UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Alum: Successful consulting is about client leadership


As part of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s new Consulting Speaker Series, Stu Pearman (MBA ’94) shared his experiences as a partner at the ScottMadden management consulting firm with students.

Pearman, who is also an adjunct professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler, teaches courses in consulting and leadership. Nineteen years in the industry have taught him that these disciplines are closely intertwined, and during his lecture on Jan. 30, Pearman said that successful consulting is more about client leadership than problem-solving.

“Consulting is the process of helping clients think and act differently so that they’re more successful,” said Pearman. “Often their biggest problems are their biggest opportunities for change.”

The biggest mistake young consultants make, said Pearman, is focusing too much on content and deliverables, the specific plans of action for the problem at hand, while neglecting client leadership. Discovering a company’s problem, developing a solution and designing the consulting process are all important pieces of the puzzle but leading the client is most crucial.

“The purpose of deliverables is to move the client along, so that they will change how they think and act. That’s the only reason you do them,” said Pearman. “A lot of consultants get it backwards. It’s a means not an end.”

If each project has 100 degree of difficulty points, 40 are for finding a solution that fits the company, while 60 are for working to guide and train its people. Although client leadership can be challenging, Pearman said effectiveness follows the same distribution, making it well worthwhile. Of 100 effectiveness points, the solution only deserves credit for 40, while the remaining 60 are thanks to client leadership. Pearman advised students to allocate their time and effort between creating deliverables and leading the client accordingly.

“If you are the smartest guy in the room and figure out every solution, have you been successful as a consultant? Not necessarily,” said Pearman. “What people pay for is folks who can come in and make the world look different – help them change how they think about management.”

Pearman shared case studies from his numerous experiences in energy, sustainability, outsourcing and general management in a number of industries to give students a better idea of how a day in the life of a consultant looks.

“Consulting consists of a lot of simple things, but they all must be done at the right time, in the right way, while solving difficult problems in a stressful environment,” said Pearman. “There’s intense time pressure and a strong emotional context – everybody’s career is on the line, from the client who hired you to the consulting team.”

He ended his lecture with a series of tips for aspiring consultants, including how to find a firm that fits and how to adjust to the learning curve that accompanies each new consulting job. But Pearman’s commitment to helping new consultants grow extends beyond his on-campus lectures. As a member of the UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni network, Pearman credits the MBA program for helping him thrive in a career he loves and is eager to help students find a similar path to success. His firm, ScottMadden, works closely with UNC Kenan-Flagler to provide opportunities for students interested in management consulting and employs several new graduates each year.