Career Spotlight: Agribusiness Consultant

HUGE “THANK YOU” to Seth Pratt for taking the time to answer all of my questions about this job. Most of the information below is based on the notes I took from my conversation with Seth.

*CAUTION* Consulting firms vary wildly on what problems they solve, how they’re structured, what they’re looking for in employees, etc. I have done my best to put together some general information for you below. This information will NOT be true in all circumstances, but hopefully this provides some helpful insights for those considering this career field.

 

Overview

Businesses large and small often have problems that they don’t currently have the manpower or expertise to solve. Many times they will enlist the help of an agribusiness consultant to clearly define their problem, draft a solution, and begin to put the planned solution into practice.

Consultants are generally experts at analyzing problems and optimizing solutions. They are accustomed to working on a project basis so they can save the company from having to recruit and hire a full-time team for a project that could potentially be implemented in a short period of time.

These consultants typically have extensive backgrounds in project management and/or a specific subject matter (seed operations, commodity marketing, etc.). They implement the solutions quickly and efficiently. This could be anything from updating a company’s procedures to meet new regulations, growing the business into a key strategic area, incorporating new software, or building market share. The list of possibilities are as vast as the potential business problems that exist (almost limitless).

Consultants work with businesses large and small, and in most every aspect of agriculture, from large multinational agribusinesses to private equity firms investing in agriculture to international agricultural development organizations. Even your local feed yard, grain elevator, or equipment dealer might use a consultant to help solve their problem.

These consultants work with analysts to research the issue and draft a solution. Then they manage the timeline, budget, and the deliverables of the project. They often have to identify experts in the subject area, recruit them, and manage their work throughout the process. The consultant is accountable to make sure the problem gets solved quickly, efficiently, and economically.

 

Why This Job is Awesome.

Gain broad exposure to a wide variety of agricultural subject areas. You could be working on a project for dairy genetics one week, then jump to a project dealing with crop inputs the next week, then be asked to provide in depth USDA research on commodity programs after that.

Travel. Part of the job is traveling to where you are needed most on a project. That could be all over the nation or even internationally. Consultants are often called in because an effective solution is needed fast. That means the work will need you on site sometimes with little notice. This can be fantastic for someone who loves adventure and travel.

Expand your network. As a consultant you will be exposed to a wide variety of clients throughout the agribusiness industry in all sorts of capacities. If you enjoy building relationships, you will amass an extensive network of key players in the industry.

Improve your personal skills. You will constantly be stretched and challenged working in this industry. You will need to constantly improve your critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as your personal time management, ability to collaborate, and your overall effectiveness as a project manager. These are skills that will serve you extremely well in your career as a consultant or if you choose to move on to other capacities in the business world.

 

What it Takes:

“How many light bulbs are on in Detroit, MI?”

This is an example of an interview question that is asked in this field during what is typically a brutal interview process.

How would you answer this interview question? By the way, you need to articulate your thought process in front of an interview panel. What questions would you ask? Where would you find the answers? How could you come up with a reasonable estimation?

Most consultants have experience as either an analyst or in a particular aspect of the industry as well as an MBA or other advanced degree. The nature of the job requires the following skill set:

  • Attention to detail
  • Time management
  • Personal drive and motivation
  • Ability to manage a lot of complex moving parts all at once
  • Ability to work under urgent and fast-paced conditions
  • Comfort with constant variety in tasks and topics
  • Ability to quickly articulate a sound thought process when given a challenge
  • Mastery of programs like Excel & Powerpoint
  • Problem solving
  • Natural curiosity
  • Obsessiveness with asking questions and finding answers
  • Flexibility & adaptability
  • Ability to organize complex ideas and communicate them clearly

In addition to the above, a successful employee in the consulting field must have the ability to detach from themselves from needing to be a part of the “finished product”. If you feel a need to see your work carried through to completion, you might feel a little dissatisfied with consulting, as many projects are set up and turned back over to full time staff to complete.

 

Some Industry Players

Some potential employers in the agricultural consulting space include:

 

Career Progression

As mentioned at the beginning, this is going to vary wildly from firm to firm. However, many firms have positions similar to these (in ascending order):

  • Intern
  • Trainee
  • Jr Analyst
  • Sr Analyst
  • Consultant/Associate
  • Project Manager
  • Solutions Designer
  • Principal

 

Where To Start

Common paths into Agribusiness consulting:

Obtain an entry level trainee/analyst job or internship. If you have access to a local university that offers some sort of management consulting classes, those would be a great place to start. Also, get as many internships as possible that require you to develop your project management and analytical skill set while being exposed to various agribusiness areas.

OR

Gain years of valuable experience within a specific subject matter. Once you have developed an expertise, offer your services as a consultant on an as-needed project basis. Keep in mind though that this means the firm will need 100% of your attention for the duration of the project. At that time your contract would end until there was another opportunity available.

In both cases, one must pursue personal study on various frameworks for business analysis. Also essential is an understanding of how to conduct and analyze case interviews.

Consulting is an exciting and fascinating place to build your career. However, it certainly takes a unique skill set and an uncommon amount of personal drive. If you think you are someone who is up to the challenge, hopefully the above information will help you in your career journey!

Tim Hammerich
tim@aggrad.com

Tim is a strategic communications consultant, founder of AgGrad, and the host of the "Future of Agriculture" podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.