David Connah

David Connah

Image: Kazimier Lim 

Why did you choose to participate in the CBE Special Industry Project (SIP)? 

I chose SIP for two reasons. Firstly, the Project was consulting-sector focused and placed a strong emphasis on self-learning. I was in control of my contributions to the Project and subsequently, what I was able to glean about the industry. Secondly, the client for the Project, the Twofold Aboriginal Corporation, had a fascinating real-world engagement. Filling a significant gap in my education as well as supporting an impactful organisation, Twofold was a big part of choosing this course.

Has SIP influenced your future education and career choices?

SIP confirmed my interest to work in consulting and in the private sector as an alternative to the traditional pathway of Political Science into the Australian Public Service. My initial “find a job” plan focused almost entirely on public sector graduate jobs. But, after the first week of SIP, it not only made sense to look in the private sector but was also more exciting to look at the work available in consulting. The Program also confirmed my interest in looking seriously at a Master of Business Administration. This work experience in the consulting industry has opened my mind to take a different direction for my career. 

How did SIP prepare you for the professional world?

It prepared me in three main ways. Firstly, the Program focuses on key skill development – hypothesis-based problem solving, horizontal and vertical deck logic, and MECE, a grouping principle for separating a set of items into subsets that are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.

Secondly, SIP helped cement my core communication skills. From talking to the Client’s CEO and essential stakeholders to writing concise and clean emails, communication skills were taught both through professional lectures as well as on the job.

Lastly, the program gave me a glimpse of the realities of teamwork within the consulting industry. The truth: consulting is one big group project, and if you want to succeed in this industry, you need to develop good teaming.  

What is the most valuable skill that you acquired through SIP?

The ability to communicate “presence”. In simple terms, this is the ability to approach someone with 20+ years of experience in industry, have a valuable conversation, but also feel comfortable to disagree and challenge ideas if needed. This also includes the ‘earnt feeling’ to be able to speak up and communicate confidently in meetings and social interactions. Reconceptualising people as people, irrelevant of their perceived level, only came through the mentorship element of the SIP. Frequent communication with our Strategy& mentor, both formally and informally, broke this misperception of mine, granting me a valuable skill. 

What were your favourite parts of SIP?

I have two favourite parts of SIP. The first was the trip to the Twofold Aboriginal Cooperation in Eden NSW. This included the chance to meet the client, bond with teammates, as well as complete a cultural awareness program, all before COVID-19 struck. The second was the final presentation day. Everyone connected via Zoom, the five SIP teams, Strategy& mentors, and Twofold CEO watching, the day was deeply rewarding. As we finished the question time and turned our cameras off, it suddenly hit us that the course was over, and we had succeeded in completing 12 weeks of sweat and tears.  

What have you been able to achieve personally and professionally as a result of SIP?

Professionally, I have accepted a graduate job at KPMG with the Policy, Procedures, and Evaluations team; a direct parallel to the work we did in SIP. I have also used communication skills and “presence” to land a summer internship at the Australian Chinese Business Council in their Sydney Office. Multiple transferable skills have come out of SIP.  

Personally, I have used the team skills and relationships to grow and expand the ANU Consulting Society. Utilising the same flat hierarchy, long-term planning structure, and industry relationships, we have been able to grow the society 450 per cent despite the pressure of COVID-19. Creating a flywheel of personal growth, I can now say I enjoy “group projects” in my final year of university. 

Can you share an experience from SIP that changed or challenged you personally?

The whole Project was one big challenge. Focusing on the first couple of weeks, one immediate challenge was the freedom and self-direction that was expected in this course. With very few contact hours in the semester, the expectation is on each group to organise their own time and create their mini-deadlines. While initially challenging, it gave the ability to set study time to when the team worked best, while also allowing for greater flexibility for work and other course commitments. 

What advice would you give to non-CBE students applying for SIP?

Just apply! SIP has taught me specialised skills, reinforced corporate confidence, and expanded my network hugely. If you have an inkling of curiosity for consulting, the private sector, or even business, this is a great introduction. Just like the consulting industry, there is no “right” background for the Project. Growth mindset and a willingness to encounter ambiguity are what is needed to be successful.