Making a difference in his own backyard

Professional consulting services, which the Economic Development Board is nurturing, is a key sector that supports firms here in making critical business decisions. It has good prospects on a global level for people from diverse backgrounds. In the fourth of a seven-part series, Arti Mulchand talks to three people working in the sector.

Marrying a business consultant can be dangerous. Just ask Mr Thongchie Shang, associate principal at McKinsey Singapore. His wife of four years spent close to a decade in the consulting business before moving to a different job.

"The good thing is that she understands what I do. The bad thing is that our date nights sometimes turn into mini-consulting engagements.

"Our entire conversation on one Valentine's Day was about how to improve the restaurant's operations and revenue," the 36-year-old recalls with a laugh.

Beyond his primary focus on financial institutions, he has taken a strong interest in working with Singapore companies across all industries in the five years he has spent with the United States- based global management consulting firm.

One of his first projects with McKinsey involved helping a beleaguered local hospital, which was making headlines for its long waiting times.

"The management wanted to invest in new buildings, new equipment and more doctors.

"It would have taken years and millions of dollars before the problem was solved that way," he recalls, adding that McKinsey's stop-gap solution was far simpler.

It was to sort out the mismatch between doctors' schedules and patients' needs.

"The problem was reduced significantly with a simple Excel worksheet and some forward planning. The hospital implemented it within a month, and waiting times dropped," he says.

He finds such projects especially fulfilling because he is making a difference in his own backyard, he adds.

Mr Shang is a President's Scholar who for 10 years worked in the Administrative Service, including the Foreign Affairs and Transport ministries.

"I like helping to make Singapore a better place, and that makes my work a lot more meaningful. It must be the former civil servant in me," he says.

He also loves the fact that these are changing times for the sector, with increasing demands being placed on consulting firms.

"The depth of expertise that clients look for is increasing every year. It's no longer enough to be a 'smart generalist'," he says.

Among his current projects is a recently completed survey of 30,000 banking customers across 13 Asian countries about digital banking. A report will be published at the end of the year.

He says: "Projects like these help to seal Singapore's role as a hub for consumer insights across Asia."

This article was first published on Nov 3, 2014.

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