Two consultants on life with Oliver Wyman in Amsterdam

03 October 2019 10 min. read

Consulting is a top destination for graduate talent. Thanks to the industry’s wide-ranging client-base, consulting work offers young professionals keen to hone their skills access to a steep learning curve, as well as interesting and rewarding work. Two consultants from Oliver Wyman’s Amsterdam office sat with to discuss life at the strategy firm, and how it has helped them grow as professionals.

Leading global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman opened its office in Amsterdam in 2013, as part of its commitment to clients. Since then it has seen its Dutch team reach around 45 consultants. The firm serves clients across Financial Services, Consumer, Industrials and Services.

Senior Consultant Michael Borsky has spent the last two years of his career in the firm’s Amsterdam hub, and has seen the broadening of its capabilities first-hand during that time. Borsky told that during his tenure with the consultancy, he has worked on 13 projects across five different industries.

Michael Borsky and Mara van der Zee - Oliver Wyman

While most of his work was in the consumer goods and retail space, he has also been assigned to its aviation practice, where he helped to create a new loyalty programme for an international airline.

Borsky expanded; “I am one of the consultants who really enjoys seeing different industries early in my career. I have also done some projects in the field of financial services, such as supporting the development of a recovery plan for an international insurance, and thus developing a strategy on how to handle a potential situation of financial distress.”

Oliver Wyman’s work with clients across the industrial spectrum has aided its ascension in the Netherlands on two fronts. On a more immediate note, the firm is able to advise companies more broadly with local expertise, while at the same time in the long-term, the firm is able to attract a broader array of talent, by offering up diverse and rewarding work that can help young professionals gain an understanding of new career paths rapidly.

Another member of the Amsterdam office to have benefitted from this is Mara van der Zee. Prior to joining as a full-time consultant in September 2018, she completed a three-month internship with Oliver Wyman. At the firm, interns take on a regular consultant role within the team. She was therefore able to carry out the tasks and responsibilities of an actual consultant, including performing quantitative and qualitative analysis, conducting research, and participating in client meetings.

Surprised by the amount of responsibility that interns at Oliver Wyman receive, Van der Zee learned quickly due to the diverse range of tasks sent her way. Towards the end of her internship, her manager even asked if she would feel comfortable leading several client meetings with 5-8 managers from the client team.

She explained; “Responsibilities like these allowed me to make the most of my learning experience and illustrated to me how Oliver Wyman enables employees to seize stretch opportunities. The non-hierarchical approach means that, even as an intern, I was able to have direct client impact… My internship gave me a clear picture of what it is like to be a consultant at Oliver Wyman, both in terms of the content of the work and the culture of the organisation. When it comes to office culture, what stood out to me is the inclusivity and family feeling fostered by a small group of highly diverse people. Due to the breadth of nationalities and backgrounds, there is an open, warm, and inclusive atmosphere, which makes it easy for new-joiners to integrate. Ultimately, it was Oliver Wyman’s culture that made me decide to continue as a full-time consultant.”

One year on, Van der Zee has been working as a consultant with the firm on a variety of projects. To date, the eight she has completed have been in retail, corporate finance advisory, and public policy. Her work on these projects has included setting the fresh strategy for a large supermarket, creating a marketable software solution that manages large transformations at clients, and supporting the acquisition of a European public transport provider.

Describing one of her most memorable experiences, Van der Zee said, “During a public policy project, I worked for a European government to help the country achieve emission targets as set by the Paris Climate Agreement. My role on this project was to set up a market sizing model that estimated the necessary financing to achieve a zero-emission status for all privately-owned homes in the country. During this project, I was not only able to significantly improve my quantitative analysis and modelling skills, but also to experience working on a high-impact project that covers one of the most relevant topics today.”

Working with diversity

As a Senior Consultant, Borsky has similarly enjoyed the multi-faceted nature of his work. According to him, as every project is unique, his responsibilities are constantly changing. On any given day, his role could be to build a financial model, to align different client stakeholders, to manage and give guidance to a small team, or to prepare and lead workshops for different client teams. He has even had projects where he combined all of these responsibilities at once. He believes this has contributed to an agile working culture which is driving the firm forward.

Borsky explained; “As a young office that is growing fast, Oliver Wyman Amsterdam has a certain start-up spirit. There is lots of room for initiatives to help the firm move forward. As an example, together with a few colleagues, I have set up a newsletter for all “new” Oliver Wyman consultants with less than three years’ experience in Europe and in the Middle East. We are now publishing this once a quarter, providing travel tips, surveys and other useful insights. It allows you to connect with people in other offices.”

“There is an open, warm, and inclusive atmosphere, which makes it easy for new-joiners to integrate. Ultimately, it was Oliver Wyman’s culture that made me decide to continue as a full-time consultant.”
– Mara van der Zee, Consultant, Oliver Wyman

One of the key things the two professionals believe sets Oliver Wyman apart from other strategy consultancies is the way the business is structured – with a higher focus on content and capabilities, with the experts in the field being brought to the clients wherever they are in the world. In practice, this means the firm’s work is very international – but the firm also combines this seamlessly with the localised business habits of its offices around the world. In the case of Amsterdam, Borsky said it was easy to “feel an element of the Dutch flexibility and working culture in our office,” allowing for improved work-life balance.

As an example, he said, “Many people, including our Partners, take a few months off in the form of a leave of absence, to travel for a long safari through Africa, join a start-up for a few months or just do something completely different. Personally, I have been able to bring my Spanish to a completely proficient level thanks to this, by taking classes of in total four months in Peru and Mexico. Thereafter, I was able to be staffed on a project in which I only communicated, wrote and presented in Spanish. The flexibility provided by Oliver Wyman is extremely valuable.”

Van der Zee has similarly used the opportunity to embrace a multitude of new cultures during her time with Oliver Wyman. So far, she has worked on two projects abroad and with teams that consisted of consultants from up to five different offices. From the Amsterdam office, she also said that consultants have travelled anywhere from European capitals to South Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and many more destinations.

“The ability to continuously immerse myself into new experiences is one of the things I like most about working at Oliver Wyman,” she states. “For me this becomes most apparent through Oliver Wyman’s staffing model, which enables consultants to be staffed on whichever project is the right fit, regardless of its location. Thanks to this model nearly all projects are conducted in internationally diverse teams and consultants frequently travel for work.”

Enriching environment

Oliver Wyman supports the professional development of junior consultants in various ways, including regular trainings, senior mentor support, and close Talent Manager involvement. Thanks to the smaller size of its office in Amsterdam, these Talent Managers are able to get to know staff on a personal level and adjust project staffing to their development needs. This way, consultants are able to develop a varied and complete skill-set.

“Upon completion of each project, I have a catch-up with my Talent Manager to discuss my progress and objectives for the next project, such as skill development, content area interests, and travel preferences. Due to the extensive range of feedback and training I receive, I quickly get to develop towards more senior roles and experience a steep learning curve,” Van der Zee elaborated.Oliver Wyman’s office in Amsterdam“When I started as a consultant at Oliver Wyman, I travelled to London for two weeks of intensive training and team-building. Together with new-joiners from all our offices in the EMEA region, we got the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with Oliver Wyman and learn the basics of the consultant skill-set, such as Excel analysis, creating slides, and doing research.”

Beyond these standard mechanisms for developing consulting talent, Oliver Wyman also supports juniors through a network of senior mentors. When new consultants join the company, they are assigned a buddy to help them get started and integrate into the firm, in addition to a career advisor. According to Van der Zee, whose career advisor is one of the senior partners at the Amsterdam office, having regular catch-ups with them allows her to get to know the firm’s senior leadership, discuss career progress, get all-round feedback, and set development objectives.

There are also exciting opportunities for enrichment for all members of our office. According to Borsky, the social events offered by Oliver Wyman have been some of his top highlights since joining the firm. These have included visiting museums, skiing with colleagues, charity auctions, Amsterdam office days, and even a Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) football and volleyball tournament.

On these last two events, Borsky explained; “The Amsterdam office day usually takes place in summer, and is a day the whole Amsterdam office spends together… This year we went to the beach and did various sport activities. It’s a great day to enjoy some time with all your colleagues and catch up in an informal setting… The football and volleyball tournament is organised regularly with all EMEA offices present, including consultants and support staff. You get to play with and meet all your previous project colleagues, many people you have only written to before but never seen in person and most colleagues from your office. It’s an amazing and unique moment.”