Business Leader of the Week: Charlie Liao

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Name: Charlie Liao

Hometown: Danville, CA

Area of Study: Applied Economics and Management (AEM) and a Minor in Art History

Year: 2018

Involvements on Campus: Cornell Consulting Club, Alpha Kappa Psi, BreakFree, CUABS, Cornell Daily Sun

 

1. How do you hope to use your role as President of the Cornell Consulting Club to highlight the opportunities for students to pursue careers in consulting? 

Aside from CCC’s built-in mechanisms, I think the CCC presidency allows me to highlight consulting opportunities in several ways. The first and perhaps most common example is that of coffee chats. I guess because of my consulting reputation on campus, people tend to reach out and ask a lot of questions. Through this informal process, I am able to impart a lot of my personal experiences and knowledge about consulting to other students. While I acknowledge that I am no expert, my college career brought me to a point where I was researching and thinking about almost every available consulting firm, position, or event. The second example is the use of positional leverage. I don’t believe in titles, but it has definitely been easier reaching out to other organizations and accomplished people when I represent CCC as its leader. The presidency gives me the courage and perceived legitimacy to reach out for campus collaborations. Finally, I would say that CCC partners a lot with consulting firms and other companies (such as Citi) to host events and competitions on campus. As president, I am constantly communicating with these firms to ensure great student outreach. 

 

2. What do you look forward to the most with your job at McKinsey & Co?

One of my life values is to surround myself with people smarter than I am. I do this so that I can always learn and improve on my own state; I’ve learned countless things from simply hanging out and working with people I look up to. Working at McKinsey this summer is an extension of this life goal. I am incredibly excited to work side-by-side future entrepreneurs, CEOs, and politicians. While I may not be at their level, I know I can gain much from the experience while hopefully teaching them something new too. 

 

3. Clubs like CCC frequently have a very competitive application process, and justify low acceptance rates by saying they only select the people who are the "best fit" for their organization. What does this mean specifically with CCC, and is there a convincing reason why it is so exclusive?

I like this question – it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. For CCC, “best fit” means a couple of things. First and foremost, best fit means problem solving skills. Management consulting is a field predicated on cracking business puzzles. Your startup client is losing money? Help them find out why. A non-profit needs help cutting costs? Find them a way. Because we work with real clients with high impact projects, we need students who have intrinsic critical thinking skills so that they can legitimately assist the clients. In addition to that, since I genuinely believe that everyone at Cornell has critical thinking skills, we also look for people who can clearly articulate their thought process with said skills – consulting is about client interaction. Secondly, best fit means social fit. The club’s social dynamics change on a yearly basis, but we still want to make sure that through each semester, members get along well and work together. Otherwise, people wouldn’t really enjoy the full CCC experience.

Excluding the use of “social fit,” I can still justify the exclusivity. To be honest, most of the exclusivity arises from logistical concerns. Training new members is tough. As our client work gets more and more challenging every year, the education that all members must receive increases dramatically. The club’s leaders are students too, and we just don’t have time to train dozens of new analysts each semester. So we are forced to have a recruitment process due to project work specificity. Individualized attention is significantly better for member development.  

That being said, we do try breaking the exclusivity by offering a public education series to teach core business skills (i.e. basic Excel, data analysis, etc.).

 

4. What do you see the future of business clubs on campus?

Aside from all the “repeat” clubs that will probably continue proliferating, I see a positive growth in niche business clubs. I’m a huge fan of people exploring interests outside of finance and consulting because it’s easy to get caught up in the hype here. I think there’s an aviation industry fraternity now!

Outside of club growth, there will probably be more cooperation. Clubs are weird because they segment a population of people with very similar interests and personalities. From what I’m seeing, leaders are just starting to realize this. It certainly helps that many of the club leaders are now friends (or on seemingly good terms). I’m really thinking that this wave can shake things up a bit. For instance, CCC and CCG have been collaborating a lot recently (even though when I joined, there was some kind of weird tense rivalry between some members in both clubs). We co-hosted the consulting panel I mentioned earlier, are co-hosting McKinsey’s Business Strategy event, and will maybe have that legendary mixer we keep talking about.

 

5. What legacy do you hope to leave at Cornell?

It’s funny to think that I would even leave a legacy at Cornell; I still feel like an outsider that transferred in because an admissions officer accidentally checked the “Yes” box. As such, I’ve never actually thought about this. I guess I don’t care too much about leaving a legacy at Cornell (in the traditional sense of the word). If that leaves a legacy, cool. If not, that’s okay. I’d rather leave an impression with the people I’ve interacted with. I’d be much happier if I could say that I helped a friend land her dream job instead of say that people remember me for doing x, y, and z things.

 

6. You have pursued a broad education; to what extent has it helped you begin your career in consulting and how do you believe it could help others beginning their higher educational journey?

My educational journey started off narrow. I locked into business early on. This narrow focus brought me to consulting by helping me understand the problems with a narrow view. I’ve become a lot more intellectually curious throughout the last few years. After taking a class about American architecture at my old school, I quickly saw the contrast between the architecture textbook and my accounting textbook and realized what I was missing. My consulting career is a result of discovery; after spending time exploring what the world has to offer, I have arrived at a loss for words. Who knows what I want to do when I want to do everything? Consulting lets me stall for a bit while giving me a diverse exposure to tons of industries, companies, and teams.

For others, I strongly recommend taking classes and experiencing things outside of their current disciplines. You never know what you might find!