As reported in 2010 by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, international business consulting is part of the world’s fastest growing professional field: management, scientific and technical consulting. Because of the globalization of the world economy, the emergence of new, eager markets as a result of explosive economic growth in countries like India and China, as well as the full assimilation of online sales and marketing by virtually every business in the world, conducting business internationally has become standard practice for even many small and medium sized companies. As more companies scramble to embrace a global business model, international business consultants will be needed to find solutions to the unique problems these businesses face as they expand into foreign markets.
While businesses have more opportunities than ever, access to international markets doesn’t come without challenges. Recessions, changes in consumer spending, volatile currencies and amendments to tax laws constantly change the landscape for companies with international operations. That’s where international business consultants come in, to apply their combined expertise in business and international markets to solve problems and get results. Consultants work to identify problems, examine the strengths and weaknesses of their client’s business and use their specialized business know-how to propose the solutions that best suite the situation.
International businesses depend on a wide array of suppliers, manufacturers, transport carriers and other contractors. International business consultants help clients manage and optimize their use of material, financial and human resources. Consultants need to build relationships with the client, balance multiple factors in decision-making, deal with uncertainty, research and create actionable plans, meet tight deadlines, gain consensus for the proposed solution and structure their communication between representatives of different businesses in a coherent and compelling manner. Business consultants need to know their client’s needs and be masters of their own areas of business expertise.
International business consultants have the unique challenge of having to adhere to the social protocols of different cultures while mastering strategy and communication that would be effective within these cultures. This is in addition to fulfilling legal obligations regarding taxes, employment, worker safety, environmental concerns and other legal and logistical challenges business face in foreign markets. The breadth of knowledge required to be successful in this capacity is the reason why most international business consultants have a regional and industry specialty, in addition to a professional area of expertise.
Specialties in International Business Consulting
Having a specialty allows international business consultants to intuitively adapt to the needs of their clients within a particular foreign social and business culture. While a specialty means that many assignments will have a lot in common, each project will need its own tailored solution. International business consultants use their expertise to create systematic methods that can be adapted to meet the needs of each client.
International business consultants usually specialize according to:
- Their business expertise like marketing, human resources, imports and exports, finance, accounting, investing, web-strategy, productivity, mergers, management, security, operations, IT, social responsibility or negotiation
- The client’s industry, which may be travel, healthcare, media, online retail, publishing, pharmaceuticals, education, natural resources or consumer goods such as clothing, household products, snack food or pet food
- A particular country or region such as the Middle East, India, China, South America, or Eastern Europe
Some business-specific areas of specialty match well with certain industries and regions. For example, a consultant with a marketing focus will be in high demand in the consumer goods industry. Most consulting firms and the consultants they employ are able to handle several different areas of professional, regional and industry expertise. As a consultant’s experience grows, their specialties begin to reflect their firm’s specialties, as well as their own personal skills and interests.
Where International Business Consultants Work
Consultants typically work in one of two environments, either for consulting firms, or in-house for companies that have major business operations in foreign markets and therefore need to staff business consultants full time.
Consultants that work for consulting firms are contracted by international businesses. McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, Deloitte Consulting and Accenture are some of the major international business consulting firms contracted by corporations as they explore overseas business ventures.
Consultants that work in-house for companies with significant and ongoing international business operations serve as on-site business facilitators of a wide variety of solutions to accommodate any number of foreign markets the company may seek to enter. As such, they are often less specialized than consultants that work for consulting firms. Being an in-house consultant doesn’t necessarily mean living in a foreign country, but it will likely involve extended periods of travel.
Education and Degree Options for Consultants
To begin a career as an international business consultant, individuals need a bachelor’s degree in a field related to business. Prospective international business consultants can get a general business degree or one that lends itself to a particular facet of consulting, like a Bachelor of Science in Accountancy, Business Economics, Business Administration, Finance, Management Information Systems, Management and Leadership, Marketing or Supply Chain and Operations Management.
Some colleges have degree programs specifically geared toward international business, like the Bachelor of Science in International Business, but an internationally focused program isn’t necessary to get started as a consultant. Regardless of the primary field of study, a minor in a foreign language or in international studies would develop skills and knowledge that would prove very useful.
Some firms only hire consultants who have already begun working on a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). While this is the exception, many consultants entering the international business field will eventually earn an MBA, another advanced degree or a graduate certificate. Some earn advanced degrees while working, and others choose to work a few years then return to school full-time. Most MBA programs consider a few years of real-life business experience an asset, if not a necessity. As with undergraduate degrees, some MBA programs have an MBA International Business track. At this level, finding an international focus may be more critical, depending on an individual’s goals and experience.
International Business Consultant Certification and Professional Associations
International business consultants have a number of elective certification options available to help distinguish them within the industry by denoting their education, level of experience, demonstrated competency and commitment to ethical practice. The following are among the elective certification programs available to international business consultants:
The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes connects members to country-specific requirements for becoming Certified Management Consultants (CMC), granting consultants the esteemed CMC credential specific to the primary country in which they conduct business. Specific requirements for CMC certification are unique to each country, but in all cases a track record of client experience and satisfaction, an understanding of the consulting process and the business climate, a certain number of years of consultancy experience and dedication to a code of conduct and ethics will be stipulated.
The International Management Consultants Board (IMCB) offers three designations specific to general management consultation and international business consultation, all of which have unique experience and education requirements, ethical obligations and continuing education requirements:
- MCP, Management Consulting Professional
- CPC, Certified Project Consultant
- MBC, Master Business Consultant
- CIPM, Certified International Project Manager
International Business Consultant Salary
According to the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the management, scientific and technical consulting industry, in which international business consultants are categorized, is one of the highest paying of all industry classifications nationwide. The Bureau projects employment within this industry will grow by an astounding 83 percent during the current ten-year period ending 2018.
International business consultants working in operations management consultation earned an average salary of $130,395 as of the Bureau’s most recent report in May 2008.
Business consultants that were classified by the Bureau as management analysts, which accounted for well over half a million professionals from the industry, earned an average of $87,260 as of the Bureau’s 2010 report. Top average annual salaries among these consultants ranged from $104,200 for the 75th percentile to $138,790 for the top ten percent.
The following represents the top paying industries for management analysts, and the corresponding average salary:
- Personal Care Services: $109,360
- Other Financial Investment Activities: $106,520
- Oil and Gas Extraction: $105,190
- Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services: $103,710
- Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services: $103,220
According to the Bureau’s 2010 report, California was home to the most management analysts – an estimated 68,450 – who earned an average of $92,060 per year. The District of Columbia had the highest density of management analysts in the country, with 24.65 analysts per every one thousand jobs. These DC based consultants earned an average of $89,860 in 2010. At $100,660, management analysts in Massachusetts earned the highest average salary among these professionals nationwide.