Ali Khatami – Business & Marketing Strategy Consultant

Breandan hEaghra
02 September 2021

Q1. Did you always want to become a consultant or did you fall into the role?

I started my career as a Process Engineer in the oil and gas industry having studied Chemical Engineering in university. So, no I did not always want to become a consultant. As my career progressed I started asking questions about the way business was being conducted at the company I worked for and wanted to know how decisions were made. These curiosities coincided with my wish to do an MBA as a way to boost my career, once I graduated from the MBA program I found myself getting involved in some start-ups to provide advice and assist the founders here and there. I quickly realised that I liked what I was doing and I was getting requested to help out a lot. I got involved seriously with a start-up of some close friends and I just kept going. I did try and apply to major consulting firms but failed but I decided that was not going to stop me. So yes you could say I fell into it.

Q2. What makes a good consultant?

With my limited experience in consulting, I believe good communication and systematic problem-solving skills are essential skills to have. Maybe this comes from my engineering background. However, these traits are not enough. We learn about a whole lot of strategy and marketing tools and frameworks as consultants and the important thing is to keep an open mind and be able to understand their limitations and to understand the context under which they were developed. One must not fall into a trap of blindly using these tools. A consultant must be able to look beyond these limited sets of apparatus and be able to mix and match and to be creative and brave enough to learn new things or even develop new tools. Frameworks and tools that work for large multinationals are not useful for a new business. A start-up is not a smaller version of a large company so you cannot just take concepts and frameworks and apply them hoping they will work. The world of business is dynamic and ever-evolving and so your toolbox should be evolving too.

Q3. Do you feel you manage yourself well or is it a case of ‘the cobbler’s shoes’?

I am very conscious of work-life balance, this is due to my past negative experiences both as a child and during my early career days. I try my best but ultimately time management and project management are not always so easy to do. In my first project as a consultant, I believe I went too far in the other direction, fearing that I may neglect my family I ended up asking the client for more time in the end. This is an art or a balancing act that we can improve upon as we progress in our careers.

Q4. Are there enough hours in your day?
During projects no! I always say that I wish I had a few extra hours or even some extra days whenever I come close to a milestone. That’s is partly because of my love to explore and research new ways of looking at problems or solving them. I always feel like I could do more or go deeper. The important thing is to not let your emotions dictate your work plan or schedule.

Q5. If you could magically stop your clients from making one mistake – what would that be?
Working with start-ups I would say that the one thing I would insist on is trying to get the clients not to underestimate the road that lies ahead and to have a realistic timeframe for when they will go to market. Founders are eager to get their bright ideas to customers and open their doors but what they don’t understand sometimes is that there is a process of discovery and testing and understanding. Usually, they either underestimate these things or don’t understand that this is a process they will have to go through.

Q6. What do you find is the best way to market yourself?
The best way is through word of mouth I would say and encouraging clients to recommend or propose your services to others. If you do a great job and have a great relationship with clients then this happens automatically. The other way would be to create differentiated content. Differentiated content both in terms of how you communicate the topics and also the topics that you choose to talk about but I think most importantly the medium of content development such as vlogs over blogs or podcasts. etc… is extremely important in marketing yourself.

Q7. What do you do to unwind?
To unwind I like to change my scenery and do something different, so that means going out with a bunch of friends. Not just that, I would say attending to my spiritual side is also very important to me and provides me with mental stamina.

Q8. What advice would you give a starting consultant?
I guess this would apply to anyone starting out in any profession but I would say to remain patient and not to get discouraged. It’s a very steep learning curve at the start so be open to learning as much as you can and take every opportunity to learn more and more. The other thing I would say is that if you find a specific subject matter that you really enjoy then consider setting yourself up as a consultant in a niche area because business consulting is quite vast.

Q9. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Binge-watching shows.

Q10. What’s your goal for next year?
My goal for next year is to position myself as a consultant in the energy transition space because this is a topic that really interests me and it’s an issue that I have focused on before but was never able to add value in any way. My background in the Oil and Gas industry is an asset in my view, to help me have some level of impact no matter how minuscule in the energy transition revolution.