Highlighting management consulting firms
FROM THE FIRM
"ZS is a global professional services firm that leverages deep industry expertise, leading edge analytics, technology and strategy solutions for clients that work in the real world.
ZS was founded in 1983 by Andris Zoltners and Prabhakant (Prabha) Sinha, two Ph.D. classmates turned college professors at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
In its first three years, ZS helped eight of the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world align territories and resize their sales forces. By 2011, ZS worked with 49 of the 50 largest drugmakers in healthcare and 17 of the 20 largest medical device makers.
Today, ZS works with companies around the world and across the marketplace, in industries ranging from healthcare to high-tech to financial services and beyond. ZS’s expertise and offerings have expanded significantly as well. We now help clients with everything from discovery through to commercialization, with the strategy, analytics and technology to enable it.
ZS now has 28 office locations globally, 10,000+ employees, and had over 97% of work come from repeat clients in 2019."
Jedediah Seltzer, Ph.D.
Jedediah Seltzer is an associate consultant at ZS. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the laboratory of Dr. Dirk Dittmer studying Kaposi’s Sarcoma-associated Herpesvirus (KSHV). Specifically, his research focused on IRAK signaling pathway, a process that is critical to the immune biology signaling, to assess potential avenues for therapeutics in the context of KSHV infection.
Jed has a passion for bringing people together to solve problems and believes that by connecting the right people, you can solve the hardest challenges. He enjoys learning about a diverse array of topics and applying that knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve complex problems. In his free time he is an avid hiker and birdwatcher.
Join us for our conversation with Jed as we learn more about ZS and his journey transitioning from academia to management consulting.
Can you give us a brief introduction into ZS?
Sure. ZS used to be more of a specialist firm with our bread and butter coming from sales and marketing. ZS has now branched out to more strategy and operations. Additionally, ZS has now also branched out into research and development and we have expanded our offerings exponentially. In the past five years we have grown from 5,000 to over 10,000 individuals. Traditionally our main clients have been big pharma but ZS has expanded to serve client companies of all sizes across many industries. ZS now has an entire strategy division and a large offering in the strategy space.
How do you and ADCs in general fit into ZS?
ZS was a little bit behind the curve for ADC and we didn’t have any programs in place for ADC recruitment. As ZS expanded our offerings, the value of PhDs was recognized, especially in R&D, and strategy work. Because of this, and our expansion into R&D and strategy, ADCs have been recruited at a much higher rate. We now have a full process dedicated to ADCs and a very large focus on recruiting ADC. We’ve fully realized the value of ADCs and are definitely ramping up.
Personally, where I fall into ZS, there are two tracks you can enter when joining ZS. You can enter for a very specific position such as in pipeline and launch strategy where you can evaluate drugs, complete due diligence, anything along this pipeline. The second track is if you want a more generalist role. You can enter the “experience space” where you are staffed across a range of different areas at ZS. You might do a R&D project, sales, and consumer insights projects.
For me, I am aligned with the experience space as I wanted the broad experience. I have been in the experience space for more than a year now and have decided to align with the Cell and Gene Therapy vertical. We have an entire space dedicated to cell and gene therapy and, as you can imagine, PhDs provide a lot of value here. At ZS, in the experience space you have some freedom to pick your own adventure. This is depending on your own interests, staffing, and the business needed. It really depends on staffing and personal interest where you want to grow and learn.
During my time in the experience space I have had a very large range of experience. This is contrasted to a colleague of mine, also from UNC at ZS, who has largely done clinical trial work in the “specialist space”. Each individual experience at ZS is unique and depends on if you are hired to the experience space or directly to a practice area as well as on staffing and business needs.
How much time do you spend with your clients or collecting and analyzing data? What does your day to day look like?
The typical consulting answer would be “there is no typical day”. But really, it depends on who your client is and your role and responsibility. As an associate consultant, you can range from client facing roles, being more supportive in creating deliverables and note taking or to leading every client engagement and meeting. It depends on who your manager is. On one project, I led the client calls two weeks after starting at ZS.
For example, if you’re doing a tracker study where you are tracking the use of a specific drug by physicians over time, that’s a pretty standard study and you won’t need to meet with your clients that often, likely you will front end meetings around KO and then again during the final report phase. For other projects, I’ll meet with clients 2-3 times a week if we’re evaluating some early assets. For these engagements, I’ll meet with clients half an hour to an hour a few times a week. Otherwise my day ranges from time spent in internal meetings where I’ll be talking with my manager and principals. One example of what I’m currently working on is generating a capabilities deck to showcase the type of work that ZS does. To perform this work I am meeting with a variety of principals in different spaces to ensure that we’re representing their space properly.
So day to day, typically half my day is in meetings. The majority of these meetings are internal meetings. ZS has a large component of the firm in India which we work closely with on deliverables. As such a lot of our morning meetings are discussing work with our Indian teams.The rest of the day can be spent in meetings, making slides and performing analysis. As a snapshot of what I do, today I had five internal meetings, worked on designing an HCP survey, generated slides for several powerpoints, and scheduled eight meetings for next week. Hopefully this gives you a bit of a flavor, it really does depend on the project and who your managers are, and your team size.
What is the company culture like at ZS?
Culture is big at ZS. But, I haven’t been to a consulting information session that did not say culture was big at their firm. ZS was founded by two academics, two PhDs, and as such we have a very collaborative nature. We’re very collaborative internally and competitive externally. One way I like to describe culture at ZS is whether you’re the managing director at ZS or a newly hired associate, you have access to view everyone's calendars and you can set up a meeting with anyone. Everyone is happy to have a meeting; knowledge sharing is fantastic here. The culture of ZS is very helpful and collegiate. It was a really great fit for me as an academic coming in and there’s always opportunities to learn from the experts at ZS.
One thing that ZS recently launched that I liked, especially as a PhD where you can get hyper focused in one area, is a program called Evolve where you can transition to a completely different area within the firm. You can evolve into this new space even though your expertise may not be in this new area. ZS has different practice areas as I’ve mentioned. For example I’m in the experience space and I'm interested in moving into the cell and gene therapy area. We hire smart people and we know you can learn a new industry if that's what you want.
And on this topic, were you considering other firms and what made you choose ZS?
The reason I chose ZS was that I was looking for a firm that, while still doing exciting work, would let me stay close to science and was more family friendly. Regardless of where you go, management consulting is an intense environment. Different consulting firms have different staffing models. For me, I didn’t want a cap travel model while being married with two kids. I also wanted stability so I didn’t want a firm that was too small. In smaller firms you’ll wear a lot of hats, but I wanted structure to my role so I chose and applied to larger firms. I chose ZS because of their regional staffing model, culture, and location. With ZS, I knew that you can work from home in the morning and then go into the office later in the day. I didn’t want a lot of travel and ZS staffs locally. For me, all the cards fit very well with ZS.
Does transitioning practice areas in the Evolve program impact promotion?
That’s a great question. We found the people who stayed at ZS, who succeed and become principals often switch practice areas, or evolve into new rules every 3-5 years. You need to balance learning a new skill/field with staying long enough to provide value to clients.
On that note, what does career progression look like at ZS?
We do not have the up and out model. Regardless, we are still in management consulting, and it is intense. We are very much individually tailored, where when you enter as an associate consultant you could move to a full consultant in 18 months or 3 years. We don’t want to have a high turnover and we really focus on relationships at ZS. I will say, a lot of people that go into consulting have a certain personality type. Where, if you don’t get a promotion in two years, there’s a good chance that you’re going to look at other opportunities. For me, after about eight months at ZS, I started receiving a lot of requests to apply for applications from recruiters. So, while there is not an up and out culture, people do tend to jump if they don’t receive that promotion. As for entire career progression, we have six levels starting at associate, associate consultant, consultant, manager, associate principal, and then principal. It tends to be 2-3 years between levels with the largest hurdle between manager and associate principal. It takes about 3-4 years for a manager to become an associate principal.
What is the recruitment process like for PhDs, can you tell us a little more about this at ZS?
We have a designated recruiter for ADCs. Once you apply through the portal, your resume is flagged as an AD and you will go to this set recruiter. ZS has optimized interview processes where we start with a phone screen to make sure everything checks out. We have a one day comprehensive interview, there isn’t a second or third round. It’s nice to have it just one and done. The interview is pretty classical, structured case study, unstructured case study and behavioral questions. You will want to ensure you know what ZS does, you don’t want to give a blanket answer, you want to be well informed about what you’re getting into. We want to see if you can fit the culture here. For ZS fit is really important.
Do you have any advice for younger and senior students?
For younger students, second and third years, time is on your side. Do case competitions, get involved in consulting club leadership, if you can, do any business related internship that is available. You want these experiences on your resume, they show initiative, that you did things outside the lab. Start networking early, do case competitions and connect with judges. For me, I did a case competition, and the next year I helped plan it. So for me that was very helpful. You want to get on this train early. COVID has made case competitions global, so participate in these early and often. Make sure to network early in the process and maintain these connections as best you can throughout your graduate school. Also network with older graduate students, because in a year or two these graduate students will be consultants and may just interview you.
For older graduate students, you want to be very intentional. Now you need to build your network and prepare for applications. In the best capacity that you can, you want to reach out and network with consultants. Get involved in whatever you can that will showcase your leadership and business problem solving skills. Networking is going to be your number one thing. You still need to hone and practice casing of course which takes a concerted effort to learn. To summarize for older 4-5+ year graduate students you want to network, know your firms, and know how to case.