L.E.K. Consulting has an extensive consumer practice that works with a diverse range of companies to address the many complex issues facing leaders in the consumer sector. Lauren DeVestern and Neil Mittal are managing directors and partners in L.E.K.’s Boston office who both work in the firm’s consumer practice. Recently, Lauren and Neil sat down with us to discuss why they joined L.E.K., what inspires them about working for the firm, and the recommendations they have for aspiring consultants. Below is an edited excerpt of that conversation.
What attracted you to L.E.K. and why did you decide to join the firm?
Neil: I joined L.E.K. as a summer consultant while getting my MBA, and after my summer I decided to join the firm full time. There were several reasons for my decision. First, I was drawn to the type of consulting L.E.K. does, namely strategy consulting. I loved helping clients think through where they should be going next. Second, I liked L.E.K.’s generalist model, because it gave me exposure to a broad range of industries at the outset of my career. But the real clincher for me was the firm's approach to professional development, which is both broad and deep.
Lauren: I knew I wanted to do consulting after undergrad. In 2010, when I graduated college, the economy was still emerging from a recession. I had received an offer from another consulting firm, but they rescinded it due to economic/business headwinds. As you can imagine, I was in a bit of a panic. As it turned out, instead of laying people off or rescinding offers, L.E.K. needed to hire more people and, in addition to those new hires, had recruited on campus in the fall. I think that really speaks to the firm’s strength and growth trajectory (which is just as strong today!) and why I decided to make my career here.
You both have been at L.E.K. for several years and have moved up to become managing directors. How has L.E.K. supported you in your career journeys?
Neil: L.E.K. offers all the types of development support one might expect in a firm of our size and caliber. You have a fantastic onboarding experience, and they assign you both an official mentor and a “buddy"” who helps you navigate the organization. There is plenty of formal training in both hard and soft skills throughout your career. But the best part is that they give you a certain level of autonomy—you can decide what you want to work on. And because the system is merit-based, people are promoted as quickly as they develop—there is no set amount of time they need to stay in a role.
Lauren: I think L.E.K is unique in its ability to move professionals up rapidly through the ranks. Much of this is due to the on-the-job learning. One reason the learning is so fast is that the average length of an L.E.K. project is a few weeks to a few months—as opposed to the half-year or year at other firms. So, you’re exposed to a huge range of problems, industries, companies, and people over a relatively short period of time, and you progress really quickly.
The firm has also made a huge commitment to championing its female leaders through mentorship and other programs. Just one small part of that is acknowledging the pressures of the job, and establishing policies that promote work-life balance (for all employees—not just women). In addition, we have a number of flexible working options that you can pursue temporarily or more permanently. I personally have taken two sabbaticals over the course of my career when I needed a break or wanted to pursue personal priorities outside of the job.
What are some of the most exciting and interesting consumer trends that have affected the work you do with clients?
Lauren: I focus on two main consumer sectors—Pets & Animals, and Health and Beauty. On the Pet side, I think we're all aware that during Covid this was one industry that was going gangbusters, with everyone getting a pet. But more broadly, we’re seeing what is called the “humanization” of pets. Consumers are increasingly attributing human-like needs to pets, and younger generations are delaying children/getting pets instead. That has all kinds of exciting implications for products and services. On the Beauty side, companies are embracing a number of important trends from clean beauty to better inclusivity and personalization to sustainability. There is a ton of innovation in the space accordingly.
Neil: I work in the travel and leisure space, so obviously there was a huge impact on the sector when Covid hit. Now that travel is booming again, there's been a paradigm shift. The focus is no longer on business travel, it’s all about leisure. Not only is there pent-up demand, but the consumer mindset has changed, with a new emphasis on valuing experiences. As a result, industry players are thinking about how to reinvent themselves, whether that means revamping their loyalty programs or establishing subscription models.
What advice do you have for someone who’s thinking about a career in consulting?
Neil: First, you need to know what type of consulting you want to do. Do you want to do strategy? Implementation? Deep research and analysis? Second, do your homework to understand the firm's culture and how they operate. If possible, talk with people who work at the firm to get a bit more intelligence. Third, a lot of interviews are case-based, so practice with people who know how cases should be structured. And finally, keep up with the business news. If you can communicate a sense of general business acumen, that's going to go a long way towards making you an attractive candidate.
Lauren: Consulting is an incredibly competitive field, and it’s important to do well in the interview. It's hard to overinvest in preparation. Since a big part of the interview is case-based, practice your presentation with as many people as possible. But also think about what the firm you’re interviewing with is looking for in a candidate. At L.E.K., we value strong quantitative skills, but more than that we’re interested in a creative approach to solving a strategic problem. Do you have a framework for looking at the issue in an organized way and then breaking it down into pieces? Being able to do that well will cut through the clutter of a large applicant pool.