaven look are both acceptable, as long as you do not wildly alternate between styles. Avoid the shaggy beard or stubble. Stubble is not a beard and is unacceptable in most formal occasions, including in consulting.

Silk:

Silk looks best in a tie. A silk shirt might work, if paired with a woolen or cotton tie. Avoid pure silk suits as they dazzle and distract.

Body Art and Piercings:

Do not have visible tattoos. Depending on cultural and professional norms, they can be considered unprofessional. Male management consultants should not wear colored nail polish. They should also avoid distracting piercings. While a small, inconspicuous stud in the ear maybe fine as a statement piece, large dangling earnings or an eyebrow piercing is a certain no-no.

Body Odor:

Mild, but effective, deodorant, perfume or talcum powder, depending on personal taste, should be used daily to mask any unpleasant body odors.

Hair Oil, Gel and Cream:

Style or oil your hair if so desired. However, use only processed hair oils. Raw or highly perfumed oils, gels or creams are a major distraction and are to be avoided at all costs. Excessive gel or cream should also be avoided – no one will hire a consultant who drips on the carpet.

Handkerchiefs:

To avoid any awkward social situations, always carry a clean, unused handkerchief each day. Handkerchiefs are usually light in color and made of cotton. Pocket squares are not handkerchiefs.

Dressing Down or Semi-Formal Dressing:

An invitation to dress down or dress in semi-formal attire is not an invitation to turn up in jeans. Semi-formal dressing is still formal in nature and the appropriate attire is a full-sleeved, button down shirt worn with trousers, leather shoes & belt, and accompanied by a matching or contrasting coat. A tie is optional, depending on the occasion.

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How Indian IT Firms can ‘Crack’ the China Market

China has become the world’s largest economy. Consequently, it is also one of the world’s largest markets for IT and IT-enabled services. While Indian IT service providers have a large presence in western markets (for example, the Americas provide 60% of Infosys revenues), their presence in China is negligible. Why? This question has troubled the top managements of these firms for many years. Based on the views presented in the recent article, it seems that managers are still far away from finding all the answers to this riddle.

The Indian IT industry, which has of late been eyeing the Chinese market, will have to sweat to gain entry here, a top Infosys official has said.

via China IT market a hard nut to crack for Indian companies: Infosys China CEO Rangarajan Vellamore – Economic Times.

 

It is often said that the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it. IT service providers from India seem to be stuck in a time-warp – a bubble of their own making. The challenges they face in the China market are not replicas of the hurdles Indian firms overcame when they entered the US or European markets. These are unique challenges, which call for a unique approach. Entering China requires a China-specific strategy and anything less does not do justice to the potential revenue growth possible from the world’s largest economy. Below are a few challenges that have not been identified in the above article, and some ideas by which these can be turned into opportunities.

English: China, Shanghai

English: China, Shanghai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language Barriers: Historically, the Indian IT services industry was able to grow in the US and other western markets due to the language advantage – client facing personnel were able to communicate effectively in English. In contrast, China’s market has significant language barriers and a working to excellent knowledge of Mandarin is essential. To overcome these barriers, Indian firms should have ‘localized’ client facing personnel who will be able to understand client problems and deliver feasible solutions.

Price-Arbitrage Disadvantage: Another key advantage that Indian service firms have historically had is the low cost of labor in India. However, compared to China, there is no real price advantage of India based software engineers. Once coordination and communication costs are taken into account, it might actually be cheaper to hire talent locally. Many Indian firms have been attempting to do so (for example, Infosys runs a development center in Shanghai), but complain that they are unable to get high quality talent. The reason is not the unavailability of talent – rather, Indian firms are not employers of choice and hence fail to attract the best people.

Reputation Barriers: The challenge is not that Indian IT firms do not enjoy any brand recall in China. Indian firms have to actually overcome a negative reputation. Low costs are associated with a perception for bad quality work. To overcome the reputation barrier (in context of both potential clients and potential employees), firms should use a counter-intuitive approach. Use their success stories with F500 companies as a basis for a premium positioning.

No Guanxi: Doing business in Greater China is heavily dependent upon the ability to leverage personalized networks of influence, or Guanxi. Indian firms need to hire business development managers and top management who bring not only business acumen, but contextual information and guanxi on board.

Services versus Solutions: It is believed the size of the US IT market as a percentage of its economy is larger than the ‘perceived’ size of the China market. This has been explained by the following logic:

“In terms of purchasing power parity, the US will have a revenue productivity of two-and-a-half times compared to China. …It translates the market size by less than two-and-a-half times,”

In line with this argument, it can also be said that the potential productivity gains from IT in China are much more than the potential gains in the US market. Therefore contrary to the ‘common perception’, the IT market in China is not oversaturated a-la the US. However, unlike their US counterparts, firms in China may not be actively soliciting IT services as many are unaware or more likely, unconvinced of the potential benefits. The size of the potential market is huge; the size of the market (of addressable) that is actively looking for an IT service provider is small.

Indian IT firms can penetrate the market by offering solutions, not services. This is not a market where sales personnel cannot passively wait for a RFP (request for proposal) to be floated by a possible client. An active sales approach is required. By the same logic given above, the gains per dollar of IT investment in China would be more than the gains per dollar of IT investment and thus easier for IT service firms to create business cases and deliver value.

In a nutshell, to crack the China market, Indian IT service providers should re-position themselves as premium players who offer a value-for-money proposition to F500 firms. They hire local talent for business development and client facing roles that are well versed in the nuance of business (and guanxi) in China. Finally, instead of waiting to answer requests for proposals, firms should actively solicit business and focus on growing the market by offering solutions.

Reading Boosts Brain Function

Reading a good novel can boost brain function. A recent research study from Emory University, co-authored by my dissertation co-adviser, Michael Prietula, has found “changes in resting-state connectivity of the brain that persist“. The study used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain networks associated with reading stories.

 

The results showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, on the mornings following the reading assignments.

Heightened connectivity was also seen in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory motor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with making representations of sensation for the body, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition. Just thinking about running, for instance, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

From Emory University

or in other words, the study shows that reading makes you smarter, reading stories makes you even more smarter. This explains why some of us (me included) have to read a story or a research study to ‘kick start’ our brain into ‘writing mode’.

The original study can be accessed here. This news was also covered at Futurity.org and The Independent.

Google Acquires Nest

Google has announced its acquisition of Nest for $3.2 billion. This is Google’s biggest and most newsworthy acquisition in the Internet of Things / SmartHome space. Perhaps it forebears its intent to integrate data captured from smart sensors into its search results? More likely is the creation of multiple Google Smart Devices that are deeply integrated together through the Android operating system. An exciting possibility indeed!

 

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced today that it has entered into an agreement to buy Nest Labs, Inc. for $3.2 billion in cash.

Nest’s mission is to reinvent unloved but important devices in the home such as thermostats and smoke alarms. Since its launch in 2011, the Nest Learning Thermostat has been a consistent best seller–and the recently launched Protect (Smoke + CO Alarm) has had rave reviews.

See the original press release here.

How The Hobbit is like doing a Ph.D.

I came across this interesting post about a paper on how The Hobbit is an allegory of doing a Ph.D. It makes several fascinating connections between the two.

This paper was presented by Ken Halland in 2006 at the 36th Annual Conference of the Southern African Computer Lecturers Association, Cape Town, South Africa.

Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobb...

Abstract 

In this paper, I show how The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien can be viewed as an extended allegory
for any challenging and arduous human endeavour, and in particular for tackling and
completing a PhD.

 

Read more in the full paper: Ken Halland, PhD in Middle Earth

The original post is here while the original paper can be found here.

Google’s Acquisition of Waze: A Triad of Benefits

Most analysts have hailed Google’s recent acquisition of Waze for $ 1.3 billion a masterstroke (a minority thinks that this is going to be a botched overstretch, a la Motorola). [See some nice reports here, here and here and the Waze blog announcement here.] However, there seems to be no agreement on whether this is a strategic M&A, a pure technology acquisition or an acqui-hire. Different folks have differing opinions; IMHO, this acquisition offers Google a few advantages of each of these.

Waze navigatiescherm

Waze navigatiescherm (Photo credit: Henk-Jan van der Klis)

A Pre-emptive strategic move: It was reported that there were several suitors for Waze, including Facebook and Apple. By spending a small part of its $50 billion plus cash pile, Google has managed to keep a key technological advancement out of the hands of the competition and this been able to maintain its pre-eminent position in the Maps market.

A technology acquisition: By definition, a technology acquisition provides the acquiring firm with a technology or technological knowhow. Waze will enable Google to add a critical element to its Maps technology – real-time, crowdsourced updates. A weakness of all the major players in the Maps market has been the need to spend millions of dollars to periodically update the maps for accuracy in a rapidly changing world (cue the Apple Maps disaster). Waze will augment Google’s efforts by providing a cheaper option for map updates as well potential future monetization through location based advertising.

An acqui-hire: While the technology artefact represented by Waze is impressive indeed, Google will also benefit from the knowledge residing within the employees of Waze. Google has committed to maintaining the Waze R&D team in an ‘as is’, independent state, thus ensuring continuity of tacit forms of individual and group level knowledge. This will maximize the potential innovation outcomes from the Waze R&D team, and Google will be able to benefit from potential knowledge spillovers to its own R&D centres (some of which are located relatively nearby). [It is reported that Waze employees have been offered nice retention bonuses to stay for 4-5 year post-acquisition, thus maximizing the time for spillovers, knowledge transfer, and innovation.]

Overall, the Waze acquisition provides Google with several benefits which will enable it to possibly dominate the ‘Lo’ portion of the next big battlefield – The SoMoLo Convergence.

Moon journey predictions by Jules Verne

I use several images and examples from the works of Jules Verne during our futures discussions in #hkuiom. Here are some interesting facts from his 1865 novel ‘From the Earth to the Moon’.

A hundred years ago, Jules Verne wrote a book about a voyage to the Moon. His spaceship,Columbia, took off from Florida and landed in the Pacific Ocean after completing a trip to the Moon.

  • Verne estimated that the mission would have cost his day’s equivalent to $12.1 billion ($5,446,675 US dollars in 1865). Surprisingly spot on–the Apollo program up through Apollo 8 (the first manned vehicle to circumnavigate the moon) cost $14.4 billion.
  • The launch occurred 132 miles from the site of Verne’s prediction.
  • The United States would launch the first manned vehicle to circumnavigate the moon.

from Skip Henk and astronautix

From the Earth to the Moon

From the Earth to the Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)