Reflections on the Consultant's Role
Western Management Consultants
In the third episode of our fourth season, our host Peter Brenders talks with Myka Osinchuk, Managing Director of Western Management Consultants, about transitioning into consulting, working across different industries, and consulting during Covid-19.
LIONA DROHAN (LD):
From the National Pharmaceutical Congress, this is the NPC Podcast for May 12, 2021. The NPC Podcast is all about discussing and considering the purpose, process, and people of the pharma industry during the time of Covid. Today, we’ll continue the healthcare conversation by answering questions from listeners just like you.
This program is presented in cooperation with Impres, Canada’s next generation commercial partner. The industry is rapidly evolving, and Impres is designed to help you evolve with it. Learn more about Impres tailored best in class solutions at www.impres.com
On today’s podcast our guest is Myka Osinchuk. She’s Managing Director of Western Management Consultants in Calgary. Your host is Peter Brenders. But first, here in our Toronto studio is Mitch Shannon, CEO of Chronicle Companies
MITCH SHANNON (MS):
Liona, thanks. And thanks to listeners for that great feedback about last week’s podcast when we kicked things off with a musical quiz. Because you liked it, let’s try asking the same question again. So what does this song have to do with today’s guest?
Ahh, Paladin. Richard Boone. Our western based musical clue provides a theme for all hired guns everywhere. And one of the most respected Canadian names in management consulting is Western Management Consultants out in Alberta. What’s it like being a hired gun to the life sciences business? WMC’s Myka Osinchuk explains it all to Peter.
PETER BRENDERS (PB):
Welcome to the NPC Podcast, I'm Peter Brenders, your host. In our continuing look at the purpose, process, and people in pharma in Canada, this episode takes a look at career transitions for people. And in particular, we're going to talk about transitioning into consulting.
This is for our listeners sitting there thinking, “although my family may not believe it, I have some valuable expertise that can be of use to many.” So how do you take your years of expertise and become the hired expert? This is what I'm going to explore with my guest today.
Joining us from Calgary, Alberta is Myka Osinchuk, Managing Director of Western Management Consultants. Welcome to the NPC Podcast Myka.
MYKA OSINCHUK (MO):
Thanks for having me on, Peter.
Myka, for the last 20 years, you've been in leadership roles in the life sciences space from President of Bio Alberta, the CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Executive Director of the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences and Medicine, and even a Vice President of the Alberta Research Council. And yet, a few years ago, you left your CEO job, running an organization, to become an advisor to many. You became a consultant. So I got to ask, why?
Well, I don't know if hired expert is quite the right term, probably more like the hired help. For me, Peter, it was a really deliberate choice at a point in my career. I've always made lots of transitions, as you've just listed off the various roles that I've played, I've always taken a really service-based approach to my career, whether it's in service of member companies, in service of patients, donors. And so I saw consulting as an opportunity to carry forward that service mindset, and to be able to do it with a wider variety of clients, and in a wider variety of ways.
How was the change, I mean, what was better than expected?
I love variety. So that's been amazing, the opportunity to work across many different industries that maybe I hadn't had an opportunity to touch on previous in my career, you know, working with the energy industry, travel and tourism industries, has been absolutely phenomenal. And having that chance to bring a very different mindset and perspective on industries that I hadn't had that opportunity in before has been really great.
Consulting - help me understand the difference between consulting and working for a whole bunch of different clients, and working within an organization with some more singular mission, if you will.
You know, I keep using the word variety, but really, it's that opportunity to focus on some very particular things with clients, it's not looking at the whole organization necessarily, and having that responsibility for the people, for the PNL, for stakeholder relationships. It's having that chance to really hone in on what the client wants and needs, and be able to help them find their way through it.
You know, my approach is always that companies know their business best. And so, I don't come in with a pre-determined idea or an out of box solution for them, but rather really looking at leveraging what they know about their industry, what they know about their company and helping them find the best path through to a solution, whatever the issue is.
So, let me come at it another way then, in terms of the life of a consultant. So you think about sort of interesting things from the positive perspective as a consultant. So, what was worse than expected, going from working in a company in an organization to being a consultant? What was worse than what you expected?
You know, I went in with my eyes fairly wide open. So I'm not sure worse than expected. But let's say that there isn't necessarily a rhythm in the consulting business, right? It can be yesterday, 10 companies called me and want my help. But a month before, there was nobody. And so, you really have to get into a comfortable place with the fact that there isn't rhythm, that there's going to be times when you're really, really busy and times when you're not so busy.
And I've actually found that to be quite helpful for achieving a better work life balance. Because when I don't have lots of work, you know, I take the time and focus on the things that are important to me personally, when I do have lots of work, I'm full in.
You’re listening to Myka Osinchuk, Managing Director of Western Management Consultants.
Okay so, you joined a firm on that one. So, do you think you would have had the same experience had you started out consulting as an independent rather than joining a firm?
Absolutely not. My rationale for joining the firm, first of all, was to be able to work with people that I liked. That's always been very important to me. The second thing was understanding where my gaps are or the, you know, where I don't have expertise, and being able to access other resources in a firm that could help fill my customer's needs, even if it's not me that there's somebody else that can be helpful to that customer. And then finally, joining the firm, WMC is 45 years old. It's one of the oldest boutique consulting firms in the country. And so, being able to come into a firm that has such a good reputation for serving its customers was really important to me.
Alright, so you talked about sort of bringing that expertise in a firm that has a lot of different expertise. So how did you decide what your specific expertise is? I mean, you've done a lot of different things. And I look at your career, and you've talked about in terms of the research centers, the life sciences, the plan, giving, the whole bit so like, how do you decide this is what I'm selling? And not saying, coming up with the answers like, well, I can do anything?
Well, you know, I've always considered myself a bit of a generalist, as somebody who, you know, if I don't know how to do something, then I'm going to learn. As I said, I come to my clients with the understanding that they know their business best. And so it's more about learning to ask the right questions, so that I can fully understand what they need.
And so, you know, in my practice, I focus on strategy, on governance, on operations on helping companies optimize operations, on helping them to navigate change, change communications, stakeholder management, all of those kinds of things are the places where I really love to work. But that said, there's also been a lot of new areas that I've dived into with my clients, and helped learn along the way. So help them learn and I've learned and really done it lockstep with them.
So how do you manage the imposter syndrome? Yeah, you're learning with your clients along the way, like at a point you sort of step back, like geez they're paying me and I don't really know this stuff, like, how do you manage your way through that?
You know, you know me, I'm pretty straightforward, right? So I'm not shy to say, you know, what, I don't know, I don't know how to do that. But I can find somebody who does. So that's the first thing. It's not about me as a consultant, it's about making sure that my client's needs are met.
I happen to think a little bit of imposter syndrome is really important. If you don't have it, you end up not asking the right questions, you end up having a lot of hubris, and you're not able to serve your clients if you don't have that questioning a little bit. You know, I've always said people that don't have that imposter syndrome might actually be psychopaths.
Okay, good to know, we got the quote for the day on that one.
Let me ask you a question about sort of, what do you miss about, you know, your pre-consulting life? Is there some aspects of just being an employee, like, what do you miss about that?
I do miss leading a team. Right, and, and helping people grow and develop. I'm still doing it, it's just in a very different way. And so, I can still find those opportunities. You know, whether it's a CEO who needs coaching, you've got a team that needs to be led through a change process, I still have that opportunity to do that. But you know, it's very much in a different way than when I did lead organizations.
Well, let's talk a little bit about sort of pandemic life. What has it done to your consulting business? What's changed?
Oh, you know, I think everybody's changed, right? And I would say, from all of the discussions I've had with colleagues in this business, the pandemic has created a great opportunity because most organizations are realizing that what got us here isn't going to get us there. And so that opportunity to have that cold, third set of eyes to look at your situation, to help you define very different ways of doing business, whether it's your operating model, you know, whether it's your resourcing, your strategy overall. I think companies are really taking that opportunity to look at - Do we need to make some significant changes? And having that outside expertise is a real opportunity.
So, you know, I've found in my particular practice that I'm busier than ever, and I suspect, as we climb out of this pandemic, we're not going to go back to business as usual, we're going to see that companies that are successful, are looking to change. And that's a great opportunity.
You’re listening to the NPC Podcast. I’m Peter Brenders, your host.
So just on that, I'm just trying to think about the business of consulting. You said you're busier than ever, so did life in the pandemic, because of that one sort of drive to more demand for consulting help to navigate through that one? And what about sort of clients? I mean, you're obviously not going to offices making the pitch anymore. So how has that changed?
We saw a lot of companies and particularly here in Alberta, obviously, in the energy industry, starting way before the pandemic is, you know, a lot of downsizing. So kind of, I would say, May last year, companies were starting to do voluntary retirement, all of those sorts of things. And then as they got to the end of the year, I think there was this realization that, “oh my gosh, we had all these things we said we were going to do, and we've been so busy dealing with the day-to-day reality of just, you know, making sure our people can work from home, making sure that our business continues.” I kind of thought, hm, we got some things we've got to do, and we don't necessarily have the internal resources to do it. So it's cost effective to bring in an external resource. So I've definitely found that.
Business developments are definitely more challenging. But you know, I've always been somebody that's kept in close touch with my own network. And that definitely continues to be my approach. And you might not be able to go for coffee with somebody, but I can do a quick zoom call, and just - what's keeping you up at night? What are the challenges that you're having? And, you know, why don't I think about that, and I'll come back to you, you know, tomorrow or the next day, and with a couple of thoughts, and, you know, maybe we can find a way through.
Alright, so let's set stage then for some of our budding consultants that are listening in right now. And let's help them take a sober look at what they may see as Myka's glamorous consulting life. So give me three questions that they need to ask themselves before deciding to become a consultant.
I think the first one is - Is this just a stop on the way to the next employment gig? Which is fine, you know, people go through that transition, go from one job into consulting, and then they find their next employment, it's not bad. It just changes the way that you might look at developing your business and the level of commitment. So I think you really have to understand, Are you in this for the long term? Or is this a short stop? Because it will change how you approach it.
I would also say - Can you let the client lead? I had a mentor say to me once, “you know, Myka, if you go into consulting, you're probably, you know, having led organizations, you're going to probably go in and say, I see the problem. And I know what you need to do.” And the reality is that, you know, if you're really going to be effective, and help clients change, you need to help them come to that solution, you need to not predetermine what the end point is going to be. And I think that's really important, especially for people who have been in executive leadership roles - is to take yourself out of that leadership. I'm making decisions, I'm problem solving, and actually find that path to work with a client to get to that desired end stage.
A third question that folks should ask - Who do you want to work with? I think is important. So you asked the question about being an independent consultant versus joining a firm, there are lots and lots of lone wolves out there that do a fabulous job with their consulting business. And lots of people like me who prefer to work with other consultants. And so I think you need to ask yourself, “am I more comfortable doing my own thing, then going out doing my own BD? Or do I really like working with others?” That'll help guide you in your decision about whether you take off as an independent or you join a firm.
We have been listening to Myka Osinchuk, Managing Director of Western Management Consultants on the NPC Podcast. Thank you for listening.
Myka and Peter, thank you. You can learn more about WMC on their website at wmc.ca. And if you have questions or comments about today’s conversation, let’s have them.
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I’m Mitch Shannon of Chronicle Companies and I’ve got to get moving if I’m going to get over to the National Pharma Congress by 11am. Your podcast producer is Jeremy Visser. The announcer is Liona Drohan. The musical theme is once again performed by the NPC Podcast Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Alejandro Millbrook.
I’ll catch up with you at the National Pharma Congress Webinar in just a few hours and we’ll talk to you again on the next NPC Podcast.