I started the transition in 2012 from MC to my own small business. I joined MC as a graduate and had exactly the same plan as you: grow, get the knowledge and start my own business. I spent 15 years in consulting, by the time I thought the time has come :)
So let me summarize my key learnings for you:
- Consulting is a fantastic profession, because you do your work in a high speed, intellectually challenging environment. This means continuous learning. You build skills all the time, be it market knowledge, industry skills, business/functional or technical, people, you name it. This learning and your MC experience will be your vital assets.
- Leaving consulting is not easy before you climb the career ladder. I found it very tempting that continuous promotions give me the opportunity to learn and try myself in more complex, more sizable and more challenging projects. I always thought, ok let me learn this too, it will make me smarter and stronger. Even though I developed my own business ideas all the time, this is why I only moved after 15 years.
- Skill building on the other hand is pretty tricky. I spent more than 10 years in CRM, working with telco clients from marketing, sales and customer service. I just realized only when I started my own business, that despite the numerous engagements in planning and execution, marketing is really hard to crack if I am in charge of the whole thing myself. Therefore I think it would have been a good idea if I experimented more with marketing during my work years as a side project only for experience's sake.
- I can name a couple of areas, where experience or routine is life saving. Sales and marketing, the way you work with people and negotiation experience. You can not really build these skills in schools the right way, in these areas you'd better feel the pain and fight your way through when you are still in an MC environment.
- MC companies have a great mentoring culture, I always had a good mentor. When I felt that my mentoring was not as I wanted, I simply looked for a new mentor. I am very grateful for this.
- Finance should be an everyday habit, like a background process running all the time. This usually comes only after your executive promotion. Understanding, planning and executing against strong P&L should come as a reflex. This is again something you learn by doing.
- Another benefit of being an executive in consulting is that you are expected to run the business as if it was your own. Ideal learning environment, people will look after you and help before you make an expensive mistake.
Overall building the businessman mindset from a graduate/junior mindset is where a consulting career path can be very useful. Your skills will save you a lot of pain, money and time.
Hope this helps.