Letter from Mathias Leth Geertsen
I am you, just five years older and a tiny bit wiser. This letter might seem somewhat strange, but I know that you will appreciate it, as I have tried to capture some of the most important lessons I have learnt during the past five years.
Get used to running metaphors. Every senior person you will work with will tell you that consulting is a marathon, not a sprint. You nod, but you utterly hate this notion. You want to succeed. Fast. Now. So you sprint. You sprint and sprint and sprint. Then you sleep – and sprint again. The only issue is that, in fact, they are partly right. Consulting is perhaps not quite a marathon – there are indeed too many sprints for that – but more like an orienteering race. The winner is not the fastest runner, the one who trained the most or the one with the brightest mind. The winner is the one who is a decent runner, knows when to train hard, and who has a strong mind. At least so it seems five years down the road.
Take chances, fail fast and embrace the frustration. You are 24 years old and have just started (what will be) an amazing journey. However, during your first year, you will face tremendous hardship. You will be challenged and pushed to the edge of your mental and physical abilities. You will learn a lot. And you will come out stronger, much more robust and with a new friend that will follow you for many years.
You believe that taking chances and responsibility will help you succeed. You are right. You will get extraordinary opportunities because you dare to say “Yes” to projects and tasks that other people have turned down. You will be seriously challenged, but you will always come out on top. Even at the darkest moments where you deeply regret having taken on the task or project, there will be something fun and satisfactory about it. And it will teach you two invaluable lessons.
First of all, you will fail. Numerous times. Everyone fails, so you had better get used to failing fast and learning quickly. If you have been given a highly complex task, the partners and managers are in fact aware of this. See it as a gift – an opportunity for you to show just how much you are capable of. No matter what, they are always there to help you.
Second, frustration and challenges are the constants in this job, which balances fun and steep learning curves. At times, you will be so frustrated that you hope someone accidentally smashes your laptop or robs your bag on the way home. It’s perfectly normal, and even five years down the road, you will still get that feeling sometimes. Fortunately, when you look back, you will see that the most frustrating and challenging projects were the ones where you learnt the most, both professionally and as a person.
You start your career thinking you don’t want to be a partner; you want to be a CEO. You just have to spend 2–3 years as a consultant to figure out what you are good at and what you think is fun. You dream of big companies like Danske Bank and Maersk. You think it’s cool to wear a tie, be formal and work a lot. You think management perks like big offices, good parking spots and PAs are awesome. You will be surprised to see what happens in a few years from now. You have realised that consulting can be a career. You never wear a tie, you like companies with flat hierarchies and limited rules and bureaucracy – and you would rather work for small, innovative companies than old incumbents. Along the way, you will get great offers from PE firms asking you repeatedly to join, start-ups offering you CXO positions and American competitors trying to persuade you to come aboard – and still, you will say no. You seem to remain a QVARTZ guy for a long time, because you get to do cool stuff in cool ways with cool people, for cool companies in cool places. That’s a difficult combination to beat.
Along the way, you will find that the advice of building strong relations both upwards and sideways will be one of the things that helps you the most. These relationships and the input you will receive will be worth much more than all your project evaluations put together. In fact, all this input is what helps you perform so well on projects, and what helps you find your way in the QVARTZ civilisation. You will lose some of your best colleagues (and friends) within the first years. You will find that continuous and steady performance is not good, but great. And you will find that your ability to structurally learn and develop yourself is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that you have. But the most important one is your ability to be humble, civilised and generous. Stay true to that. It will take you further than you can imagine.
Seek balance. You believe in the power of extremes, while really, you should be believing in the power of balance. Mind. Body. Work. Family. Losing. Winning. Learning. Maintaining a balanced, reflected and positive view on the world at large, your everyday life and yourself will be crucial in the years to come. You are going to go through loads of long nights, extensive travel and cancellations of nights out with family and friends, caused by you – and only you. You are going to be engaged, marry the love of your life, have a wonderful daughter and experience the happiest moments of your life (so far). Caused by many – including you. A difficult, but beautiful new reality where you will be challenged on every single facet of your being. This will fundamentally change who you are. But some things will stay the same. You have a burning desire: to develop, to achieve big things, to conquer, to win. But the desire also burns a bit of you. It’s what keeps your mind going much longer than your body can keep up. It’s what makes you strong and what makes you sick. It’s what makes you good, crazy and inspiring – and what sometimes breaks you. I am both happy and sorry to say that you still have not found a way to balance this burning desire.
In this letter, I have tried to capture some of the things I want you to know. My list of advice is by no way exhaustive and I am happy to tell you that I am still learning. A lot. Every day. One reason being that I still read. The best piece of advice I got came from one of these reads. It simply said:
“Remember, in the end there’s only love”.