Behind The Scenes

A day in the life of a business consultant at Madison Partners

Great things never come from comfort zones. From being a podium girl (just once) at 14 to watching YouTube films about the inner workings of a dishwasher, Lotte Vandewalle (27) has a natural curiosity that prevents her from shying away from a challenge. Lotte is a business consultant at Madison Partners. Madison Partners, a sister company of deep tech & AI venture studio Miles Ahead, is a strategic consulting firm that has the same founders as the studio.

How would you describe yourself and how did that influence your choices in studies and professional life?

I am very eager to learn, but also very practical. I studied economics at university to keep all my options open. I did not want to limit my career by taking too narrow an option in education. That’s why in secondary school, I took science, mathematics and economics. I am intrigued by processes and market dynamics. Economics is sometimes seen as something financial or capitalist, but it’s a very human activity. To me,trading is not just a financial exchange. Our species has been buying and selling for thousands of years. It’s all a question of balance. I believe in getting the balance right between energy spent and the reward you get. That applies to my personal life too. The reward I got from being a leader in the youth movement gave me the energy to spend so much time on it. I expect to get the same from any job I do.

How technical is your job as a management consultant?

Lotte: In my previous job, I learned how to read code. I worked on recommendation engines with a data scientist, but I don’t write code and don’t really feel an urge todo that. Most of my work is strategic, but sometimes I get into the technical details, for instance when I use visual tools to build dashboards.

Generally, I am fascinated by how things work. My natural curiosity sometimes makes me spend a lot of time just watching videos about how a dishwasher works – with cameras on the inside – or the technicalities of an amplifier. When I buy something technical, I will compare all the features of different vendors and, in the end, I buy the device with the most features for the best price, the most features, …. even if I know I will not necessarily be using them.

Driving customer behavior

That sound quite geeky.

Lotte: I don’t see myself as a geek, but I love anything that’s data driven, for instance the algorithms Netflix uses to make us binge-watch. How they use the data we leave behind to give us recommendations. I think I inherited this natural curiosity from my parents. At the same time, I am wary of the impact that technology has on society.

When you built recommendation engines in your previous job, did you consciously think of how you could drive customer behavior?

Lotte: That was the entire point of the recommendation engine, of course. I did not seethat as manipulation, it was meant to help the customer. We sold into a very technical environment, and our recommendations were to make people buy exactly the products they needed to do a job. When maintenance personnel had to replace a spare part, sometimes they also had to replace a piece that was not broken.If they only found out during the repair, they would have lost time ordering that second piece. So our recommendations made them more efficient. We also had to be very mindful that an entire machine might break down if we did not provide customers with the right spare part.

Concept Validation

Appreciation for diversity

You started your career as a management trainee. Was that also driven by your natural curiosity, wanting to sample different jobs?

Lotte: Trying out all these different jobs was enlightening, and it taught me that logistics appealed less to me than I had thought when I chose a supply chain specialization at university.  I worked in the strategic department, in purchasing and in pricing. That’s where working on the recommendation engine got me hooked on anything data driven. I can recommend a management traineeship to anyone.

What did studying abroad teach you?

Lotte: I had tremendous fun in Rome. I like being pushed outside of my comfort zone, and living in another country did just that. I am also confident that everything will be OK in the end, so I don’t have any stress about that. Being in such an international environment also made me dream of working in different countries.I hope that Madison Partners will give me that opportunity. I’d love that adventure.

Living in Rome gave me the confidence to speak foreign languages and the appreciation of other cultures. Working with different cultures makes you understand what moves people. We are alldifferent, with different motives and characters. It was fascinating to follow an Insights Discovery workshop a few years ago. Together with my Erasmus studies in Rome, that helps me appreciate diversity and understand why people act the way they do.

What attracted you to Madison Partners?

Lotte: At Madison Partners we think of all the steps an organization needs to take to become data-driven. It’s great to be involved in setting the data strategy and making the roadmap. It’s humbling to look at all the organizational things that have to be covered first. I like the mix of technology and business in this job. Companies sometimes forget to think about data strategy and waste money implementing projects that are not yet ready, both from a strategic and an organizational point of view.

Working at Madison Partners is very enriching. I learn a lot from the founding partners who have tons of experience, and from our customers, who are very open about what they want to achieve and how they make decisions. I am really soaking up knowledge from everyone around me.

What does a typical day look like?

Lotte: There is no such thing as a typical day. Anything can happen at any moment. It’s very difficult to answer the question “what does a consultant do.”  I am now working on one specific customer, where we do a very broad exercise ondata strategy. I participate in meetings and workshops, build KPI dashboards, perform interviews, draft conclusions and visualize them, prepare PowerPoints… It’s great to be involved in many different things and get to know a customer inside out. The customer has great confidence in us and is very open to our comments and recommendations, so it is easy for us to provide value to the customer.

The importance of being data-driven

Can you describe the value Madison Partners provide to customers?

Lotte: We provide them with expertise and guidance. They want to build a data roadmap, andwe help them take the necessary steps to make their strategy actionable. They have planted a flag of where they want to get to, but they don’t know which road to take. We make them think of short-term and long-term objectives, use cases and help IT decide on the best technology to make it all work. We make them more efficient by clarifying the roles everyone plays. In doing that, we eliminate gray areas in their processes. We make them focus on what really makes a difference. That way, they spend their budget more effectively and get results faster.

Data is the cornerstone of a company’s strategy, right?

Lotte: Many organizations underutilize this important asset. Making data-driven decisions is key. It’s better to base decisions on data than on gut feeling or the opinion of the person who shouts the loudest in a meeting. Data is crucial, to optimize an organization, to cut costs, to grow the business… If you have a lot of data on a customer, it’s so much easier to offer personalized services.

How do you see the role of technology in society?

Lotte: Just like the industrial revolutions changed the face of the earth, information technology is setting a new revolution in motion. Technology makes our lives more comfortable and adapts to our needs. Technology is also shaping our needs,but I firmly believe that technology will help us create a better world by solving problems around, for instance, climate change.

We have become very dependent on technology.It’s amazing to see how addicted we have become to our smartphones. I am just as guilty as anyone else in that respect. But I do believe the positive consequences of technology offset the negative ones. That also applies to Artificial Intelligence which will lead to real breakthroughs, for instance in healthcare and life sciences.

What do you like most about Madison Partners?

Lotte:There’s a great vibe here. It’s energizing to work here. Everyone is giving it all they have. I see that at Madison Partners, but also at the other companies under the Miles Ahead umbrella. There’s a lot of flexibility. I couldn’t go back to working 9 to 5. I believe in getting the job done, regardless of time and place. I understand large corporations need more rules, but I prefer a smaller outfit like Madison Partners. There’s a lot of pressure to get things done, but I am quite pleased with my work-life balance.

If you could place a huge billboard in the center of Ghent, what would your message to the world be?

Lotte: That would be my personal motto: You should only regret things you did, not things you didn’t do. If there’s an opportunity, grab it! Whatever that opportunity is. When I was 14 years old, I attended a local cycling race and they asked me on stage to be the podium girl. My first impulse was to refuse, but I know I would have regretted that. So I did it and I enjoyed it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You should not overthink things. I am a fast decision-maker, and I always trust things will work out fine in the end.

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