4 Myths about Corporate Strategy Jobs

Jobs in corporate strategy always attract the attention of eager MBAs and Undergrads.  I always wanted to go into corporate strategy because the group at my old company contained some of the smartest people in our business.  But what does it mean to “work in strategy”?  Here are some commonly held beliefs about corporate strategy positions, and my thoughts about how they are changing.

Photo by pshutterbug

Photo by pshutterbug

Myth 1 – Ivory Tower

Myth 2 – Consulting Rejects

Myth 3 – Perfectionists Wanted

Myth 4 – Cookie-Cutter Leadership

Photo by pshutterbug via flickr

Posted on April 16, 2009 at 9:41 pm by Ben Foster · Permalink
In: Career, Strategy · Tagged with: , , , ,

9 Responses

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  1. Written by Amit
    on April 17, 2009 at 5:53 am
    Permalink

    Nice analysis benphoster, but I disagree with myth 3. I don’t disagree that perfectionists are wanted but presentations and analyses are required to be “perfect” because they often times go directly to the board of directors or CEO. As part of a corporate strategy role in multiple areas throughout my career, nothing reflects worse on you and your team if your CEO gets distracted or doesn’t understand your point in a board meeting because of your poor presentation skills.

    I agree that unpolished presentations are ok for building consensus with groups, but if your primary audience is the C-Suite I wouldn’t leave anything to chance.

  2. Written by Amit
    on April 16, 2009 at 11:53 pm
    Permalink

    Nice analysis benphoster, but I disagree with myth 3. I don’t disagree that perfectionists are wanted but presentations and analyses are required to be “perfect” because they often times go directly to the board of directors or CEO. As part of a corporate strategy role in multiple areas throughout my career, nothing reflects worse on you and your team if your CEO gets distracted or doesn’t understand your point in a board meeting because of your poor presentation skills.

    I agree that unpolished presentations are ok for building consensus with groups, but if your primary audience is the C-Suite I wouldn’t leave anything to chance.

  3. Written by Chris Brooks
    on April 17, 2009 at 7:23 pm
    Permalink

    Great post and interesting information. I agree with Amit’s post about the presentation. When you go and talk to the CEO you want all of your ducks in a row.

    The cookie cutter leadership myth was also thought provoking. Linking thoughts and applying them is a key piece of being successful. Knowing how to apply your knowledge and maybe even break the mold is much more of an asset than an employee who is just a follower.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Written by Chris Brooks
    on April 17, 2009 at 1:23 pm
    Permalink

    Great post and interesting information. I agree with Amit’s post about the presentation. When you go and talk to the CEO you want all of your ducks in a row.

    The cookie cutter leadership myth was also thought provoking. Linking thoughts and applying them is a key piece of being successful. Knowing how to apply your knowledge and maybe even break the mold is much more of an asset than an employee who is just a follower.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Written by Alain Breillatt
    on April 17, 2009 at 8:07 pm
    Permalink

    I’ve worked in this role in a start-up where it was more business development (the non-sales type where you’re responsible for doing licensing deals and partnerships) and in a public company where it was more in line with corporate development where M&A activity was the core focus.

    I’ve never trusted anyone who was purely strategic without any responsibility for then going out and building on their recommendations or driving implementation across the organization. If you’re a Corporate Strategist and you can’t, after 12 months on the job, demonstrate how your efforts have (or realistically will) significantly contributed to either top line growth or bottom line profitability then you’re doing something wrong or your role is not properly positioned within the organization. You might just be in the ivory tower since the GM’s in your organization are pursuing the strategic implementation that you claim to be responsible for.

    But these myths are not myths because they’re not true in aggregate. I know many organizations for whom the strategy role carries one or many of these labels for quite valid reasons. How you and the VP or Director responsible for driving the strategic arm of the organization approach the work and evangelize it to ensure that it actually gets implemented have a huge impact on whether or not these myths are actually facts.

    A couple additional comments:

    Those who started off in consulting and got out were probably the smart ones who recognized that as you say: 1) work/life balance is more important to them and their ability to see their family on a regular basis AND 2) they grew tired of starting a new project and discovering that the client is asking them to build out analysis for a problem that they hired a HPC for 3 years ago and never actually took action on. You know this when you visit with the project manager for the client and see a nice dusty binder complete with clever code name and motivational imagery sitting on his shelf. This becomes obvious when every senior manager you talk with starts into a spiel that sounds suspiciously like a canned consultant analysis of their business.

    Finally, unpolished or polished really depends on what stage you are at in pursuing a specific concept, theme, or change. Early stages demand you put the PPT down and focus on the questions. Later stages you build the presentation together. Final stage of communication – you had better dot your i’s and cross your t’s – and please, please, please bring something more to the table than just a mind numbing deck. I applaud the strategist who is able get this done without a PPT deck – it’s such a bloody crutch. Bring a 5 page executive summary backed up by a 50 page appendix of analysis that demonstrates why the recommended course of action makes sense. And then actually have a discussion about the issue rather than presenting it.

    The best strategists I have seen are ones who came into the role after building their chops as an SME in some area of the business. That way you’re not speaking theoretically about the opportunities but instead knowledgeably and are then an effective communicator when it comes time to go implement.

  6. Written by Alain Breillatt
    on April 17, 2009 at 2:07 pm
    Permalink

    I’ve worked in this role in a start-up where it was more business development (the non-sales type where you’re responsible for doing licensing deals and partnerships) and in a public company where it was more in line with corporate development where M&A activity was the core focus.

    I’ve never trusted anyone who was purely strategic without any responsibility for then going out and building on their recommendations or driving implementation across the organization. If you’re a Corporate Strategist and you can’t, after 12 months on the job, demonstrate how your efforts have (or realistically will) significantly contributed to either top line growth or bottom line profitability then you’re doing something wrong or your role is not properly positioned within the organization. You might just be in the ivory tower since the GM’s in your organization are pursuing the strategic implementation that you claim to be responsible for.

    But these myths are not myths because they’re not true in aggregate. I know many organizations for whom the strategy role carries one or many of these labels for quite valid reasons. How you and the VP or Director responsible for driving the strategic arm of the organization approach the work and evangelize it to ensure that it actually gets implemented have a huge impact on whether or not these myths are actually facts.

    A couple additional comments:

    Those who started off in consulting and got out were probably the smart ones who recognized that as you say: 1) work/life balance is more important to them and their ability to see their family on a regular basis AND 2) they grew tired of starting a new project and discovering that the client is asking them to build out analysis for a problem that they hired a HPC for 3 years ago and never actually took action on. You know this when you visit with the project manager for the client and see a nice dusty binder complete with clever code name and motivational imagery sitting on his shelf. This becomes obvious when every senior manager you talk with starts into a spiel that sounds suspiciously like a canned consultant analysis of their business.

    Finally, unpolished or polished really depends on what stage you are at in pursuing a specific concept, theme, or change. Early stages demand you put the PPT down and focus on the questions. Later stages you build the presentation together. Final stage of communication – you had better dot your i’s and cross your t’s – and please, please, please bring something more to the table than just a mind numbing deck. I applaud the strategist who is able get this done without a PPT deck – it’s such a bloody crutch. Bring a 5 page executive summary backed up by a 50 page appendix of analysis that demonstrates why the recommended course of action makes sense. And then actually have a discussion about the issue rather than presenting it.

    The best strategists I have seen are ones who came into the role after building their chops as an SME in some area of the business. That way you’re not speaking theoretically about the opportunities but instead knowledgeably and are then an effective communicator when it comes time to go implement.

  7. Written by benphoster.com » Strategy Jobs - Finding and Preparing
    on April 19, 2009 at 2:31 pm
    Permalink

    […] my last post, I covered some of the myths about working in corporate strategy.  Here, I’ll share what worked for me when I was last searching for a job.  Step One is to […]

  8. […] who can think quick and act even quicker.  In my first two posts of this series, I covered the myths of corporate strategy jobs and how to find a job in corporate strategy.  In this final post, I’ll talk about ways you […]

  9. Written by Ravichandra
    on June 14, 2010 at 9:57 am
    Permalink

    I am pursuing my MBA and this post really helped. Cheers!

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