Julie Geelen reflects on her first year with Simon-Kucher

25 November 2020 Consultancy.eu

Despite the challenges of 2020, including a global pandemic and a historic recession, Julie Geelen looks back at her first year with Simon-Kucher & Partners with delight. Speaking to Consultancy.eu, Geelen notes that the firm’s warm and supportive culture has endured the move online during the Netherlands’ lockdown.

“Whenever someone asks me, ‘why consider working with Simon-Kucher’ I always answer that at Simon-Kucher & Partners we have the best of both worlds,” Julie Geelen explains. “In the Amsterdam office we have about 60 people, and the firm puts in a lot of effort to make sure you get to know them all – so it has the supportive atmosphere of being in a smaller firm.”

“At the same time, internationally we’re at nearly 1,500 employees, and we have lots of facilities, opportunities for training, and room for professional growth – in a way smaller firms might struggle to provide.”

The popularity of the consulting industry among graduates is often attributed to its ability to offer new talent a proving ground, where recruits can quickly take on challenging and diverse responsibilities, continuing their learning while beginning to accrue professional experience.

Julie Geelen, Consultant, Simon-Kucher & Partners

For Geelen, who joined the strategy and sales & marketing consulting firm in February, the company has more than delivered on this front – presenting her with the opportunity to take on a wide array of tasks and projects which could eventually help her in her future career.

Speaking after her first 10 months in the job, Geelen says “I’ve been here less than a year, and based on my experience I would say that Simon-Kucher is the perfect place to start a career. You try a lot of different things, and learn a lot, so I would highly recommend the firm to graduates.”

Geelen obtained a Masters in Quantitative Finance at the School of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam. When she graduated in 2019, she was keen to put her knowledge to work, but was unsure which industry specifically she wanted to put down roots in. A friend of hers applied with Simon-Kucher, and encouraged her to do the same – explaining that consulting could give her the opportunity to get a detailed overview of a range of different topics and sectors.

“I didn’t have one industry I was attracted to, but in consulting you work for all kinds of sectors. The fact you do multiple projects, rather than one set job, seemed perfect.”

On the project

At Simon-Kucher, fresh consultants are quickly trusted with a range of responsibilities to help them quickly find their feet. Giving one example of how this works, Geelen points to one of her earliest projects, where she was the most junior person in a team.

“The senior members asked me ‘What are your learning goals?’ In my case it was to have client contact and verify analyses with the client themselves. Rather than seniors wanting to do that themselves, they are willing to kind of stand aside to let you learn first-hand.” Meanwhile, “the culture of the firm is really supportive – everyone is geared at helping each other learn – meaning that I was helped in advancing my skills.”

Progress of team members is monitored by two official evaluations throughout the year combined with individual project evaluations with a team. On such engagements, team members offer feedback on a daily basis to help new recruits obtain a steep learning curve.

“In my experience Simon-Kucher is the perfect place to start a career. You work on a range of different projects and learn a lot. I would highly recommend the firm to graduates.”

This system of support has enabled Geelen’s initial responsibilities to quickly expand. In her first year, she has already moved from a supportive role to direct analysis and validation work. This includes evaluating the client’s proposition, on product level but also from a strategic perspective, performing market research for software in the publisher industry, and other analytical projects.

Sunny side consulting

Simon-Kucher has often characterised itself as working on the “sunny side of consulting,” an approach which Geelen – who is “much more interested in looking to grow revenues than manage costs” – has enjoyed very much. According to the Consultant, even during a very difficult year, where the pandemic and a global recession might have made that sunny side more difficult to find, Simon-Kucher has not shifted on this stance.

“Even during a crisis, we have remained focused on growth,” Geelen states. “Of course, we are in a very different context now, but one project we would never do is cost saving – for example firing people to keep a company afloat.”

Virtual working

This is not to say the Covid-19 pandemic has not impacted the consultancy, however. Geelen arrived in February, and while this enabled Simon-Kucher to manage to complete an in-person on-boarding of the new recruit, she was only able to spend around a month in the office before lockdown began.

“It’s hard to say exactly how Covid-19 has impacted projects, as I’ve only completed them in the pandemic era so far – but we obviously have had to do much of the work remotely, and I haven’t been able to spend very much time with clients in person.”

Fortunately, clients have adjusted their expectations accordingly. Since “we all know the situation we are in,” Geelen is confident there is willingness on the client’s side to accommodate the adapted work consultants provide under lockdown, as long as they are sufficiently creative on how they work digitally to still work closely with clients from afar.

Simon-Kucher has also worked consistently to help its staff avoid feeling isolated during the lockdown. According to Geelen, all the Amsterdam office’s colleagues made an effort to stay in contact. Zoom played a particularly important role to this end, as “making sure we didn’t just text” really helped staff to feel as though they were not alone amid the crisis. At the same time, the firm’s social events have continued, albeit at a distance. Most recently this saw Simon-Kucher host a Halloween drinks social virtually.

Geelen concludes, “One thing that somewhat surprised me is the close connection between employees on a personal level. Before and during the Covid-19 period, people have continued to see and speak to each other after work – demonstrating the close-knitted family we are at Simon-Kucher. The entire office has been great at making me feel at home and at ease from the very beginning.”