Good luck to all of the 1st round Kellogg hopefuls!  It was around this time last year that they started releasing decisions, and it looks like they are doing the same this year based on the 2012 students that have already begun joining the Consulting Club.

Back in September, when my inbox was getting flooded with recruiting emails from all of the clubs at Kellogg, I applied for the Neighborhood Business Initiative (NBI), “an organization at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management that provides pro-bono consulting services to non-profits and socially-minded entrepreneurs.”  Although I hadn’t heard of the club before coming to Kellogg, I was drawn to it because of my interest in consulting and non-profit organizations.

The first thing that I had to do was decide if I wanted to be a “Team Lead” or “Consultant.”  I thought about applying for the Team Lead role, but after some thought, I ultimately decided to go in as a Consultant.  At IBM, I had already been the Team Lead on several projects, so I didn’t think that I would benefit as much from rehashing this experience.  After getting that out of the way, I selected a set of projects that I would like to work on from the 20 or so that were available.  The projects were labeled by function (Marketing, Strategy, etc), so I used that to narrow down the list and then selected based on the organization/project descriptions.

A few weeks later I was assigned to my first pick, and I learned who was on my team.  There were eight of us; a Team Lead, a 2nd-year mentor, and six consultants.  The majority of my teammates had some form of consulting experience under their belt, and I didn’t realize what a great team I had been assigned to at the time.  We met immediately to meet each other, discuss logistics, and set expectations.  A few days later, we received our project proposal and met with our clients for the first time to discuss the project.

The client wanted the project to be much larger in scope than what we could handle in 10 weeks, so we had to scale it back, focusing on what we considered to be the most pressing issues.  We divided the work into 3 workstreams, Value Add, Pricing, and Sales Process, and assigned 2 consultants to each one.  I ended up on the Sales Process team, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

We spent the first 4 weeks or so gathering and analyzing data from the client and outside sources.  During this time, I was dedicating at most 2-3 hours a week on the NBI project because of all of the other items (group projects, papers, corporate meetings, HW, etc) that were demanding my attention.  When the midterms rolled around, I started to feel uneasy about the NBI project; we hadn’t made much progress at all, and I was afraid that we wouldn’t have any substantive recommendations to make at the end.

Just as I was starting to get concerned, everyone kicked it up a notch and started pouring more time into the project.  I met with my partner right after midterms, and we came up with a pretty comprehensive initial set of proposals for the selling process that we would then spend 3 weeks refining and modifying based on survey and interview data that we had collected.  From this point on, I was spending about 8-12 hours per week working on our proposals and the presentation.

In our team meetings, we starting presenting our ideas to each other, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the team was able to openly criticize ideas and have honest, constructive debate that led to a lot of improvements in our final set of proposals.  We spent 3 weeks alone discussing the pricing proposals and the merits of recommending a high-price low-volume vs low-price high-volume model.  This kind of debate was refreshing, because I was able to hear what each person’s reasoning was for supporting a particular strategy, and that helped me consider the situation from viewpoints that I had previously overlooked.  We were still wrestling with this decision a week before we were scheduled to give our final presentations.

Our Powerpoint presentation quickly grew to a 70-page “book” that contained our findings and proposals, explanations of the models that were built to determine the value-add and pricing components, and the data that we had collected from the target audience.  A few days before the last meeting with the clients, we spent an additional three hours late at night refining the deck and proofing everything.  I was very impressed with how the presentation eventually turned out, and I felt confident that we had put together something valuable for the client.

The final presentation was scheduled to go for an hour on the Thursday before finals with about ten representatives from the client organization present, including its President.  I would be presenting for about seven minutes, and I was excited about the opportunity to practice public speaking one final time in the quarter.  We ended up spending two hours going through the presentation, discussing our proposals with the clients, and listening to them discuss the issues that we were raising with each other.  We were ecstatic with the final results and relieved to successfully conclude our NBI project (it can be stressful at times).

Back in Evanston, we met for celebratory dinner and drinks at Pete Miller’s.  With all of the stress off our shoulders, we were able to relax, chat, and have a good time, recounting our experiences for the quarter, funny stories from our past, and portions of our presentation.

I forgot to mention that although I had a great experience with NBI, some of my classmates did not. It definitely seems that there are people that end up on both sides of the spectrum (great vs crummy) with their NBI experience.