HOME OFFICES TAKE AFTER THEIR COMMUNITIES
That consistency extends to the home office’s culture, which varies to an extent by location. San Francisco, for example, reflects the Silicon Valley surroundings, says Robertson Hockey. By that, she means that the firm tends to be agile and light – in a “startup-y way with a more fast-moving disruptor mindset.” In fact, she adds, her home office, in many ways, takes after the companies that surround them.
“We’re the hub of our ADAPT practice – our design thinking digital innovation hub. So a lot of the work we do out of the San Francisco blended team is where we’re working half with classic consultants and half with digital experts. Our clients are wanting to be on forefront of what it means to be a digitally-enabled…and moving at the pace they need to stay relevant.”
Taking a 30,000 foot view, Keith Bevans attributes Bain’s success to far more than hiring “the absolute best of the best.” It is creating an environment – an apprenticeship culture and supportive staff — where everything from staffing decisions to performance evaluations are geared towards help MBAs thrive as they pursue their own individual career journeys. For Bevans, the key ingredient is creating the balance where consultants can build relationships and bring their whole and best selves to work.
HAVING FUN: A STRATEGIC IMPERATIVE
That’s one reason why Bevans winces when he hears the term, “work-life balance.” To him the term is premised on a work environment that drains or crushes the soul. Instead, Bain has worked to create an inclusive culture that’s diverse across all dimensions yet facilitates an innate sense of community. Indeed, Bain is known as the “fun” firm among the “Big Three” – fielding office basketball and softball teams, along with hosting foodie, wine, and art clubs (among many others). In Chicago, for example, February home office activities ranged from holding panel discussions on race in business for Black History Month to celebrating diaspora foods from the Caribbean and Africa. Such activities, Bevans says, are an extension of the common virtues of Bainies: curious, collaborative, and always game to try new things or take on new challenges.
“Bain is the type of place where people want to get to know each other,” he asserts. “It is less about having a rock band or a soccer team. It is more about finding ways for people to spend time with each other and build relationships that extend long beyond their time at Bain. I get travel the world –and I literally meet up with Bain alum everywhere I go. The relationships extend beyond that because you’re more than just colleagues. I want to see you succeed in your career, not just do great on your case. That mindset is uncommon. That feels from the outside like we’re just having fun and getting along. In reality, it is because I really care about your development as an individual. I challenge people to find a company where that is more true than Bain.”
You won’t hear any argument from Annie Furr, who has experienced this dynamic from day one in the Chicago home office. “When I was going through recruiting, everyone talked about their hobbies, friends and families with the same excitement that they talked about their projects, case teams and Bain traditions. Coming from a nonprofit background, I was inspired by how people didn’t feel like the Bain community was confined to the office. From volunteering with a charter school graduation ceremony to fund-raising for an LGBTQ+ youth center, I’ve been able to get involved with Bain in the Chicago community.”
A CHANCE TO WORK OUTSIDE THE FIRM
Another differentiator for Bain is its transfer programs. For example, the firm sponsors back-and-forth between consultants and practice teams like ADAPT. In these internal roles, MBAs can build out their product development or analytics toolsets, so they can better understand their role in a deeper and richer way. Bain also sponsors international transfers, with Bevans estimating that 20% of the consulting staff are working outside their home office at one time. He adds that half of the management staff have worked at more than one home office, particularly in international locales.
“We truly are a global firm and you get a global experience, even when you join a home office,” he says.
However, it is Bain’s externship program that truly sets the bar for peer firms to reach. In this program, consultants can work for another company for a 4-6 month period. Many times, Bevans notes, consultants pursue opportunities in industries or roles that fit with their long-term aspirations, such as retail or manufacturing (often times working for Bain alumni).
Bevans likens the externship to enjoying the best of both worlds: scratching the itch to gain operational experience while maintaining a foothold in professional services. Many times, Bevans adds, consultants return from their externships as experts in a particular space. In fact, many consultants “double dip” to borrow a phrase from Bevans – packaging an externship with an international transfer. It is a generous perk, no doubt, but one where returning consultants experience how lasting change is shepherded in the real world.
“There is a different level of empathy that you develop when you’re on the ground working at a company than you do in a professional services environment,” Bevans observes. “We hire people who have that empathy and that understanding of what it’s like to be in their clients’ shoes, but the externship takes that to a whole different level.”
TRAINING THE GENERAL MANAGERS OF THE FUTURE
Such externships, you could say, are another level of training at Bain. For Bevans, the Bain training structure is designed to turn consultants into the general managers of the future – ones who are versed in an array of roles and industries. In the process, Bain prepares its consultants to work with the highest levels of their clients’ organizations…or their own someday.
“I want you to see different industries or parts of industries because you’re not going to meet a CEO who doesn’t understand sales or has no real idea what the CFO is doing or how a plant works,” he explains. “It’s not that they are spread so thin that they are not experts at anything. It is to say that there is a baseline level of understanding that every chief executive or general manager has to have and we want our people to get that early in their career.”
At Bain, training is an ongoing priority, with skills developed through a mix of on-the-job learning, mentorship and sponsorship, and structured sessions. This commitment to development was critical for Annie Robertson Hockey, who was accustomed to being “given a desk and a green light” at the startups where she worked. Recently, she returned from New Consultant Training (NCT), an end-of-the-year touchpoint that is soon replaced by the annual Experienced Consultant Training (ECT). Basically, Robertson Hockey says, these events bring together Bainies from across the world for skill sharpening, case exercises, and experience sharing. Each Friday, she also walks with her manager as part of her weekly professional development chat, give-and-take feedback that focuses on both weekly tactics and long-term strategies. That said, such conversations often take on a more personal quality.
A SPONSORSHIP CULTURE
“It is more than professional development at Bain, Robertson Hockey tells P&Q. “It is also development of you as a person. There is this emphasis at Bain on thriving. There is a belief that I firmly subscribe to that if you are thriving as an individual, you’re going to thrive as a professional. Professional development spans classic Bain skills toolkit, but also goes outside of work. What are your hobbies? What are the unique things you can bring to the table that reinforce your ability to connect with a client? In tandem, those things become a really powerful path.”
This path is further cleared by Bain’s commitment to sponsorship. For Robertson Hockey, mentorship – with its accompanying “advice and confidence-building” – is not always sufficient to move the needle. That’s one reason why a sponsorship culture was so appealing to her. At Bain, it has more than lived up to its promise, she says.
“Sponsorship is a model that is a little more professionally-oriented,” she explains. “People will come to the table for you and create opportunities to move your career forward. Six months in, I have a handful of sponsors that I meet with regularly. They are very interested in my career specifically. It has been invaluable to me thus far and even more so moving forward.”
THE PACE OF CHANGE
Such sponsors include Luis, a partner in Los Angeles, who is known for injecting energy into the office – including dressing as a turkey for Thanksgiving. In Tokyo, Azusa, a Private Equity Group manager, preaches the 1% possibility – a reminder to be humble and open, knowing that their beliefs – however well-researched and conventional – could be wrong. In contrast, Faye Cheng considers Pam, a partner in the DC home office, to be a role model who brings out the best in others through her kindness.
“She has shown me that, with myriad flexible options, it’s possible to take many paths at Bain and that a life’s career is long, such that it’s not always an “either…or” choice but rather a “yes, and…” progression.”
Keith Bevans has seen practically everything during his two decade run to Bain. That has given him perspective as he surveys the present and gazes out into the future. In fact, he can harken back to when clients would fret over whether to launch a website to lure prospective customers. Back then, Bevans notes, such innovations were considered disruptive, sowing uncertainty in their wake. The difference between then and now, he says, lies in the pace.
“We have a track record of helping companies through turbulent times,” he explains. “With change, it is coming more frequently. From website to commerce site to social media, it might have been 2-3 years between. Now you’re seeing trends happen in the same year. You have major disruptions happen at the beginning of the year and then another one six months later. The cycle time has shortened.”
Go to Page 3 for In-Depth Profiles of 12 Bain & Company MBA Hires