Mike Deimler combines creativity and consulting to overcome business challenges

Mike Deimler presents his lecture in the Torian Room. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

By Anna Mann

Mike Deimler (P’14), managing director and senior partner to the Atlanta branch of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), visited Sewanee on February 4 to discuss business adaptability and creativity in his presentation for the Bryan Viewpoints Speaker Series: “When the Game Gets Tough, Change the Game.”

More than 50 people attended the Torian Room lecture where Deimler spoke about innovating already established business models to reflect a changing market. As Deimler addressed what he called “A Tale of Two Companies,” he compared the failure of the Blockbuster franchise to that of the Carnival Cruise corporation.

While Blockbuster refused to acknowledge the increase in both internet and broadband penetration, and subsequently lost billions to Netflix, Carnival Cruise recognized the shifting market and renovated their model to great success.

After his lecture, Deimler offered 30 free copies of the book: “Own the Future: 50 Ways to Win from The Boston Consulting Group,” of which he served as the principal editor.

In an interview with The Purple earlier that day, Deimler expanded upon his movement from the liberal arts to the business world and how Sewanee students could follow a similar path.

Deimler attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before getting his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. As student of the liberal arts and having sent a daughter through Sewanee, he was excited to come to campus with his wife.

Before getting his MBA, Deimler didn’t know much about business. In fact, he was on a PhD track in philosophy before dropping out and beginning studies in business.

“I had this epiphany that I didn’t want to be an academic,” he explained. “As much as I loved graduate school and I loved thinking deeply about issues, I decided I didn’t want to teach. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because I had never quit anything, and I had to drop out of the program.”

After the initial transition, he learned about consulting from a classmate who worked at BCG himself. Deimler applied and has stayed at the company for 29 years. He stated that though he learned technical skills for his MBA, he employs the problem solving skills he learned through his liberal arts degree more frequently.

“I started to appreciate that the business world also needs people that have this deep liberal arts set of thinking skills. That means we need people who are thinking critically about the world and can solve problems with a certain level of curiosity. Then based on what you learn to construct an argument.”

Deimler explained that the typical day in consulting requires people skills, long hours, and a plethora of meetings. He travels a good deal to attend meetings both nationally and internationally as well as guide the BCG teams based in Atlanta. “You have to be very organized,” he admits.

As to students who want to apply to consulting firms after undergrad, he stresses the importance of doing research on the companies before applying. Some companies, such as BCG, have mock interviews on their website to help students prepare for an interview. Additionally, he wants students to talk to people already in the business, both new hires and old hats alike, to figure out if the path is the correct fit.

“A lot of people assume that you have to be a business major [to be in consulting], I would say at the end of the day I care less about someone’s major. I prefer for them to have some knowledge of business but I’m looking for people who think critically, have a curiosity about problem solving, can construct an argument and articulate a point of view, and have enough toughness to let someone challenge that point of view,” said Deimler.

Deimler finished by saying he loves consulting because it’s about constructing elegant arguments and helping others. He says active and empathetic listening is one of the best skills in a consultant’s tool belt.

“We sometimes have this where we hire people who are absolutely brilliant [in analysis], but they’re not as comfortable in the human dimension and they ultimately don’t stay. The analytics are almost the price of admission, you have to be good at problem solving, but then if you’re going to be a great consultant you have to be good at the human dimension.”