so you want to be a strategist?

So, you want to be a strategist…

If you’re 18 years of age, this is an important time. The career path you choose to follow now has the potential to be the best decision you could ever make. So, step up if you believe you’re a strategist – and find out from Antoinette Tyrrell, director of strategy: the Switch Group, if this career is really the one for you…

Q: How do you know if you’re a natural strategist?

A: If you’re a person who always asks “why?” and keeps asking until you understand completely (or someone hits you!) you’re a strategist. We’re the people who interrogate authority figures and ask the difficult questions no-one else is prepared to ask.

Q: What key qualities should a strategist have?

A: Definitely insight. You must also be determined and courageous – and have the guts to keep asking difficult questions and tell people things they often don’t want to hear. You also need to be able to look at a situation or problem in the minutest detail and completely holistically. Emotional intelligence is a must, too – you must be able to relate to people from all walks of life on a personal level, everyone from construction workers to CEOs.

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about the job?

A: That a strategy sits in one person’s head and you can just “cut” and “paste” this into a document. Many people believe that you develop a strategy sitting behind the latest model laptop in a marble-floored office wearing a suit and tie. You don’t. The best strategies are developed on the ground – by getting into the thick of things; by becoming part of the business and searching for solutions.

Q: What is the biggest job reality you should know about?

A: Strategy isn’t for sissies. It’s not a nine-to-five job. To get to the point where you eventually sit down behind your computer and write your strategy involves a huge amount of analysis and understanding – a long, hard process. To make a real difference you’ve got to get involved and be prepared to go the extra mile each and every day.

Q: Describe what’s involved in the job. What are a strategist’s core responsibilities?

A: As an entry-level strategist you’ll be involved in information and business analysis and, in some instances, benchmarking and modelling. You’ll have to get information from different sources and dealing with complexity is all part of the job. You’ll also help your boss prepare for workshops: putting document packs together for example. As you become more experienced, you’ll get more involved in assessments and business case development. That being said, you’ll be involved with your clients from day one – immersing yourself in their business and helping out wherever needed.

Q: Describe a typical day as a strategist.

A: As a junior strategist you will spend a lot of time on site at the client’s premises. About 50% of this will be in the office doing analysis, while you’ll spend the rest of it in the field gathering and collating material.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you must be prepared to face?
A: Multi-tasking – dealing with so much information, and so many different people – all at the same time! Strategy is all about making choices. You need to decide what’s important, make the tough calls and stick to the choices you’ve made.

Q: What makes it such an exciting job?

A: Definitely the diversity of what you do and the challenge of adapting to new situations. Taking what you learnt yesterday and applying it to today’s problem. No two days are ever the same. This makes it incredibly exciting.

Q: What is the best route to follow when it comes to training to become a strategist? Do you need a degree or a diploma?

A: I would suggest starting off by getting a general business degree. This will give you a firm foundation on which to build your career, and give you an understanding of business and business “language”. After this, I personally wouldn’t suggest going straight into strategy. Rather focus on getting yourself some cross-functional experience – do some work in sales, supply chain, operations and so on. By working through the different functions of a business you’ll soon understand processes and systems. When you understand how the different pieces of the business puzzle fit together, you’re ready to start your career in strategy.

Q: What kind of opportunities can you look forward to as a strategist?

A: Lots of bosberaads! You’ll be exposed to all sides of business, industries, brands and environments. It is often complex and even daunting, but at the same time completely exhilarating. It’s one helluva ride!

Q: The best thing about being a strategist is…
A: Using your left and right brain at the same time.

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