Making Sense of it All: Consulting, SGE & the MBA Experience

by Sierra Stewart, MBA ‘15

Sierra Stewart, MBA ‘15

Sierra Stewart reflects on her summer internship with Deloitte’s consulting practice, life in the Bay Area and the importance of staying true to who you are – no matter what career you pursue.

When I arrived at Johnson I had everything figured out: I was sure that a career in consulting was the only thing for me and I was ready to work as hard as possible to make that happen. I knew that consulting would mean long hours, grueling cross-country travel and spending more time in hotels than at home, but I was ready. When I accepted my internship with Deloitte’s Strategy & Operations practice in their San Francisco office I was ecstatic: mission accomplished!

Before coming to the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management I was the General Manager for Hillstone Restaurant Group. In that role I had become accustomed to 60-80 hour weeks, mandatory relocation every 4-6 months and the expectation that I would have a great attitude about relinquishing most of my personal life. And strangely, I loved it. I was thrilled by the amount of responsibility I was given and found myself addicted to the constant challenge of the day-to-day operations. With this experience under my belt I saw consulting as a continuation of my previous lifestyle: yes, I would be sacrificing my personal life but I also knew I would gain tremendous professional growth. At the time, this seemed like a fair tradeoff.

I am happy to report that I actually had an AMAZING summer. I enjoyed the type of work I was doing. I fit naturally into the company culture and decided that San Francisco is the best thing since sliced bread. It was great all the way around. But that having been said, I also learned a couple really important lessons along the way that I would like to share with the first year students as they head into their summer internships as well as the in-coming class of students:

1) Question your goals: No matter how sure you think you are about what you want to do in life, never stop questioning your goals. Ask yourself, “Why do I want this?” and “If I didn’t do this, what would I do instead?” You might just confirm that you had the right idea all along, but you also might realize that there are 10 other great options you hadn’t even considered. In the end, consulting was the right thing for me – but I feel a lot better about that decision knowing that I also considered investment banking, marketing, hotel management and entrepreneurship.

2) You make your own balance: No one else is going to come along and fight for your personal life. Do you want to live in San Francisco? Then tell them that. Do you need at least one day off every weekend to be with your spouse? Say that up front. As someone who spent the better part of the last 5 years sacrificing their personal life I can tell you: most companies will take every single bit of your time that you are willing to give up. If you’re ever going to achieve a great balance, you’re the one who has to make that happen. Everyone told me that applying to San Francisco with a consulting firm was a suicide mission – but I stuck to my guns, voiced my preference and ended up SO happy this summer as a result of that.

3) Don’t lose sight of what is important to you: This is probably my single biggest takeaway from my first year in business school. There are going to be lots of opportunities along the way to take the easy way out, to do what everyone else is doing, and to listen to that little voice in your head telling you that you might fail. But at the end of the day, the things that are important to you make you who you are and they’re absolutely worth fighting for. For me, this is painting. I started college as a painting major, and while I am not pursuing a career in the art world, I am trying really hard to find a way to make sure I don’t lose this part of me.

So what does this have to do with Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE)? Everything. And nothing. I suppose it depends on how you look at it. There are going to be people at Johnson who tell you that your immersion is really important and that consulting firms want to see you in Managerial Finance Immersion (MFI) or the Semester in Strategic Operations (SSO). I think these people are just uncomfortable with not knowing which neat little box to put you in. For me, joining the SGE immersion was about letting myself pursue a topic that I was passionate about, for no reason other than I wanted to learn about it.

Will I have a sustainability job someday? Maybe. I think in the next 50 years most of us will probably be involved in some type of sustainability project or another. But I don’t think you need to go into impact investing or clean energy for the immersion to be impactful. To me, SGE is more about a way of thinking than it is about telling you what to think. And whether you are a consultant, a CEO, or the head of a non-profit, that’s something we all could use a little more of.