AFAM: Please tell us more about what your consulting role is about?
Cyprien: My role is to address the various Supply Chain challenges that an organization is facing and to enable value-generating Supply Chains. I achieve this by laying down process improvement designs and through their implementation in a unified End-to-End planning solution (including Forecasting, Operational Planning and Scheduling, S&OP, and Network Design).
Simply put, I support large manufacturing companies in finding an executable and optimized way to produce, transport, and sell their products. This is done on both the strategic and operational level while respecting a large variety of constraints such as storage capacity, maximum shelf life, machine utilization constraints, changeover time, supply contracts, and other customer-specific requirements.
In addition to the implementation effort, I advise business leaders in conducting their company's digital transition and in building a standardized and streamlined solution shared organization-wide.
I focus on the chemical industry and work with organizations ranging from niche players to industry leaders. I am also involved in the creation of the US-based optimization competence center and take the role of 'expert' by answering other project team's questions and challenges.
AFAM: How did you get where you are now?
Cyprien: As part of Arts et Métiers' dual degree program, I got the opportunity to study at Georgia Tech for a Master of Science in Supply Chain Engineering. There I learned more about Supply Chain and Operation Research and got involved in multiple projects involving Georgia Tech's industrial partners. This is when I developed a taste for consulting, as I enjoyed discovering and resolving problems of diverse nature.
After finishing my final thesis in partnership with The Home Depot, I was looking for a position that could combine technical and advisory skills. This is when I accepted the position of Supply Chain Consultant at OMP. I have worked at OMP for the past 2 and a half years.
AFAM: What does your typical day look like?
Cyprien: A typical day changes depending on the phase of the project.
A project starts with an analysis phase in which I travel on-site to learn and discuss with business leaders about their planning practices and challenges. I then work with a central team of decision-makers to examine how to prioritize those challenges and find the best way to address them, either through our standard offering or a customer-specific functionality.
From our main office, I collaborate with the internal teams of experts to design the solution. Once the solution is fully designed, I either implement it or supervise its implementation.
Toward the project closure, I demo the solution to the planners that will be using the software. The audience for those demos ranges from ten to a couple hundred of attendants.
Finally, I support the testing of the solution and work on fixing potential defects before the application's go-live.
AFAM: What do you like about your consulting role?
Cyprien: I wholly appreciate the diversity in my tasks and in the challenges I am faced with. I receive exposure to a wide variety of organizations and get to learn from diverse people, from planners to Supply Chain executives. I also learn from solution experts and grow to solve more and more complex challenges.
I am also pleasantly surprised by the responsibilities and trust I am given by my peers, even as a new hire. With hard work and dedication, there are plenty of opportunities to grow within the company and to take your career to the next level.
Finally, there is an incredible sense of accomplishment when a project is delivered. You can feel your impact by measuring the value brought to the customer.
AFAM: What are the challenges of your consulting job?
Cyprien: One of the most challenging things I find is to manage customer expectations and relationships. You will often face executives with an idealized vision of a fully automated planning solution. When challenging their beliefs, it takes time and effort to convince them that you are working in their best interest. Alternatively, planners will often perceive you as the one that will render their job obsolete or at the very minimum disrupt their usual planning practices. The challenge here is to convince them that with advanced planning tools, their time will be spent on high value-added activities while their 'busy work' will be automated. It is important to guide them during the transition.
When working with worldwide organizations, it is also expected that you are available at all times during the week to answer questions or resolve issues that the customer is facing in their live environment. Even though the majority of issues can be resolved by coworkers in different timezones, in the event of a critical defect causing a factory shutdown you can be asked to work at night or during weekends to resolve it.
Finally, for large and strategic projects, it is not uncommon to implement a large number of custom functionalities. Each functionality needs to fit flawlessly with the neighboring ones and compose a coherent global solution. When asked to develop new functionalities, it sometimes feels like adding a new piece to an already complete puzzle. You will then be challenged to come up with a creative design causing the minimum changes to the already established solution while providing the desired value.
AFAM: What skills and qualities do engineers need to be successful consultants?
Cyprien: I found that engineers can be successful consultants. The additional technical and analytical background gives you an edge on other consultants when it comes to problem-solving. It usually results in smarter solutions delivering more value to the customer.
However, communication skills can never be underestimated. Even the best solution will be overlooked if it cannot be communicated comprehensively to the different stakeholders.
A good consultant should also be an excellent listener. The fastest way to learn about an industry is to listen to people that have been in it their entire life, regardless of their background. Being humble will never fail to improve customer relationships and help you deliver more value.
AFAM: What advice would you give to a student who wants to work in consulting? Start as a junior in a large management consulting company, find an internship in a boutique firm, become an expert in a certain field before breaking into consulting........?
Cyprien: I don't think that there is a single way to make it into consulting. My coworkers are coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, sometimes from the industry and even from academia. This diversity of outlook ultimately benefits us all. It is true however that transitioning to consulting later in your career can be difficult and requires some adaptation while the other way around can be easier.
From my experience, I enjoyed starting at a niche consulting firm. I am given a lot of responsibilities that usually fall to more senior positions and the growth opportunity is real. It allows me to focus my skills and quickly become an expert in my field.
I would suggest reading about different career paths that lead to consulting and try to find one that resonates with your aspirations.
AFAM: How did the recent corona virus outbreak influence your day-to-day work?
Cyprien: The fundamentals of the work are unchanged but how we achieve them did. Emphasis is put on coordination meetings with the customer and the rest of the project team to ensure that we are continuously working toward a common goal. Online meetings replaced demos, and it has proven to be challenging to engage an audience through this means.
During these difficult times, I am increasingly involved with some of our strategic customers to fine-tune the different optimization models that were implemented. The models were initially designed to operate in 'balanced' supply chains. Today, they are running in heavily disrupted supply chains: suppliers are defaulting, plants suddenly shut down, demands are uncertain and cross-border transport legislation are constantly changing. My role is to build robust, and reactive optimization models to resolve the many new planning challenges that our clients are facing.
Since the majority of our customer base is considered to be 'essential businesses' (chemical, pharmaceutical, energy industries), a lot of pressure is felt to get our software to work flawlessly. I feel a lot of pride to be a part of the global effort to send commodities to the people in need.
Photo courtesy - Cyprien Bastide: OMP employees during 10 miles charity run in Atlanta
For more information about OM Partners, please visit OM Partners' website
Other interviews in our "Why Consulting?" series
Interview with Claude Leglise (An 74), SVA Innovation
Interview with Maxime Crépin (Bo 210), Bain and Company
Interview with François Théry (Li 96), Accenture