A strong work ethic and a belief in his own capabilities have led Alexander Birkeslund on a steep journey towards joining the major league of consulting. Where others might back down, he dares to visualize, take chances, and shout his dreams out loud.
The collaboration between Ework and Alexander Birkeslund started when he was recruited for a large project within Nordea Bank. However, this is not where his own consultant journey started – it began three years earlier, when he discovered his true passion for problem solving.
Hopeful, he started contacting some of the world’s leading consultancy companies looking for an opportunity, but they all turned him down on account of his lacking university degree and experience. While others may have been discouraged by rejection, this young man felt compelled to find another way of achieving his goals thinking, “I’m gonna prove you guys wrong”.
Without the merits of a university graduate, Alexander is creating his own path towards landing that desired C-level position after gaining valuable experience from one of the “Big Three” of management consulting - McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, or Bain & Company.
“If you are willing to work long hours and kick in some doors and if you know how to sell yourself, then why not give it a try?”
Knowing that he would not be able to sit still through years of fulltime university education, Alexander had to get creative. His solution was to choose an alternative education that could be combined with relevant consultant work, which in turn funded that education. And so, he established Birkeslund Consulting, working as a freelance Business Analyst by day and studying at night.
This is how Alexander earned his Graduate Diploma in Business Administration, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, from Copenhagen Business School. The goal is to eventually be accepted to an MBA education in London or Paris, which he will also have to fund out of his earnings.
From Business Analyst to Project Manager
Ework crossed paths with Alexander in the fall of 2018, when Nordea Bank was looking for young talent for a large and complex data analytics project. Alexander had an interview and was accepted for the project straight away along with 50+ external consultants.
Already within the first weeks, Alexander had ideas on how to improve structure and governance processes in the project. One of these ideas was to implement automated solutions through RPA (Robotic Process Automation) technology as part of the analytical process to support and assist the consultants. Thinking it was a natural next step, he and the Project Manager pitched the idea, and within a month he was responsible for the Robotics track within the project.
But Alexander’s ambition did not stop here, and he kept pitching in ideas of improvement within the project. So, after two months on the project he was promoted to Assistant Project Manager for 85 consultants.
“It was a huge challenge and I learned quite a lot about navigating within a political jungle. It was extremely tough all of a sudden gaining authority and having to make decisions while avoiding stepping over anyone’s toes”
Through hard work and dedication, he was able to gain the trust and respect of the other consultants and convince them of the benefits of his initiatives. Aside from robotics, Alexander introduced a KPI-based approach to measure and affect efficiency – something he knew well from earlier experience. From a business point of view, the project was able to save time and millions by working smarter, which was highly motivating for Alexander.
Alexander managed to promote the importance of companionship by focusing on team work, quality and recognizing exceptional performances, and in that way building a supportive and transparent culture.
“I don’t want to act superior to anyone. We are all people who have acquired a set of particular competencies. A and B may have different competencies and if we help each other, a combination of the two might result in something even stronger. And that is what I like to facilitate.”
During the process, Alexander focused largely on the power of communication in translating the strategic and tactical thoughts into something operational. All the initiatives were implemented in close cooperation with the management team of the project.
Clear vision and work ethic
Alexander works 12-14 hours per day and the remaining hours he spends on workouts, meals and transportation. The weekends are reserved for clearing the head, training CrossFit, and spending time with friends and family.
“It would be wrong of me to say that it is balanced. But in terms of my personal needs, it seems to be working. I try to always keep a healthy balance, but of course it affects other things. I don’t want to just be a robot, so it is important to relax when opportunity permits it, so I can to keep my head in the game in the end”
Alexander has a clearly visualized path toward his end goal of becoming CEO of a large cooperation. Ideally, in the end, he will be analyzing and formulating strategies as learned within the world’s largest consultancy businesses.
The milestones to get there are also clear: Two years from now, when he is 27, he will land a position with one of the three largest management consultancies worldwide - McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, or Bain & Company. At age 30 he will gain a senior position, which he will combine with relevant strategic board work. From here he will work his way towards a C-level position, which culminates in the final leap at age 40, where he will be running the business as CEO.
“The path is clear. Now I just need to follow it and cross the finish line”
From his own perspective, Alexander is right where he needs to be, planting seeds for his career to grow at a rapid pace, though it may seem optimistic. But mindset is everything:
“Only you define the limits to your own abilities. If you doubt yourself, you will not succeed. Having a positive approach to your tasks, you will get through it way easier. If you let a bad day get to you, you will fail to deliver”
In his own words, Alexander delivers 120% each day, and that is exactly what will bring him ahead and closer to reaching his goals. He is in the process of establishing a profile that is as attractive as possible, and he is already benefitting from it.
“On the path that I have chosen, I am my own guide. I may get burned here and there, but we’ll see what comes out of that. It has brought me to where I am today. Sometimes it is not about how old you are, but rather how much you learn. You have to set goals and then reach for them, and that is really tough. But you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take”
For Ework, stories like these remind us of the value of our work. Ework is thrilled to have had a role to play along Alexander’s path of development, helping him gain some useful experience for the challenges ahead. We will let Alexander’s story serve as inspiration to other young hopeful consultants, or to anyone really. We definitely feel inspired by his story and look forward to following him on his career path.