Adnan Khan is a Manager at Deloitte Consulting, in the Strategy & Operations practice. He is also the co-founder of the social enterprises EduGate and Viva, which focus on creating opportunities for education and employment in Latin America, a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, and a member of the Oakville Youth Council. Adnan is passionate about giving back to the community helping to advocate for youth education around the world. Read more about Adnan below.
SIA: Tell us a bit about your journey. What are you doing now and how did you enter this space?
Adnan Khan: I went to school at the University of Waterloo where I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Financial Management. When I was there, the standard path was to aim toward landing at one of the “Big Four” accounting firms. This was what I pursued, and I worked at Deloitte over two co-op terms in Audit. I learned a lot about team culture through this and my experience was really positive – but I also wanted to learn about the different pathways that I could take with my degree.
In school I enjoyed doing case competitions, and it was through these that I realized how much I enjoyed learning about consulting, thinking on my feet, and meeting people in that industry. This is what led me to a different role within Deloitte; I completed two more co-op terms as a Business Analyst in Strategy & Operations Consulting, where I now work full time as a Senior Consultant.
Along with this professional path, I was on another that began with an outreach trip to Nicaragua in 2014. Most students on trips like this go into them with the mentality that they will change the communities they enter for the better; that’s what I thought too, but in the end the community that I worked with impacted me far more than I ever could have impacted them. I realized how special the happiness of the people I worked with was, despite living in a community that we would consider underprivileged back home.
I also realized the potential for harm in outreach trips like this one, and the hurt that can come from building relationships that don’t last longer than the trip itself. I knew from this that I wanted to stay connected with the community I worked with, but I didn’t know how and I didn’t have experience.
I started volunteering with the Rumie Initiative, where I helped to develop educational content for delivery to in rural African contexts. In that time, the Ebola pandemic shut down all the schools in the countries we worked in, but education continued through the technology that enabled it. Rumie had never done work in Nicaragua; with my connection to the country, I led the first deployment of their technology there. This was the birth of EduGate, a social enterprise that I founded to bring education technology to rural communities and help not-for-profit organizations grow their impact through advisory services.
Integrating impact work like this into my full time commitment to Deloitte has not always been easy; without full ownership of my schedule, it can be difficult at times. What’s worked best for is being transparent with my team at all times about what’s important to me, and this has allowed me to find initiatives within Deloitte that allowed me to further my commitments to give back to the community and create social impact.
SIA: What is your definition of impact?
AK: I grapple with this, because I often don’t see myself as someone who has personally created impact. What I have done is built up relationships and learned a lot. That said, I see real impact being made when you talk with the people you serve as much as possible to understand what they really need. I think there can be problems created when impact is simply measured as a number of constituents affected without considering how deep that impact goes. Depth is more important, and I would rather help to significantly improve the lives of a few than have a minimal effect on many.
SIA: Did you always want to work in the impact space?
AK: When I entered the workforce full time after graduating, I realized that creating social impact was a long term interest and something I wanted to be committed to. When I began to work in consulting, I realized that the skills I built there were highly transferable, and I had mentors that supporting in the early stages of forming ventures. Working to create social impact helps me to see a different dimension of life; it’s like another education that I go through every day.
SIA: What are some of the issues that you care about that you’re able to contribute to with your work?
AK: The UN SDG I align most closely with is Goal 4: Quality Education. My brand has always been focused on youth and education, and many of our social problems are rooted in issues surrounding this. Through involvements with Big Brothers, and pursuits like EduGate and Viva, I’ve been able to further my impact in this area. My long term goal is to be somebody who can work closely with organizations to help students learn.
SIA: What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals?
AK: Right now, I’m working on another venture called Viva. I think a lot about potentially negative consequences of positive actions I’ve taken. EduGate was born from this; I formed positive connections through my outreach trip, but they were temporary and I wanted to find a way to make them last. Through EduGate, access to education was improved, but the people in rural communities still lack job opportunities. I wondered how we could create those in Latin America. Viva is a program that connects Latin Americans to people in North America to work as virtual assistants. It’s in its early stages, but so far it has provided a lot of value to clients and employees alike, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
SIA: Could you walk us through a typical workday?
AK: In the morning, I connect with my team to get a pulse on their priorities for the day, and a feel for anything that might be blocking them from achieving them. After this I generally spend some time on analysis; this can mean looking over data, or interviewing different stakeholders to uncover insights on the problem we are investigating at that time. Then, I spend some time synthesizing with my team, going over what they heard and how to frame it. A meeting with the client usually follows to show them how we are thinking about a problem. All of this helps us to put content together at the end of an engagement, whether in the form of a presentation or a workshop.
SIA: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
AK: Structured thinking is the greatest value that a consultant brings to an organization, and this is the most difficult part of the job for me. It creates the ability to analyze an enormous amount of data and information; a consultant will never know as much about the client as the client themselves, but they can ask right questions to effectively drive toward an answer.
SIA: Are there any misconceptions about the space you’re in?
AK: One major misconception is how fluffy many people think the field is. Sometimes it’s an accurate thought and there really isn’t enough accountability to actually deliver on a recommendation. But often, there is a lot of education work that goes on, and many firms do help with the implementation stage of these strategies.
Another popular perception is that consultants spend 3-4 months to themselves, preparing a big presentation to end the engagement with. The reality is that the client is engaged along the way and participates in the discovery process. Our recommendations are not a surprise when presented, but a summary of the journey they have engaged in with us.
SIA: What are some skills required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
AK: In consulting, it always comes back to structured thinking. It’s something you absolutely need to develop; I’m not naturally a structured thinker so this has been very important for me. Being able to absorb information and plot pieces of it into relevant and correct categories is a crucial skill for a consultant. Constantly working on this is important too; I’ve seen junior consultants do better at structuring a problem than senior consultants, for whom the interview and recruiting process (when you develop a lot of these skills) is long past.
In addition to that, communication is incredibly important, and something that I don’t think most people spend enough time refining when school is over. Looking for avenues to practice your communication skills helps a lot, and it can be fun too! Improv is one example of that which I have enjoyed.
SIA: What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone?
AK: Trust is a big one; trust comes from a mutually beneficial relationship, and that requires some level of reciprocation. It could be listening to someone’s idea, offering a suggestion, or giving an introduction to someone. When I look at great mentors I’ve had, they’re people that put a lot of time and energy into their relationships. These are the people that I look up to. The ones that give, and give, and give. And that’s the kind of person that I want to be as well.
SIA: Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career?
AK: To be honest, things have been great! I’m really happy with how things have unfolded in my career so far. There have been times when I haven’t done my due diligence on an opportunity, and realized after commitment it might not have been the best one for me at that time, but I don’t regret anything major.
SIA: Could you share with us the best life or career advice you’ve received?
AK: The importance of relationship building and giving of yourself. When I think about Viva and being on my own running a venture, or at Deloitte engaging with clients and coworkers, the people I reach out to are the ones that I’ve given something to in the past.
As well, in a young person at the start of their career, attitude and hunger is crucial. If you’re right out of school and you’re not the hungriest person in the room, then something has to change. Being eager and having a positive attitude is really important.
Finally, the practice of making the most of your opportunities. Your career can be the ride of a lifetime, and in business there is a challenge between doing well in your current role, and looking toward the next one. We won’t always be handed things, so a sense of patience is needed here, and a willingness to grow roots in the current role, even if it might not be what you want permanently. It’s a long term game! These things don’t happen overnight; if we think about it from a lens of social impact, people spend their whole lives to make an incremental impact, and that’s amazing. That outlook can be incredibly beneficial in whatever role you have.
We are grateful to learn from Adnan’s experience and journey. A few insights that stuck with us are:
We thank Adnan for sharing his experiences with us. If you want to learn more about consulting, youth education and social enterprises reach out to Adnan on LinkedIn!