Altman Vilandrie & Company FAQ

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2 English questions out of 2

15 January 2020

How are the career development opportunities at Altman Vilandrie & Company?

Pros

Both the pros and cons were written up during my time at the company, edited only slightly with the benefit of hindsight and perspective that comes from having worked elsewhere. 1. The industry focus allows you to learn a lot, quickly. After a year or so you will likely have accumulated enough experience in a few topics to hit the ground running on a new project. This pace of learning is especially valuable since no traditional undergraduate degree will truly prepare you for consulting. You will also need to become a jack of all trades, since the small size means there's not much support with data analytics etc. 2. Size & culture - when I was there, the place had a fun culture, and hopefully there is still some of that left. The company's size is small enough to be on a first name basis with almost everyone, and at least the Boston office is large enough to have some diversity. Friday happy hours are a good way to bond with your peers, but you’re unlikely to find many managers or above in attendance. 3. Low travel. This means you get to sleep in your own bed - on the flipside, not a lot of client exposure (I had only three projects at a client site over three years.) 4. They’ve really tried to limit weekend work. That’s probably only worth highlighting because it was slightly absurd before (working ~50% of the weekends in my first few months). You will still be working late (9-10pm average, with 3 am not unheard of) during the week. 5. There will be some really talented people in your class. >50% of them will be gone by the 2-year mark though. 6. Recruiters know the name, so you might get offers to interview at Uber or Microsoft, but don’t expect the firm's connections to be very helpful. Limited exit opportunities if you’re looking for anything outside of telecom/tech though.

Cons

Whether these are negatives depends somewhat on your expectations and who you're comparing the company to. 1. Telecom is the first and foremost T in the company’s TMT-focus. Make sure you can imagine yourself doing due diligence (50% of my time, 60% of projects) on B2B networking products and telecom infrastructure (cell towers, data centers, and lots of fiber) for an extended period of time. Any tech or media projects you might come across are very likely to be related to telecom. 2. The work is typically rather dull. If you do get a strategy project (the remaining 40% of projects, and arguably more interesting), you will spend the vast majority of the time working with one of the two major telecoms in the US. You will tend to work with their mid-level managers, analyzing customer data or building a more accurate market forecast - in many ways, “strategy consulting” here is a euphemism for customized market research. Not to be too harsh, but most of the analyst job could probably be done by people out of high school. Maybe the same is true for other consulting companies, I can’t say for certain, but it's hardly intellectually stimulating. 3. You rarely get to pick the project you will work on next, though the folks responsible for staffing are very understanding (e.g. they might put you on the beach for a little bit longer after a series of private equity projects). This is largely a feature of the company’s size and niche. 4. Your projects will be short (1 month average for me) - this is both good and bad. Most terrible projects will be over soon, and you can move on quickly. At the same time, the short duration of the projects stems from the rather piecemeal nature of the work, so your team is rarely involved in figuring out the big picture. Similarly, the rapid project turnover means there is limited opportunity for any serious mentorship and analysts are often seen by management as "resources" to be allocated, not young colleagues to be mentored. I personally always found my longer projects to be the most rewarding.

Advice to Management

This is 100% my opinion, but I'd say that the partners usually exhibit poor leadership, with a few notable, but rare exceptions. Having worked with 9 out of the 11 directors (partners) at the time, many of them rose through the ranks because they often did more work than necessary, not because they are good at motivating teams (though they presumably aspire to be). A few are even notorious for their anger management issues, which are hopefully being addressed through the executive coaching classes.

After a year or so you will likely have accumulated enough experience in a few topics to hit the ground running on a new project.

15 January 2020

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3 February 2020

How are promotions handled at Altman Vilandrie & Company?

Pros

1. Rapid learning. Analysts ramp up on data analysis skills, hypothesis-based problem solving and TMT industry knowledge rapidly. After 1 year, most analysts are able to execute projects independently with occasional guidance from management committee (MC) members—a highly valuable skill set and mindset. 2. Valuable and frequent feedback. AV&Co. has a strong informal and formal feedback culture. If you are receptive to constructive criticism, you will improve rapidly (and the sky’s the limit). Generally, the feedback is fair and senior staff often give junior staff valuable advice and guidance even outside of formal feedback sessions. 3. Flexible work policies and low travel. Employees are generally not penalized for working from home, and there is little travel for junior employees, resulting in improved employee satisfaction and health. 4. Agile and receptive HR department. As the firm is relatively small, AV&Co.’s HR department is highly receptive to feedback and employees have the opportunity to directly impact and improve the work environment. Hopefully, the HR department can continue to improve the employee experience and commit to excellence despite the recent departure of the beloved HR head. 5. The people! Most people that work at AV&Co. are smart, kind and hardworking. It’s wonderful to have coworkers who genuinely care about you, and are also your friends. Everyone knows each other by first name, and when you travel between offices, you can expect to be greeted warmly by coworkers in every office. 6. Happy Hour. Perhaps its most tangible selling point, AV&Co.’s happy hours are weekly Friday affairs for employees to relax over food and drinks at a local bar or restaurant, across all offices. This is a great perk, though recent restrictions have made attendance less attractive.

Cons

1. Unbalanced work that is more often than not, tedious. While AV&Co. sells itself as a TMT firm, it is more realistically a telecom firm that does some telecom-related work in media (less common) and tech (rare). Work is heavily skewed toward due diligences on network assets or B2B (and the occasional B2C) telecom products/technologies. The remaining strategy projects skew toward regional/local customer targeting/marketing-type work rather than higher-level strategy. AV&Co. excels at “quantitative work”, i.e. intense number crunching and building complex models. As a result, the work is generally tedious, with a heavy focus on refining calculations/numbers that don’t necessarily make a difference at the end of the day. In addition, many aspects of the job outsourced at other firms have to be done manually at AV&Co.; analysts frequently spend time on mundane slide creation rather than actual problem solving, for example. 2. Poor work/life balance, though there have been recent improvements. Analysts can expect to work until 9-11p on average Monday-Thursday, with high-burn projects pushing hours consistently past midnight—on the higher end, even for consulting, considering the low-travel model. Teams are generally receptive to the occasional weeknight commitment, though it is rarely guaranteed and some management members have a poor track record of honoring these commitments. The poor work/life balance is exacerbated by management treating (and calling) junior staff “resources” to be used up. On the bright side, weekend work is now (thankfully) rare. 3. Slow career trajectory and potential to improve compensation/benefits. Promotion is slow at AV&Co. and gets slower as employees move up the ranks, perhaps as a retention mechanism. There are many promotion criteria, many of which are subjective, making the promotion process seem more political than necessary. Recent changes to increase base salary but decrease bonus percentage make the firm less competitive overall (as overall compensation remains the same vs. increasing compensation across major firms in the industry) and disincentivizes star employees from working their hardest. Benefits could be better (e.g. shift to full health insurance coverage). 4. Staffing imbalance. While there is an effort to ensure analysts get staffed on a variety of different projects, some analysts may find themselves staffed on the same projects with the same workstreams with the same people back-to-back as they get more tenured. This can limit learning and seems to be at the mercy of management “preferences” for certain analysts and their experience/skills, perhaps to improve project outcomes/margins on compressed timelines. 5. Poor knowledge management system. AV&Co.’s knowledge management is desperately overdue for a massive overhaul, though much improved from a few years ago. Previous work is difficult to find and results in consistent “reinventing the wheel”, which will only get worse as the firm grows. 6. Lack of respect for non-consulting staff. Management mistreatment of the analytics and admin teams is not uncommon. In order to be a leading firm, AV&Co. must focus on automation which involves building and expanding the analytics team and its capabilities, though efforts here seem halfhearted. 7. Lack of diversity. AV&Co. is heavily white male-dominated and contributes to the cliquey culture (more on that below), though there have been recent pushes toward recruiting more diverse talent (and results are currently being seen). However, support for diverse staff is nonexistent beyond lip service by HR. 8. Culture/gossip. AV&Co. is highly cliquey, with some analysts clearly closer to each other than the rest of their class. This can result in feelings of exclusion even within analyst classes, which is detrimental to morale. In addition, word has a tendency to make its way around the firm very quickly, resulting in constant gossiping, especially in the Boston office (including work-inappropriate topics), magnifying the disparity between the “in” crowd and other employees.

Advice to Management

Focus on rewarding current employees (e.g. shortening promotion track) and being more attractive to prospective hires. The firm is bleeding in talent as more and more prospective hires and current employees enter either the tech industry for more pay and less stress or the finance industry for more pay and equal stress. The “work really hard and realize the fruits of your labor when you make it to principal/director” mentality is much less compelling nowadays when there are accessible, better alternatives for entry-level staff. With low brand recognition outside telecom, AV&Co. must be a leader (in employee experience, support and compensation) in order to attract and maintain the talent required to grow. The current strategy of moving in lockstep with other major consulting firms represents a reactive and lagging rather than proactive attitude, is not enticing to on-campus hires (the bulk of the firm’s talent pipeline) and will not work moving forward. Without quality on-campus hires, AV&Co. will have to resort to more expensive, less sustainable off-cycle hiring processes which limits analyst class solidarity and morale. Focus on expanding the analytics team and its capabilities (especially automation) and consulting staff attitude toward these highly valuable staff members. Outsource tedious manual work (e.g. slide creation, surveys).

Promotion is slow at AV&Co.

3 February 2020

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2 English questions out of 2