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When Kim Crawford was younger, she dreamed of becoming an attorney. But while attending Stanford University, the Chicago native realized she loved business, and more importantly, that as a businesswoman she could bring power to the African American community. With this new goal in mind, Crawford stepped onto the world’s fastest track to business knowledge and expertise–she became a consultant.
Today’s consultant is a high-priced hired gun whose job is to find solutions to the business problems plaguing small companies and large corporations. The tools and techniques in a consultant’s arsenal vary, but the general problem-solving strategy is this: identify, analyze, recommend and help implement. Industries from manufacturing to healthcare to consumer products now firmly believe that outside consultants offer the solutions to make their businesses more competitive and poised for global advancement. “Running a successful business becomes more challenging each day,” says Crawford, 32, now a partner at Bain & Co. Inc., one of the nation’s top consulting firms with offices in 18 countries. “The corporations that succeed pull in the expertise they need when they need it. That’s where we come in.”
Perhaps timing is everything. As Crawford and other African Americans are discovering consulting, the industry is undergoing meteoric growth. More corporations are relying on consultants to lead the way as they streamline and consolidate their operations. A prime example is Andersen Consulting, a giant in the industry that, since 1989, has quadrupled its revenues and doubled its workforce.
According to the Kennedy Research Group (KRG)–a division of Kennedy Information, the industry’s leading information source–consulting is growing at a rate of 16.1% per year. In a recent report, The Global Management Consulting Marketplace: Key Data, Forecasts & Trends, KRG attributes this growth to a healthy global economy, aggressive penetration of new geographic territories, improved marketplace perceptions, rapid changes in information technology, deregulation, privatization and the globalization of markets. Revenues in global consulting revenues are projected to exceed $100 billion by the end of the century.
With this expansion, the industry has recognized the necessity for diversity in its ranks at all levels. New hires can enter directly from college or cross over from industry. Although the percentage of African Americans in consulting is small, insiders estimate that the number has tripled in the past five years. “As business becomes more global,” says Nellie Gonzalez, a minority recruiting manager for Andersen Consulting, “companies realize that to do business in a diverse world, it is in their best interest to match that world within.” Crawford also sees African Americans as critical change agents in today’s rapidly changing business environment. W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Talented Tenth” essay states that the most gifted 10% of the black population will lead the rest. Echoing this idea, Crawford says, “If we can bring capital to bear on our communities and employ it with the right ideas and talent, we can build businesses, create jobs and provide returns for black investors.”
WHY HIRE A CONSULTANT?
Consulting is a broad term, and so is the industry, which KRG segments into four