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Molly Dearing is a Director at EY-Parthenon.

Companies continue to look for acquisitions as ways to diversify, stimulate growth, gain new technologies, improve supply chain and increase market share after global mergers and acquisitions (M&A) deal value hit an all-time high in 2021. But, given the ever-changing risks, the stakes are higher than ever for M&A due diligence.

Not surprisingly, CEOs and company leaders call upon the experience of consultants to help them value rapidly evolving business models. And, this is where consultants like Molly Dearing come in.

Molly is a director at EY-Parthenon, Ernst&Young LLP where she works as a consultant on buy- and sell-side commercial due diligence in the consumer sector. She works mainly with private equity firms and sometimes with corporate clients.

We recently spoke with Molly about what she does daily and what it’s like to work for one of the largest global strategy consulting organizations.

Firsthand: Describe your practice area.

Molly Dearing: The EY-Parthenon strategy practice has three distinct categories: (1) corporate strategy, (2) transaction strategy and execution, and (3) turnaround strategy. Each is enabled by transformative technologies. I mainly work within private equity on commercial due diligence engagements. Commercial due diligence projects typically last two to four weeks and are focused on buy- or sell-side transactions.

In a buy-side diligence project, the client—often but not always a private equity company—is looking to potentially buy or invest in another business, the target. We conduct analysis for the client on the market, competitive environment, customer/consumer perception, growth opportunities, etc., to assess the attractiveness of the target and assist the client in its evaluation of their decision on “go/no-go” on the investment.

With sell-side diligence, we work with the client and often closely with the client’s bankers to assist in the client’s divestiture of itself or a portion of the client’s business (e.g., a business unit, product line, etc.). The analysis on the sell-side is similar, though the material is sometimes framed a bit differently. One significant difference between buy- and sell-side transactions is that on the sell-side, we often are working closely with the client’s management team. On the buyside, information is much more proprietary.

FH: What types of clients do you work with?

MD: I have worked with private equity firms and corporations. Because the majority of my work has been in the consumer sector, the private equity firms I’ve worked with either have a clear focus on consumer/retail or they are large and extremely diversified. In terms of the corporations I’ve worked with, I’ve done projects with consumer packaged goods companies, beverage brands and consumer services companies.

FH: What types of projects do you work on?

MD: I have done multiple buy-side diligence projects: a bakery division of a grocery store, a fountain beverage provider and a fast-food chain, among others. I’ve also done many sell-side diligence projects. I’ve worked with an arts and crafts manufacturer, an outdoor furniture brand and recently, for a beverage brand, we helped identify projected market size in the food delivery market space.

FH: How involved are you in the actual implementation or execution of your recommendations?

MD: The projects I’ve worked on are much more focused on developing a go-forward plan and are less involved in the implementation of that plan. That being said, other areas in EY-Parthenon are much more involved in the implementation, and often we have cross-practice-area cases, where one team develops the plan and then another will take on the implementation.

FH: What is a typical day like for you? What are some common tasks you perform?

MD: Describing the typical day is tricky because it can take on many different forms! Generally, though, the day will start off with a team check-in. During this check-in, we will discuss team priorities for the day or week, insights we’ve uncovered and questions we still need to dig into, and where we are on the status of key deliverables. After the check-in, the day will be filled with calls, survey analysis, modeling exercises, slide development and meetings with the client to provide updates on our work.

FH: What training, classes, experience or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

MD: I really think this area is one where you learn on the job. Someone who is about to begin a career with the EY-Parthenon team could take data analysis and presentation software courses to make sure that those hard-skill areas are fine-tuned, as that will make you more efficient. But the critical thinking and crux of the work we do is very much focused on thought exercises and collaborative analysis done with your team; there are no classes that can prep someone for that type of work! What makes our teams successful is the diversity of thought, energy, positive attitudes and the eagerness to learn new perspectives, all with the goal of coming to the appropriate conclusion for our client.

I have been able to participate in a handful of education projects and have become well acquainted with the education sector at EY-Parthenon team. Although my passion continues to be education, I have found the consumer sector fascinating and have really enjoyed my time building up experience in this area. I feel incredibly lucky to be at a firm that allows me to be involved with multiple sectors at once.

FH: How did you end up in your practice area? Did you actively pursue it?

MD: I joined the EY-Parthenon team and was assigned private equity consumer cases from the start; I had filled out a preference form in which I indicated interest in this exact area! What is great is that there is plenty of opportunity for me to get involved in the other practice areas as well. For example, we frequently have rotations available for consultants to experience a new practice. I’ve worked on many projects with people from other EY practices, and I think it enriches our work because we can get people with different skill sets involved in the same project.

FH: How is your firm innovating in your practice area? What are the biggest opportunities for innovation? How have your firm’s capabilities evolved since you joined the firm?

MD: One way the EY-Parthenon practice is innovating is that in combination with client-facing case work, we develop thought leadership pieces that hypothesize what the future state will look like. We combine primary research (e.g., surveys, interviews) with secondary analysis to hypothesize and test scenarios that help us think about what our world will look like and provide insights for our clients based on upcoming trends. These thought leadership pieces are proactive pieces of work that allow us to begin our case projects from a thoughtful starting place, and we therefore are able to dive deeper into specifics for our client’s individual situation.

FH: Finally, what do you like best about your job?

MD: I love how fast-paced our projects are. The days fly by because they are filled with activities that are engaging, challenging and thought-provoking. I also love the people I work with! Everyone is hardworking, smart and supportive, which is critical, but people are also funny and fun! I feel very lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people.

The views expressed by the author are his own and not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.