For the month of December we interviewed Millie He, Senior Consultant at the Tefen USA office in New York City. She has been part of the Tefen team for more than two and a half years, in that time honing her consulting skills in manufacturing and life science industries.
What is your background?
I’m from Yiwu, ZheJiang, China, a city where most of the “Made in China” things are from. It’s famous for manufacturing and distributing small commodities like accessories. Growing up I was definitely aware of all the manufacturing facilities, as many relatives have small family factories. I got to see how they operated and then learned about the success stories in school. In management consulting I’ve been exposed to many different companies and industries, which has shown me the best practices that I have even shared with my family.
Can you give us an example?
During my 1st year with Tefen I had done all this visual management and streamlining of assembly lines. When I went back to China I told my uncle about the project and he was so convinced that they implemented u-shaped assembly stations and improved their visual management on the floor. It was very exciting to have work life meet family.
Going back to your previous experiences, where have you lived and studied?
I also lived in Shanghai, China for 4 years while studying at Fudan University and then in Seoul, South Korea for 1 year. I came to the US to get my Masters in Marketing from New York University. During my undergrad I had done two internships in management consulting and found it really interesting. I knew I needed to be in the US since about 80% of management consulting is headquartered there, and 50% of those are in NYC.
What drew you to apply to Tefen Management Consulting?
To be 100% honest Tefen was not the only company that I applied to. What differentiated Tefen from others was that many companies say people are the most important asset, but Tefen was the only one really able to prove it. Since I needed sponsorship, no one was able to commit to taking the risk, but Tefen valued my experiences and thought I had the right fit and made it work.
After more than two years here I find that working for Tefen is good balance of international exposure to many projects around the world, while still offering a great domestic office. You know all your coworkers on a personal-level. It’s a relatively flat company, so I can easily reach out to our COO if I want to speak to him on work-related subjects, which is pretty amazing.
What do you like the most about your consultant life?
Traveling aspect is one of the most interesting parts. Traveling abroad is a great opportunity to see many friends that are living around the world. Some say it’s hard to balance traveling, but for me this is a way to reconnect with family and friends around the world. When working in China I saw family. Traveling to France I got to see old friends. Also, having projects around the world allows you to really know the people and the country. As a tourist you just see the sites, but if you go there and work there, you’ll know them from the inside.
What do you like least about the lifestyle?
It’s more stressful than other jobs, as there’s a very clear, defined project, but that’s why they hired us. They need consultants. That’s the only thing that stops people from this career.
We need to become our clients trusted adviser, something that they can’t do on their own. It requires long nights, but that’s what it takes. When more work is handed to you, you can convert the pressure to the motivation to learn and become successful.
What’s the main goal for a management consultant according to you?
I think there are 3 types of project types with their own goals:
- Know how—We tell them what they need to do, like if they are entering new market create a “Go to Market” strategy, tell them about their competitors, distribution channels, what price they need to give it to the market, overall give the customer more information so they understand what they need to do.
- Proof—We are brought in to justify that certain strategy is the right thing to do. For example, moving a global headquarters. First we need to prove that this is the right approach. If it is, then prove it. Same concept applies for when we see good practices in a team, and want to institutionalize through whole. Present it to the rest of the organization and convince them of the benefits it can bring to the rest.
- Pusher—Like a personal trainer, they know what they need to do, but because of internal politics or routines it’s up to us to get them to their goal.
Tell us about your most memorable project.
The most memorable was a head count reduction project in a West Virginia town with a population of 1,500. A fifth of the city was employed by them and on top of this it was a unionized environment. The average employee had dedicated 10-15 years there. It makes for a very difficult situation when cutting positions where people have spent so many years and are so loyal to the company. Despite all of this, we received high satisfaction both on-site and globally. In fact, the site emailed a month later thanking us for the outputs that were delivered.
So what did you do to navigate through this potentially uncomfortable situation?
The way we phrased the program was that it was for long term development of the company. Despite the project scope of head count reduction, the goal was not to fire you, but bring the company to the 21st century with vendor managed inventory, Kanban and 5s programs that can bring us the cost savings. There were redundancies that needed to be evaluated but our approach was to stand from their perspective and help them to improve, rather than setting a number to cut and reaching that bar. It made all the difference.
What are your activities when not traveling for work?
I enjoy photography, jewelry design, and billiards. I got into jewelry designing because I always liked bling, so I thought maybe I can design some. There’s a design school near the office, so went in and took classes. I even helped a friend design her engagement ring. It made me really appreciate the handmade pieces that you see in shops. The price seems high, but now I know what detail and effort goes into it. If I get additional free time I would pursue that.
What or who is the biggest source of influence in your life?
Of course my parents. Their way of life influenced me a lot. They were always explorers and adventurers in life and that has definitely carried through to me.
Another great influence was my former boss, Jelena. She was my mentor and still gives me a lot of advice, both in my career and in life. Even from the first interview I could see how positive she is and I incorporate a lot of her attitude and advice into my life.China, Get to Know, Management Consulting, Millie He