Home-Grown Consultants

You don't necessarily have to leave government to become a management consultant. You could take a rotational assignment to the Federal Quality Consulting Group, an inside-government fee-for-service "company" under the Treasury Department franchise fund. FQCG rose phoenix-like from the ashes of the Federal Quality Institute, which was shut down by its sponsor, the Office of Personnel Management, in 1995. FQCG's survival and success are due mostly to the efforts of its director, Tina Sung. "With me, each engagement is a new adventure," Sung says. In the past year, the group has increased its client base by 38 percent and its revenue by 15 percent.

Sung's eight-person staff gives the Big Six consulting powerhouses a run for their money in the federal marketplace. FQCG outscored the likes of Arthur Andersen and Pricewaterhouse- Coopers on an independent customer survey conducted for the firm earlier this year. Client comments included: "Experienced federal executives committed to improving government. Self-mastery, trust, honesty, integrity and respect--these are the reasons I select FQCG." Competitors apparently are taking notice. Sung says one of the Big Six recently approached her about buying FQCG.

Sung says her firm has a number of advantages when approaching potential clients. "We're feds and we don't have dollar signs in our eyes," she says of her eight-person, $750,000-a-year operation. "We bring them best practices, we just don't force them down their throats." FQCG's fees--$1,800 per person per day--also are at the low end of the consulting scale, which can climb to $2,500 per day and more for partners in the big commercial firms. "I don't care whether I get a follow-on contract out of every engagement because I already have so much work," Sung says. This year, Sung "met her nut"--made enough to cover FQCG's annual costs--in June. "The next months are gravy. I can put the money aside for our operating reserve," she says.

Another differentiating factor is the amount FQCG invests in developing its staffers' skills. Because the group has just two paid staffers--the others are on details and rotations and are paid in part or in full by their home agencies--nearly 13 percent of the group's budget can be set aside for training. "There's a lot of investment in shifting the style of a leader to become a consultant," says Sung. The group's commitment to education won them the 1999 George Land World Class Innovator Award from Fast Company magazine and the Innovation Network, an association of business executives. "They have a really deep commitment to continue educating themselves," says Joyce Wycoff, founder of the Innovation Network and a judge for the award program. "They share what they know with other people. So it makes sense that they really need to focus on their own continuing education."

When she's hiring, Sung looks for the same qualities commercial management consulting firms seek. "We want leaders who have managed organizations. We only have engagements with senior executives, political appointees or agency heads. They want to know you know how to manage people, run a budget, testify before Congress, have dealt with the career/political interface, managed change and led self-directed teams." Communication skills are key. "If you can't get your message across in 60 seconds, you lose out," Sung says.

Senior executives joining FQCG experience the same culture shock as those joining private sector consultancies, says Sung. "Not having a secretary is a big shock. It's not a command-and-control environment. You develop your relationship with a client and you get immediate feedback--if they pay you."

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