Five years ago, Alex Duncan and Andrew Rawson graduated from UTS’s Bachelor of Accounting degree. Today, they’re professional management consultants with leading advisory firms – EY and Deloitte. They’re also mentors for current UTS Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Management students, working with UTS Shopfront to guide the students as they solve the real-world business problems for not-for-profit community organisations.
Our Bachelor of Accounting cohort was split up according to names, so anyone whose name began with A was put together. So, Alex and Andy, that’s how we first met. Andy was late on our first day, I remember that!
After uni, I took a job at EY starting out as an accountant in our assurance practice, but mid-way through my first year I worked out that although I really enjoyed accounting I was more interested in the management consulting side. So I flipped over and have spent the last four years as a management consultant. About two-and-a-half years ago I spoke to Andy and asked him if he wanted to join us at EY.
When you recommend someone for a job at your firm there is always a bit of pressure to make sure they aren’t a lemon. After countless nights out, weekend getaways, ski trips and 21st's, the question, ‘Could Andy actually do any work?’ was still unanswered! Thankfully, not only did he step-up to the plate, but he smashed it out of the park. Just recently, though, he’s taken on a management consulting role with Deloitte Australia and I know he’s going to go well there too.
We got involved with the MBA’s Management Consulting subject through another Bachelor of Accounting graduate, Laurence Wainwright. I had previously worked with Laz at a community crisis shelter in Kings Cross. Every Sunday and Thursday, a group of us would open up a hall in St Canice Church, set up beds and accordingly, provide shelter for those in need. With this history together, Laz knew I would be keen to use my skills and profession to help not-for-profits, so he connected us with the Management Consulting Subject Coordinator Natalia Nikolova.
I find students either hate this subject or they love it. Students are given a problem which the client doesn’t fully understand - the client’s mind will change, so the problem’s always moving and there’s no textbook answer. You have to bank on your own knowledge, your own skills and experience.
Andy and I have worked on three projects now – Cure Cancer Australia, Alfalfa House and Mums 4 Refugees. We love getting involved and getting to meet all the new students and dealing with different problems, but we also want to give that opportunity to our EY colleagues. We wrote up an article in our own internal newspaper talking about the benefits of helping out UTS and these not-for-profit organisations. I think we’ve had seven EY consultants join us on Shopfront projects. For longevity purposes as well, it’s good to create that connection between UTS and EY so there’s always people available to help out.
There’s the intangible benefit of getting something by giving something – we’re exposed to university students who are quite digitally savvy and their minds haven’t been constrained by corporate thinking. One of our first groups did a video for their project using a particular type of software. I really liked that software and shared it with one of my EY clients who used it to make their own video for a similar purpose. Being exposed to those kinds of students actually helps us in our jobs and how we think about things. As management consultants we need to be adaptive and forward-thinking and being able to partner with a university that shares those same values means we can get the right benefits from the program too.
I always had an interest in business, but, you know, you come out of high school and you’re not quite sure what business really means or that it is comprised of so many different things. I realised that accounting is a fundamental skill to have in any sort of business. That’s why I chose that degree. The Bachelor of Accounting really helps you get your foot in the door and understand the practical context of what’s happening in the business world.
Our Bachelor of Accounting cohort was quite small and we actually made lots of really good friends in the group. We still hang out with them to this day. We have a daily email chain where we drop questions and hopefully someone knows the answer. Things like ‘Why isn’t this vlookup working?’, or ‘How do you account for this GST?’. To be honest though, much of our email banter is centred on Game of Thrones or the life of our single mates!
Alex and I have since moved out of accounting, but I think we both found a really good grounding for what we wanted to do with our futures. After doing accounting for three years I decided I wanted to do something different. Alex had already established himself as a management consultant at EY and he basically brought me across. He was pestering me for a while to come over and eventually I was like, “Alright, I’m in. Let’s do it!”.
After our really great experience at UTS we thought it would be a good idea to give back. It’s great because you’re working with the university and with the students, helping them develop their skills and at the same time you’re helping these great organisations. We’ve always had an interest in working in the not-for-profit sector and there’s a lot of ways you can get involved, but we wanted to do it in a way where we could apply our current skills.
With university assignments, you’ve got the theoretical component and the practical component, with students usually well-exposed to the theoretical side of the business, but not so much the practical side. So they often struggle with the Management Consulting subject. We have to, sort of, extract their knowledge and put it into a business context to really provide value for the client. But, the students can usually see the benefits of the subject – they get exposure to the way we work and can see if that’s a future career that interests them. So far, EY has hired one student from the subject. The benefit of being able to go into a job interview and talk about how you solved a real-life client’s problem is a huge competitive advantage from the rest of the graduates competing for your position.
At the beginning of each session, we usually get a choice to work with a charity that aligns with our interests and beliefs. This session we’re working with Mums 4 Refugees - a not-for-profit that is really passionate about the treatment of refugees. It’s an area that I’ve always had a lot of interest in, but I’ve never been able to apply what I know from the business context to that. Projects like these are an amazing way to do that and to be able to really give to these organisations in a meaningful way.
To find out more about UTS Shopfront and to get involved, visit shopfront.uts.edu.au