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Interview with Jan Scholl - New partner at the Hamburg office

Jan Scholl, you joined Strategy Engineers as partner at the end of last year. Which industries will you focus on and which services are you offering to the company’s clients?
Becoming a partner at Strategy Engineers is a great opportunity for me and my first months with the company have been exciting. Given my background in both consulting and industry, I will further expand our automotive focus to off-highway, e.g. construction and agricultural machinery, to automotive suppliers and towards Energy and Transportation. Many of these industries face similar challenges due to an ever-rising pressure for globalization, demand for greener power solutions and risks in traditional business models. Together with the growing team, we will be able to develop our offerings especially with regard to operations and supply chain excellence.

The challenges you describe relate to the buzzwords of our time: Digitisation, Industry 4.0 and Big Data. Today, markets and industries are changing faster than ever before on a global scale and both small and large players across industries are busy figuring out how their businesses will be affected. Is there a simple answer to what are the most urgent actions companies in the construction and agricultural machinery as well as energy and transportation industries need to take?
There is no straight answer to this question because both the industries as well as the players inside each industry show great differences regarding the driving trends of our time. We believe that at the core of the change you describe as disruptive, the strict segmentation of industries and functions will erode. Take the example of consulting companies: in general, they are structured by services in one dimension and by industries in the other. A topic like Digitisation–whatever this means to the respective client and its business–will span across multiple service areas for a group of industries and is inherently related to the fuzzy concept of “Big Data”.
To develop innovative consulting offerings for our clients leveraging this increased level of integration, we introduced cross-industry and cross-service teams inside Strategy Engineers which we call competency teams. There are two mobility-related teams focusing on autonomous driving and the powertrain of the future and two further teams addressing digitisation and product cost optimisation. This setup helps us to facilitate knowledge sharing between services and industries and thus enables innovation for the clients we support.

Beyond your industry and functional focus, you are heading the new Strategy Engineers office in Hamburg and were actively involved in finding the right location. Tell us about the location you selected.
For Hamburg, we have been considering a different office approach underlining our entrepreneurial driven growth strategy. With the new Mindspace office–a designed shared office space–close to the Hafencity and the townhall, we found the right place in the center of Hamburg. At Mindspace, our team will be right in the middle of start-ups, entrepreneurs, accelerators, service providers, investors, VCs and more. The concept allows us not only to scale our office space per team and project requirements, but also provides an exciting work environment fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.

What are your targets regarding the staffing of the Hamburg office – which kind of talents do you seek?
We have started the Hamburg office with a small team of consultants which we intend to grow consistently. Today, Strategy Engineers is a global team of almost 40 people and we plan to grow continuously. This means that we are looking for inspired new colleagues–both on junior and senior level–who strive to do consulting at the interface between strategy and technology. Our consultants are not trying to be the better engineers, but they understand a client’s products and services from a technical perspective in a way that enables strategic excellence in our projects. That is what Strategy Engineers is about and what sets us apart from our competitors–and ultimately creates value for our clients.

After you graduated from school, you became a chef in a Michelin starred restaurant in Hamburg–not the standard vita of a consultant. What is your recommendation for graduates and young professionals thinking about a career in the consulting industry in general and in Strategy Engineers in particular?
There is one simple rule I always adhered to: You need to be passionate about what you want to do and want to achieve. As in a restaurant, mastery of core skills is essential to be able to focus on excellence and customer satisfaction. Starting my professional training in the restaurant I spent the best of the first half year cutting onions and other vegetables to exact cubes. Only when I truly mastered that, I could move on to more complex tasks without cutting my fingers or doing triangles. What I am saying is: take your time, be passionate about what you do and act with deliberation. This is good advice for any job at any given time. At Strategy Engineers, we are passionate about technology and care deeply about the strategic questions evolving around it. This is what makes us special and we are welcoming gifted students, junior and senior hires to share this mindset with us.

You have witnessed the development of the consulting industry throughout the last 15 years. How did the job change?
In 1999 I started consulting with my first client, a medium sized manufacturer of building hardware. I am not sure whether the job changed so much by then, as consulting has always been a very client and people focused business. Of course, the technology which enables our work has changed a lot, be it communication hardware, software or the prices of a flight from Hamburg to London. At the same time, the degree of globalization and complexity of operations has increased. Hence, the key deliverables and the key questions didn’t change too much: how can we create value for our client in a complex environment?

How will the consulting industry develop going forward?
We are currently experiencing a strong wave of concentration in the consulting industry. The big accounting firms are further driving their consulting businesses and the large management consultancies keep investing in specialized boutique consultancies. Not to mention IT consulting firms that enter traditional strategic consulting accounts through digitization.
I believe that to successfully compete and deliver value, consultancies will need to be able to offer platforms to their clients that can combine the analytical, methodical and transformational skills of management consulting with deep technological expertise. At Strategy Engineers, we are doing so with the AVL in automotive industries (passenger car to off highway to large engines). Doing this, we can leverage our 40 consultants in Europe and Asia with more than 8,000 AVL engineers worldwide to tailor solutions for our clients that generate immediate impact to their business.

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