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Consultants Travel A Lot. (Myself Included). Should We?

I have been a consultant for 439 days, since I started working at Oliver Wyman in July 2011. Of that time (~300 business days, less vacation &c) the majority of them have been spent away from home, traveling or working somewhere for clients. This is a little bit strange. I have a nice New York life; why do I watch it shrink into the horizon on Monday mornings, as wind and metal carry me off?

The first answer is – it comes with the job. The better answer is – well, can you tell me why Minnesota has the 2nd most Fortune 500 companies per capita of any state? [1] Management consultants help their clients to solve business problems, and those clients (and often, those problems) are not always located close to home!

The typical consultant travels for work, and the norm for this travel is Monday-Thursday (AM->PM). I, personally, think that management consultancies could be smarter and better serve their clients by traveling less. With the status quo, however, travel is a big part of it, and when we ask our colleagues “Where are you these days?” we mean both “What client(s) are you working for” and “Where in the world are you,” and the answers to both can vary broadly.

Work-related travel by state, first 300 days at OW [1]

States with work-related travel, colored by time; 7/11 – 9/12 [2]

The map above shows the places that I visited for work in the last year; projects in MN, MO, MA, WA, travel to others, and of course work in NYC. Planes, trains, and automobiles. Lots more ground to cover. In Montana, snowmobiles – though that was leisure…

People often say, hey, you travel a lot to X,Y,Z, clearly you must get to spend a lot of time seeing Missouri Cornfields / Minnesotan Wheatfields / Etc., to which I say, unfortunately I generally miss such wondrous sights, since time is spent in a cycle of {airport, client, hotel} on repeat. Then I direct them to a series of slides I’ve made like the chart right. (Mostly kidding).

What I Actually Do

Time at client sites:

Time at client sites

Time in new cities:

This is not to say, however, that business travel cannot be without glamour. Many are the perks accruing to the frequent traveler – airline status, line-cutting powers, expensed meals, frequent flier miles… plus, like a soldier, you develop the ability to fall asleep on airplanes as soon as you’ve sat down.

Fringe Benefits

Stay here free:

Fly here free:

However, as a wise partner I know once said, “the ride is not always worth the price of admission,” and that can be true for travel as well. I’ve been lucky enough to work in NYC (my home office) more than many, and to have teams and projects which have been more flexible in their travel – going to the client for just a day, or only as needed for presentations, etc.

I have never had anything as crazy as some – like those working on projects that have them in multiple countries and across 20 timezones in the course of a week, or the person I know who was managing two projects on either coast, and would fly NYC->SEA, take a red-eye back from Seattle, have a day of meetings in NYC, and repeat the process again (!).

The people I know who make the most out of their consulting-derived-travel are probably the young, single, and restless – personally, much though I’d love to go everywhere all the time, I’ve got plenty of good things pulling me back to NYC… but if I was in the Dallas office (sorry guys!) you’d find me hitting up Rio and Milan for the weekend, too, instead of heading back home.

My feelings on travel, at the end of the day, come down to a desire to maintain work-life-balance while working effectively and serving our clients. I want to be high-impact with travel. If that can be accomplished through calls, webchats, or telepresence – I think it should be. If it entails presentations, meetings, or day-to-day onsite operations, so be it – but I think there isn’t enough creativity allocated to thinking of how to inventively travel better!

Notes & References

[1] Minnesota used to be #1, but was beat out by Connecticut as of this year due to some shifts in the rankings. Watch closely in 2013.

[2] Travel meant primarily for work (though not necessarily for a client). Exception is sort of California, where I went on vacation but had to work a lot one weekend… still counts :\

[3] Delta Route Map from:

[4]  (Economic) cost aside, all this travel takes a pretty high environmental toll as well, one which is important to calculate and recognize. While we don’t yet carbon offset all our travel, I’d like to see that  become the norm – and this year, it’s something I’m going to try to investigate doing more on a personal level. Tens of thousands of flight miles adds up to a lot of jet fuel – and CO2.

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