An interview with Jhoshan Jothilingam, Business Strategist, Digital Media Expert & Government Adviser

An interview with Jhoshan Jothilingam, Business Strategist, Digital Media Expert & Government Adviser

I first met Jhoshan back in London over five years ago. By my own admission, Jhoshan has had one of the most interesting careers I have come across, from diplomacy to management consulting to working for an ex British Prime Minister. Jhoshan Jothilingam - Business Strategist, Digital Media Expert & Government AdviserAfter returning home to Sydney, we caught up and Jhoshan kindly agreed to share some of his career experience and advice. It makes for a very compelling read:

1. What are the key things that allowed you to get to where you are today and what do you attribute your success to?

15 years ago I never would have thought that I will have worked on five continents in a career spanning diplomacy, working with world leaders and media companies. In fact, thinking back I recall many of the companies and places that I ended up at seeming like distant possibilities only years prior.

Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to find myself in some great opportunities. I found that these came as I am:

Curious and willing to embrace new opportunities

I enjoy being challenged and constantly learning. Consulting and rotation programmes drove me beyond my comfort zone and challenged me to swiftly grasp new industries and capabilities. For example, I had little operational experience in media/tech prior to entering the industry but was able to learn on the job. Despite being new I found that, due to the speed of change, everyone in the sector is constantly learning as well.

Adaptable

Adapting to a new environment is one of the biggest challenges I encountered when moving between roles, companies and especially countries. This included developing comfort with disparate cultures, environments and working styles of governments in Asia, a mining company in Africa, and a media company in the US (particularly managing 16 international markets) – the cultures were unusual in many ways and thus, engaging stakeholders required distinctive approaches.

For example, some interlocutors in Asia would require months of relationship building prior to substantive agreements where others would spend little time on small-talk and launch straight into an agreement.

Open to feedback

I am the first to admit that feedback can be a challenge due to a perceived association with failure or an attack on capabilities. Nevertheless, over time I have found feedback to be a valuable source of motivation, vindication and opportunity to improve in areas that I may not have otherwise been aware. One piece of feedback that I took on board led me to undertake a writing subject at law school, which became one of the most useful subjects I ever did particularly for contract and report writing.

See opportunity

I would not be where I am today without some amazing people within my personal and work life who have taught, inspired and motivated me to see great opportunity in myself and the world. Listening to friends talk enthusiastically about establishing businesses throughout Asia was actually a catalyst for my decision to enter consulting.

Always striving to reach my potential

Although setbacks have been challenging I believe that whilst I cannot always control the outcome, I am in control my attitude and effort. So I try my best to remain tenacious to the get the best outcome.

2. What are your thoughts on a career in industry versus consulting, and when is the right time to look at making a move from consulting into industry? 

There is no particular “right” time for consulting or a career in industry, nor is the transition in one direction. Both can have advantages depending on the individual and so it comes down to personal preference. I based my decision on an eagerness to "get my hands dirty" within an organisation and a desire to embark on a new learning journey in an industry I was interested in.

I primarily transitioned from the public service into consulting to augment my toolkit. For me, it helped to:

  1. Develop core hard skills in analysis and strategy;
  2. Gain exposure to a variety of industries, companies and capabilities. As a result, it helped me to develop wide experiences that led me to identify future passions/plans;
  3. Build a strong network, some of whom may even turn out to be future business partners; and
  4. Develop an international career.

 

For others, particularly those early on in their career, consulting also provided them with a place to leverage learnings from, or gain a pathway into, an MBA. Nevertheless, I believe that industry experience (before and after consulting) has been valuable as it allowed me to:

  • Lead the implementation of an idea, including unifying conflicting stakeholders with whom I had a direct organisational relationship, which required developing a different set of skills. This was especially true in situations involving considerable relationship and team building over time;
     
  • Increase my understanding of organisational dynamics and structures. The delivery/execution of a plan is often the most challenging part. I have found that, despite ample planning, successful outcomes often hinge on navigating politics and bureaucracy, which seems more pronounced when you are within an organisation;
     
  • See the output of my work and grow an organisation over time. This has been incredibly rewarding given the investment in the process as an employee of the company and accountability for the outcome; 
     
  • and as a result of the above, I have and would be (if I were to return to consulting) even more empathetic to clients.

 

My consulting peers have had a variety of experiences. Many went into industry or government or used what they learned from consulting to start their own business after two to three years. Quite a number have decided to stay in/return to consulting for a longer period of time as they enjoyed the diversity of client work.

3. What have been your career-defining moments?

It may be cliched, but it is true to say that every situation has contributed to where I am at this point-in-time. However, the biggest moments have come from:

Taking chances to follow my interests 

On a few occasions I was advised against leaving great organisations, or entering others due to an uncertain career path. The move from government into management consulting was particularly challenging as I went from performing well in an interesting role/career that I was comfortable in to learning an entirely new set of skills in new industries and countries in a short space of time.

However, I knew that this path would eventually help to broaden my reach and capability. As a result of the calculated leap, I have pursued interests and passions in countries that I never imagined I would live in. The exposure to new skills, organisations, countries and cultures has consequently led me to better understand international business opportunities and politics.

Becoming a student of others in the business

It has been inspiring taking the time to listen to employees in different organisations. Some of the most valuable experiences I have had in organisations have been the times I spent interning or shadowing employees in functional front-line roles. Through these experiences I was able to develop more realistic work plans and strategies that have may have otherwise been less pragmatic. Plans cannot be executed effectively unless you know the role and psyche of all employees involved in the process.        

Understanding how to engage a client in industry versus consulting

As mentioned earlier, my experience in industry led me to learn that execution and internal management is key. This was especially driven home during an encounter with a CEO whilst in industry. A few weeks after (what I thought was) a great presentation, he finally candidly stated that I ought to stop advising what to do and just get on with doing it. I learned from that experience that the proof of any good idea in industry lies in delivering results on the ground rather than PowerPoints.

4. What advice would you give to other people looking to pursue a strategy career?

I would highly recommend a strategy career for anyone, and say to them that a strategy career is a like a pick your own adventure. It is not linear and can be pursued through industry, start ups or a consulting firm. In my case, I found management consulting to be a great place to pick up relevant skills and tools that I may not have learned as quickly in industry.

That being said, there are few things I have found along the way:

There are no guarantees on lifestyle 

There is a common belief that the work-life balance in a strategy/strategic role in industry is better. Whilst this may be true in many cases compared to consulting, it is certainly not guaranteed. On many occasions I encountered the hours and intensity in industry/government to be comparable.

Culture is critical

Find a consulting firm or business that gels with you and your working style.

Expose yourself

Gather experience in as many industries, functions and areas as possible – not only will it improve your knowledgebase, but is also essential to ensuring that there is a cross-pollination of ideas and capabilities between sectors.

Be persistent

If you do not get into a strategy role straight away, particularly in consulting, keep trying. Take on-board the feedback and improve your credentials for next time. I know a number of people who tried more than three times for organisations and eventually got in – and they turned out to be great additions!

If you would like to find out more about the options a move into industry can create for you, please feel free to reach out to me via my contact details below.

Henry Harris-Hall's picture
Senior Consultant | Strategy
hharrishall@morganmckinley.com.au