In this week’s episode of Beyond Consulting, we welcome Gaurav Malhotra, a former Deloitte consultant, and Vice President, Global Partner Marketing at Yubico. Gaurav joins us to talk about the knowledge he took away from his consulting days, and shares advice for fellow consultants who want to make the jump to industry.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara and co-hosted by Steven Haug. Steven leads this week’s episode.
Steven Haug: Hey all, welcome to Beyond Consulting, I’m your host Steven. We are brought to you by ECA Partners, a retained executive search firm that specializes in full-time executive placement as well as project and freelance roles. Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Gaurav Malhotra. Gaurav, welcome to the podcast.
Gaurav Malhotra: Thank you Steven, I’m so glad to be here. For some reason, this is my first podcast and I’m really excited. Over the years, I’ve always known about podcasts as a channel of communication, but for one reason or the other I never got onto it. So, I’m glad I’m here today.
Steven Haug: Well, good. I’m glad that we could be the first here. I was curious about that, I know that you have spent quite a bit of time in the marketing world and you know this might be a lever that you pull, but I’m glad that we could jump in here. What do you say we just start off with what you’re up to these days? You might tell us a bit about your role and your company.
Gaurav Malhotra: Actually that’s an interesting question. My last formal role in corporate America ended in May of this year, I decided to take the leap into figuring out the rest of my life and what I want to do. One side of my brain told me, let’s go do some business, let’s start something new, completely look into new sectors, because all of my life I’ve been in technology marketing. Of course, I picked skills and experiences which could be potentially used in other industries, so that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve given myself six months. I’m evaluating a startup and evaluating some other businesses. So we’ll see where we end up. I should know in a few months.
Steven Haug: Well, that certainly is exciting. We can start there, actually. I want to hear about what motivated that, I mean, that’s quite a risky move. How did you go about that calculation?
Gaurav Malhotra: Well, you’re right. It was a risky move. Especially, now I’m going to age myself, but after having worked about 42 years in the industry and nearing 50, most people don’t tend to do that. For some reason, I have this nagging thought that I’m done with making other people rich. So let’s try and do something for myself. I’ve always been on the side of helping people set up their businesses, helping them expand or grow businesses, whether it’s in corporate America or with my friends and family. I thought, why not give it a try? A lot of people have been telling me, you’ve got the skills, you’ve got the attitude. Why not give it a shot? If you don’t right now, it’s only going to get tougher. One day, I just decided, if I continue to do the job, I will never be able to do the business because there’s just not enough time. I’m hopeful that in the next few months I’m able to build something or at least make a decision to go down a path and if not, what comes out of it after all the evaluation, the answer is no, this is not the time for business, then I’ll go back to corporate America and make someone more rich.
Steven Haug: Are you looking to develop a product or a consulting service? What are you thinking about?
Gaurav Malhotra: Yes, it’s a service. I’m looking at building a startup. It’s actually a platform for non-conventional medicine. What we know as Western medicine is great, it’s perfect, it’s all over the world. But there is a whole world of non-conventional or non-Western medicine based healing, which has a whole range of “right from your grandmother’s recipes” to “healing your knee pain,” all the way to established things like Ayurveda or homeopathy or Unani medicine and so on and so forth. There’s this whole range and there is no consolidated place that gives you the knowledge, the service provider, the ability to buy the products and get some education. So I’m trying to bring all of that together, so let’s see.
Steven Haug: Good, that is exciting to one-stop shop and get advice from experts, and gain information, since as you mentioned, I think many of us don’t have insights into these alternate forms of healing and then the products are right there for you, as well. That’s good. I want to learn more about what you’re up to these days and how that’s going, but also want to make sure we understand how you got here. Do you mind if we rewind back to the beginning, maybe around that the college days and hear about the consulting work?
Gaurav Malhotra: Yeah. I stumbled into consulting and the journey starts with me being a civil engineer. Then, I had pity on humanity and I stopped making buildings because I did not trust any of the buildings that I made. And then, as they say, if you can’t do something, you can land in marketing. So I landed in marketing. I worked for a couple of years, then I got an MBA and then I worked for a couple of years. This is all back in India and then I decided, “Hey, I love student loans, so let’s go to America.” I came here and went to Northwestern in Chicago. I went to the Medill School and got a masters in IMC. This is a shameless plug, that is the world’s best marketing program if anyone wants to learn marketing, go to Medill School at Northwestern, the IMC program. There’s nothing better than that.
Once I graduated from there, unfortunately, this was just a couple of years after 9/11, so the markets were still not very hot. They were still recovering and there weren’t very many jobs. Marketing jobs are not traditionally where corporations tend to bring in talent from outside of America. Most of the talent that we tend to get is either in medicine, or in technology, as we all know. It was a little tough getting into the kind of companies I really wanted to, which were ad agencies, the likes of BBDO and Jay Walter Thompson, or Gigil. It was tough, and the jobs that I would be considered for were mostly around analytics, and that’s not what I wanted to do.
I had a contact at Deloitte, I started talking to them and they invited me for an interview. I had heard about consulting interviews. I’d done one with another company in Chicago, but everything just fell together and they made me an offer. I was ecstatic, and it was a great offer. It was in, at that time, it was called the Customer and Market Strategy Groups, the CMS group, which essentially did all the marketing strategy work for clients. The typical engagement would be three or four months and you’d go in and give them whatever strategy that they wanted, whether it was a market entry, or a growth strategy, or whether we should launch a new product or not, so on and so forth. Then, that would enable Deloitte to bring in additional services, whether it was IT, consulting, or other services, which is their business model and it works very well.
That’s how I landed in consulting. I stayed there for about two years and it was one of the best gigs I’ve had. Then I moved on, I made the decision to get out of consulting and I moved to Seattle, in fact, with Microsoft. Then the journey took its course, Microsoft, HP, then Commvault, then a couple of startups, and here we are.
Steven Haug: Good. Well, that is an exciting path and I noticed that there is a bit of a trend in your career that the companies seem to get bigger and bigger, and then they started to get smaller and smaller. Is that right?
Gaurav Malhotra: Yes it is, because, after Deloitte, and even Commvault was actually midsize compared to Microsoft and HP, which is three and a half thousand people, which is barely anything compared to those larger organizations. I actively thought that I have a range of skills that can be useful, or what smaller companies would look for–the structure, the processes, the knowledge of how to put them all together, and all the knowledge from consulting–those things are valued at smaller companies. When I started to go to startups right after HP, they just wouldn’t talk to me because I was labeled as a big corporation guy. So I thought, “Okay, let’s do a midsize company and then it might be easier,” and that really worked out. I did a midsize company for two years and then I was able to go and work with startups.
Steven Haug: What was the motivation to leave Deloitte? What was the thinking there?
Gaurav Malhotra: Oh, that’s an interesting question. When I look back, it’s a mixed bag. I was having a tremendous time at Deloitte because the things that I was learning, and in the amount of time that I was learning those things, is impossible in any other company or any other sort of industry. You could work at Microsoft versus Deloitte or McKinsey or BCG, Bain, etcetera. You will learn a lot more per day, if you compare it that way, at a consulting firm, because your projects keep changing. Two, three months and you’re onto a new project. Each is a completely new environment, your partner is new, you’re learning both hard skills and soft skills, which stay with you for the rest of your career. I’m still glad that I did those two years because I draw upon those skills and experiences very often.
If you look at the soft skills, right, you learn how to work in teams. In a typical engagement, especially in the strategy or the marketing engagements, you go in, you’ve got about seven or eight people, you’re huddled in a conference room for three months, and you have to work with everybody and then that team changes when you go to the next client. Leading a stream of work happens pretty early in your career as a senior consultant, a senior analyst, or what have you, you get a chance to lead a stream of work and also lead a team along with that. You learn client interaction. You learn how to negotiate with your client and how to understand the client’s perspective. Because early on in your career, you’re always like, “I’m king. I’ve been to great schools. I will own the world. I am the next Bill Gates.” All of us think that way. Then you meet your client and the bubble bursts. It teaches you humility. It teaches you how to negotiate. It teaches you the skills of listening to your client, understanding their perspectives, and then doing work or creating work that serves your client. These are skills that, yes, you cannot quantify them, but these soft skills really help you in potentially, not just jobs, but every situation in your life. I mean, how many times have we been told, “Listen to your wife. Just keep quiet.?” It’s best to listen. So listening skills are one of the things that you learn there, and then a lot of business skills. You learn how to analyze a business, how to look at each thing from angles that most people don’t look at because you have to see the impact, or whatever you’re suggesting on to various things inside a company, whether it’s the manufacturing processes, its finances, or its marketing or sales. You have to consider every angle.
I was learning all of this. I was really happy, but there’s a flip side to travel, right? We all know it’s Monday to Friday or Monday to Thursday. Travel is a double-edged sword. When you’re single, it’s great. You travel, your expenses are zero, pretty much. All you’re doing is paying rent wherever you’re living. You could get a studio apartment and you’re still not really using it and they don’t care. You can go anywhere in America, go meet your friends on the weekends, as long as you’re coming back on Monday, it’s all great. I really leveraged that, but after a while I got tired of traveling. I got tired of living out of a suitcase and I was going to get married. At that time, what really went through my mind was, “Do I want to be a part time husband?” That question for me led me to move on.
There is another thing, and anybody who’s aspiring to be in consulting should know this. Consulting is a great place to be early on in your career, you learn so much. But coming from consulting into the industry is a crossover you can only do until a certain time. After that, the industry will not take you, except for very senior roles. Let’s say, I was talking to a company last week, somebody was a Chief Transformation Officer. That gentleman has a hardcore consulting background, he’s an ex-McKinsey guy and they brought him for his consulting skills. There are roles that are specially designed in corporations where you need to have people with consulting skills, and they’ll write that in the job description, “We are looking for someone who’s been a consultant all their lives.” There are very, very, very few roles, if I had to hire someone with ten years of experience, and I’ve done a lot of those hirings in marketing, I would be hesitant to bring someone who’s only worked in consulting all their lives. But if I had to hire someone with two or three years of skills, I would love to bring someone who’s done consulting because they have those skills. They have the experience that somebody who’s done two years in an industry, versus two years in consulting, or let’s say, two to five years, the person from consulting knows a lot more and can deliver really quickly. Whereas the person who’s come from the industry can only do one thing, because there are two to five years they’ve spent just, let’s say, doing PR or social media, right?
I always recommend to people, if you’re going into consulting, go after college, do two years, get into an MBA and then, if the same consulting firm is sponsoring your MBA, you go back, do two more years, and then get out into industry. Or you decide to stay in consulting all your life, which is a great choice too. That all depends upon how you want your life to proceed, especially in the context of family, etcetera. There’s a company here, Slalom Consulting. Their whole model is local projects, and they’re very successful with their model. I know Deloitte does this a lot now that, in case you have family needs, and you’re let’s say, based in Seattle, they will try their level best to get you projects in Seattle. Here it’s not very difficult because you’ve got Microsoft, Amazon, you’ve got so many large organizations out there. If you’re living in the middle of nowhere, that’s kind of difficult. So spend two to five years, move into the industry, or decide to stay in consulting.
Steven Haug: That’s really helpful advice. I appreciate you walking us through that. There was something you mentioned there that I wanted to return to. You mentioned that you’ve done a lot of hires and marketing and you might be hesitant to pull somebody out of consulting if they’ve done consulting for the past ten years. What skill set do you think that they might be missing if they are career consultants?
Gaurav Malhotra: That’s a great question. Let’s look at what skill sets they’re getting. About five minutes back, we talked about all of those soft skills, right? Working in teams, leading a stream of work, client interaction, looking at businesses from various angles, looking at strategy–they bring all of those skills. On the hard skill side, any consultant, especially those who are on the strategy side–strategy, marketing strategy, or corporate strategy–they will have great skills in building a story because their life is PowerPoint. Literally, you are a PowerPoint monkey all your life. I’m sorry to say that, but you live by PowerPoint and Excel. You have great Excel analysis skills or the ability to build great PowerPoints, do a lot of good analysis on an Excel. You can look at things from various angles. Now that tells me that it’s a very strong foundation of skills, soft and hard, which you can build upon and get into a career. So if I’m looking for an early career person, two, five years, and I know that whether they’re coming from industry or consulting, I’m going to have to put in time to nurture them and get out of them. what I want, or what any company wants. It takes a couple of years, or a year at least. Consultants are great because they already bring this fertile bed of knowledge. You don’t have to teach them all of this. But when you’re looking at ten years, now you need someone, typically a senior manager or an early stage director. At that stage, you’re looking for someone who can come and deliver for something. Let’s say if I’m looking for a partner marketer or I’m looking for a digital marketing manager, or I’m looking for a director of growth, I need someone who has done that for five years because that’s not something I can teach now. I don’t have time to teach that. That’s the skill you will not get at any consulting organization unless they’re in that part of consulting where they are doing marketing for the firm. But leaving that aside, as a consultant, most likely, they’re not going to come with those skills. They’re going to come with an awesome set of skills to grow your business, so if I need that kind of talent, where I need to bring someone else in who can look at my organization, tell me where I should put in more money or which market should I go in. All of that is great. That, I cannot get from any industry. I cannot pull someone from my competitor who will come and tell me, “Yeah, you know what? You need to go into Africa or you need to ignite Australia,” or some other theater. They can’t do that analysis. It’s what we really need that person for. If you need the person to come and deliver functionally, I do not think consultants fit the bill. I’m sure there are some out there who do, but for most parts, yeah.
Steven Haug: I think that makes a lot of sense. At ECA Partners, I know that we go to consultants for what we call “general athletes.” They’re very good at a lot of different things, but once you’re looking for those very senior level people inside of a company, it helps that they have a few reps overseeing large teams, doing that exact function, or being on a team that does that exact function. Good. And there are teams like that in consulting. You mentioned Deloitte has their marketing team there, and you might be able to find someone who’s done very similar work, or maybe they’ve done larger projects that touch different parts of that.
Thinking about some of the folks who might be listening to us today, some of the consultants, I would say that marketing is one of the smaller pieces. Whenever it comes to a number of projects, we don’t see as many of those as we might see private equity, due diligence, IT implementation projects. What if you’re a consultant, you’ve been doing different types of projects, but marketing for whatever reason seems like an interesting avenue to you, and you wanted to move into industry, directly into marketing, is that a path that somebody who has two-three years of consulting, generalist consulting experience, could move into?
Gaurav Malhotra: Yes. But it’s very critical to remember what you just said there, “two or three years.” If you stay too long in consulting, it will be challenging to move into marketing because in marketing, you typically look for specific skill sets for someone to come and deliver. Especially between one and ten years of experience. You’re typically managing one stream of work, whether it’s a PR or social media or growth marketing or partner marketing or product marketing or content marketing, field marketing, events, so on and so forth, right? You’re doing just one of those and you’re not going to get someone from consulting, if I need an events marketing manager with ten years of experience, I’m not going to get someone from McKinsey who could do that. So yes, the first two to three years? Absolutely.
Let’s say you’ve got an MBA. You’ve done two years at a good consulting forum, or, right after college, you’ve done two or three years and then gone into an MBA. Now you want to get into the industry. Those are great models to come into marketing. The more you tend to stay there, it gets challenging, but yes, early on, with two to three years of experience, it’s really valued. You have phenomenal skills that most people don’t have or, non-consultants don’t have, and at least, I value them a lot.
Steven Haug: Okay, well that’s good to hear. I wanted to talk about the next step after your Deloitte days, and that was Microsoft, where you spent about six years. Is that right?
Gaurav Malhotra: Yes.
Steven Haug: Can you walk me through Microsoft? I’d love to hear a little bit about what those projects were like and then your general career in Microsoft.
Gaurav Malhotra: Yes. That was an interesting thing. When you look back at how things sort of came together, why I was even hired at Microsoft was that back in the days, there was Windows Mobile. It was a good business until iPhone launched, but we will not get into that. Windows Mobile was something that had about 10-12% of market share. We were competing with Palm and BlackBerry, but we were more in enterprise. Microsoft was looking to expand that out, to grow that business, and growing the business needed quite a few things. “Where should we go? How do we go there? Do we invest in thousands of salespeople and thousands of marketers or do we partner?” I had two years of experience in the mobile business back in India and that was two years of experience not in a very established mobile company because I joined them in 2000. In 2000 to 2002, mobile really started in India. It had started in 97, but really, companies started learning how to do that business and growing, and I was part of that growth story. In fact, I was one of the first people in India to launch SMS, believe it or not. Those experiences plus, I think, the knowledge of consulting, my hiring manager, Mario, recognized that I have those sort of skill sets. I can work with partners, I can think like a consultant to help them grow, and then I have that experience of being in the mobile world. So all of those came together and they brought me in and they wanted me to grow the partnerships. Anything, like BlackBerry, Palm or Windows Mobile has partnerships with all the AT&Ts, the Verizons and all the service providers, plus all the manufacturers, which was, back in the day, HTC, HP, Samsung, LG, Pantech, and a few more. That’s what I used to do.
When you’re doing a phone launch, you will typically bring someone from Samsung, from AT&T, and we are the Windows Mobile platform guys, and we would bring everyone together in a room and then make a launch plan…now that’s where all the negotiating skills and the listening skills come in handy because you’ve got three organizations with three completely different goals, and you’re bringing them all together. The only reason they’re listening to you is that you’re Microsoft. You’re bringing them all together, creating a pot of money that everyone is contributing to, and then creating one marketing plan. It’s really challenging. I bombed in my first one. I still remember that device that I launched. It was a disaster for me, but I learned a lot from that disaster. In my two to three years in that role, I ended up probably launching about 13-14 devices worldwide, and quite a few successful launches. Back in the day, there used to be a Blackjack from Samsung, which was all the rage, but yes. All those experiences from Deloitte were very helpful in that room for me. Just getting everybody together, listening, and also looking at the business…“How can we grow this…,” from various angles.
We ended up going into the consumer market and I was part of that whole transition of repositioning Windows Mobile to a more consumer friendly and not an only-enterprise device, because it started out being only-enterprise. Then I moved into a completely different role. I wanted to do some product management. I don’t know why, but I did. I ended up doing non-technical product management because I can’t code. I’m not a technical guy, so I started building support services for a cloud business. It was a great experience, very much like a consulting gig because you’re now creating a non-technical service. Essentially, I bought your cloud services, I’ve got a problem, I’m calling you. Now how does that whole thing work? First of all you have to buy a support service from me so then you can call me. When you call me, you could be anywhere in the world. So where does the call going? Which call centers in the world are active at that point in time and to who…Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3? Oh, it was amazing! Complex and amazing, beautiful and simple, and soul-sucking at some point. “OK, I’m done with this.” After two and a half, three years of that, I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to move on,” and I went to HP, and that was a great role, too.
Steven Haug: Good. HP, is that where you spent the most time out of any of your roles?
Gaurav Malhotra: No, I think it’s still Microsoft. HP, I was there for about five years? Yeah. But HP was, at the time, you see…the good thing was at Microsoft, going back to the same thing, why do you get a role? When I look back, HP hired me because I knew cloud. So at Microsoft, I started doing cloud, or whatever I was doing for cloud, starting in 2009, when most people on this planet didn’t even know how to spell cloud, including people at Microsoft. We were very, very early on. What you see today as Microsoft 365 or Office 365, it used to be called B-P-O-S, BPOS: Business Productivity Online Suite. Yeah. We were not good at naming shit. Sorry. That early experience of cloud services and the experience of working with partners from Windows Mobile, HP needed someone to come in and build their partner ecosystem for their public cloud. They had gone into public cloud competing with Microsoft, Azure, and Amazon AWS, and a few others, Rackspace. They needed someone to come and build a partner ecosystem and do marketing with partners. Here I was with all of those skill sets, right? I understand partner ecosystems, I understand cloud, which, there were very few people with that talent at that point in time, and I’m a marketer. It just sort of came together. I ended up doing three roles there, all at the same time, which is partner marketing with the likes of all your GSIs, your Infosys, and Accenture and Intel…Intel to some part, but PwC, so on and so forth. The large GSIs, then small ISV partners.
Today, what you see in the AWS, is that there are a whole bunch of people who got their solutions out there, right? It’s the same as for a phone, and you’ve got this Apple store, or for Android, you got this Android store, we got these apps. It’s the same way in the public cloud world, there are these apps which are made by ISVs. You have to build that ecosystem with people and then you go to market with them to expand your business. You help them sell more and then you sell more. I did that for five, five and a half years. Along with that, I started developer marketing, which is very unique marketing that happens because, developers, you typically don’t market to. It’s a very subtle way of marketing, very content based, very engagement based. That was a great experience. I was doing that as a parallel. I got promoted, then I got that extra responsibility, then I also started doing product marketing–core product marketing–messaging, and content, etc. for another product which was very badly named: HP Helion Managed Private Cloud Based on Open Stack. Yeah. Let’s not even go there.
But it was a great experience there. It was phenomenal. I got to travel the world and I got so much experience. One of the things that has always stayed with me and people always tell me, and I have been guilty of being a little hard on my teams…is skills are power. I almost always tell anyone who comes on my team that, “Look, quality is non-negotiable. Your PowerPoints or your presentation skills speak for the team. It reflects your all of your colleagues, it reflects me, it reflects our organization. So you have to be very, very good.” That comes from my consulting days. I remember one of my partners, I won’t give the whole name there, but he used to be so meticulous, so detailed. You could not have one comma or one dot in the wrong place on a slide. You just could not. He would look at the slide and you couldn’t even hide it, he would just know this is wrong. And as much as I hated him back then, I really, really am thankful today because I often teach that. I actually take classes sometimes, I teach how to create a PowerPoint. Those skills stay with me till today. Building PowerPoints, building Excels, that when you send it to someone, they can understand. People think that Excel is, you’ve got 20 lines and someone else will understand it. It doesn’t work that way. Especially if you’re not going along with that Excel to tell someone what it means. For all of those skills, I look back and I’m thankful for my time and all of the mentors and all the people who I worked with at Deloitte for giving me that. I would always recommend that people go do that for a couple of years. They learn great skills.
Steven Haug: That is helpful advice, certainly. We see a lot of people with the skill sets that you’re talking about at ECA. Whenever we’re looking for executives or directors for our clients, the former consultants we recognize, as well, as having attention to detail and critical thinking skills, which it sounds like you developed, as well, during your time at Deloitte. Before we wrap up today, is there any other advice that you could give the consultants?
Gaurav Malhotra: The only advice I would give is to take the risks that you want to take. That’s it. That’s not just to consultants, that’s to anybody. Take the risks in life, you know? If you don’t, the ability to take risks decreases with every year that passes because life is finite. Take the risk, be happy. Prioritize happiness.
As consultants, they already have these skills, and once they make a decision whether to stay in consulting or to go back into the industry…I know a lot of people from industry going to consulting. I often get calls, because the consulting world does recognize if you’re done 15-20 years of work in the industry that you could come in as a consultant and help them build that practice, or they can actually sell your time to a client and say, “Hey, we’ve got someone with 15-20 years of experience, we’ll charge you $500 an hour for that.” That’s the business model at the end of the day. Then make a decision, stick with it and enjoy life.
Steven Haug: Gaurav, thanks so much for joining us on Beyond Consulting.
Gaurav Malhotra: Thank you.
Steven Haug: Pleasure to have you.
Gaurav Malhotra: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.
Connect with Gaurav on LinkedIn for more information.