FINDING A NEEDLE…IN A STACK OF NEEDLES
These days, companies are wrestling with the implications of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and digitalization. For Bevans, analytics ranks among the biggest breakthroughs. In recent years, the discipline has emerged as a case cornerstone, thanks to the sheer volume of data and the growing sophistication of tools and techniques. Now, consultants can analyze more exhaustive data sets faster, cutting the turnaround time in turning insights into outcomes.
“The truth is, nowadays, finding the data usually happens on the first day of the project,” Bevans admits. “You usually get it from the client or you can get it online. The question is, how do you make sense of it all? The metaphor that I keep using is, when I started, finding the needle in the haystack was the hard part. It was finding that piece of data that would lead to the breakthrough insight. Fast forward 20 years, the question is, ‘How do you find the right needle in a stack of needles?’ That is a very different skill set and a very different way of viewing the world and the types of problems you’re trying to solve for your client.”
Many of these issues, Bevans says, involve how technology is radically re-ordering daily life – and the threats and opportunities these shifts present to incumbents. As a teenager, he remembers taking his car in for service, where a mechanic would go under the hood to diagnose the issue. Now, the mechanic plugs the car into a computer interface to show him what’s wrong. Similarly, in the Bay Area, Bevans has read about a massive machine that spits out hamburgers. In other words, Bevans jokes, teenagers may soon be the ones running the machines instead of making the food.
“If the guy flipping burgers has to worry about digitalization in that part of the economy, then you’ll need to buckle up because everyone is going to have to think about it,” Bevans believes.
ARE MBAs TRULY READY FOR THE TECH WAVE?
The implications are already rippling through consulting and changing what is expected – and what is possible. “People tend to think in terms of, “Let me find a practical solution that I know that I can implement,” Bevans adds. “When the boundaries of what is realistic change, you have to be a bigger thinker than you were two or three years ago. That’s what we are helping our clients do. We are helping them think through their wildest ambitions…because the technology has advanced. Our Bain teams and experts are world class. They’re able to say, ‘Actually, that’s not science fiction. We can do that. In fact, we can build a prototype by next week!’”
Looking ahead, Bevans can see a world where the phone app that tracks his workouts can be integrated with his insurer provider, who may offer him a discount if he meets certain exercise targets. The ripple effects of these innovations, he says, will leapfrog across industries. That raises the stakes for MBAs entering consulting – or any industry for that matter. As a result, Bevans worries that some MBAs haven’t reached the level of digital competency needed to excel in this brave new world.
“A lot of MBAs are intrigued by tech and some of them are not. Practically speaking, we are moving to a time where saying you are not a tech person is not an acceptable answer. What I think MBAs aren’t thinking about is how pervasive technology will be in every sector of the economy. Intuitively, everyone understands this, but some think there is a way to navigate that without actually having a competency in digital. In other words, ‘I understand it enough – I have my computer and smart phone – but I really don’t understand how to integrate a tech platform across all of my manufacturing operations.’ That’s not an OK answer. I’m not sure they’re thinking that 5-10 years from now, can they even be a leader of an organization that’s going to require them to be much more conversant in technology and digital innovation than they can imagine?”
GROWING TALENT FROM WITHIN
According to Bevans, Bain has been averaging 15% growth per year over the past 26 years. When it comes to hiring, the bulk of the firm’s hires comes at the undergraduate (associate consultant) and business school and Ph.D. (consultant) levels. Admittedly, Bain conducts little hiring at the manager and partner levels. Instead, the firm Bain favors home-grown talent, investing heavily in training, sponsoring, supporting, and growing their hires. Not surprisingly, Bain tends to rack up the quality of life awards, most recently being named as Glassdoor’s Best Place to Work in 2019 – the fourth time it has earned this recognition over the past eight years.
“The fact that we’ve been able to grow like we’ve grown is not just evidence that we have something that clients want,” Bevans explains. “It also means we are delivering on our people value proposition. I can’t continue to fuel that growth if I have the mindset that you are here for two years and I’m going to use you up and send you away or we’re going to bring you in and celebrate how great it’ll be when you are an alum. That’s what some other firms do. I actually need you to come in and want to be on the leadership team. That’s the only way we can grow. It’s not just creating the type of environment that you want to join and where you will thrive, but it is also about making that investment to help you be the best that you can be professionally.”
This year, Bevans expects to hire 500 consultants, with the “largest portion” coming from the MBA ranks. However, the growth rate at Bain has eclipsed the growth rate at business schools. This has pushed Bevans to seek out new talent streams. “Most business schools are the same size as they were when I applied 20 years ago. At some point, you have to diversify your talent source. That’s what we’re doing. We’re hiring people from other degree programs and different work experiences or people who were at other consulting firms.”
A POPULAR DESTINATION
Traditionally, Bain brings in roughly 200 MBA candidates for summer internships. If history holds true in 2019, the firm will make offers to 90% of these interns. That doesn’t mean that Bain holds to strict quotas in terms of recruiting, however.
“We go into the summer associate recruiting cycle with a target that is really a minimum,” Bevans says. “If we find more people than we set out to find – and we believe we can provide good summer experiences – we will hire as many as we can find… Every intern I hire is one less intern I have to hire in second year recruiting. Instead of 5 interviews, I get 10 weeks [to learn about them]. Last year, in North America alone, we were more than two dozen over what we set out to find.”
Sure enough, nearly every summer associate who receives a Bain offer ultimately accepts it. That includes Annie Robertson Hockey. For her, the beauty of Bain is its intersection between delivering results while putting people first.
“Sometimes, people think having teamwork and great people can be counter to having incredibly insightful results and actionable takeaways. At Bain, they reinforce each other. We truly do provide tangible results to our clients that make them better. The way we do that is through a team-based culture that’s designed to make those consultants thrive in their own way in part because they are working with incredibly bright, driven, and just nice people.”
THE THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK
Keith Bevans joined Bain in 1996 after earning a Master’s degree in engineering from MIT. His intention, he says, was to learn the business side so he could someday run a tech company. It didn’t hurt, he adds, that Bain offered sponsorship to graduate business school. After earning his MBA from Harvard Business School in 2002, Bevans returned to Bain. As he has risen in the firm, he has sometimes asked himself, “What else could I be doing?” When he does, he falls back on three key questions:
1) What do you get paid to do?
2) Who do you get paid to do it with?
3) How much do you get paid to do it?
Each of these dimensions, Bevans admits, have resonated more at different times in his life. For the past 17 years, the answers to these questions have always taken him back to Bain.
“What Bain actually pays people for is to do just a little more than what they thought they could on their own,” Bevans says. “We’re going to keep you just outside your comfort zone all the time so you’re continually growing and building your muscles and capabilities. That’s tremendously exciting to people. At every point in the journey, whenever I’ve looked and said, ‘Is the person on the other end of the phone offering me a better opportunity than what the next 2-3 years at Bain look like,’ the answer is always “no.” I wouldn’t be working with people who are as energizing, sharp and caring as the people I work with today. The role might be interesting for a year, but it’d still be the same role. Whereas, at Bain, we continue to push people just beyond what they think they could do. That’s why our teams continue to do what our clients think is impossible.”
This sense of expanding what’s possible – and doing it with peers who energize them – may further explain why Bain continues to grow larger and more appealing. “Over my 23 years, Bain has been the better answer,” Bevans adds. “People at Bain aren’t here because they don’t know what else they could be doing. They stay because they know what they are doing and they like the value proposition of the skills they’re learning and the experience they’re having at Bain.”
To read the profiles of newly-hired MBAs at Bain, including their advice on interviewing with the firm, click on the links below.
|Consultant||Bain Location||Hometown||MBA Program|
|Fredy Afif||Brussels||Abu Dhabi, UAE||London Business School|
|Lara Bekhazi||Oslo||Dubai, UAE||INSEAD|
||Anfoe, Ghana||Cornell University (Johnson)|
|Faye Cheng||Washington, DC||Chicago, IL||MIT (Sloan)|
|Chino Esguerra||Singapore||Manila, Philippines||INSEAD|
|Luiz Paulo Fabre||São Paulo||Florianopolis, Brazil||University of Chicago (Booth)|
|Annie Furr||Chicago||Brooklyn, NY||Northwestern University (Kellogg)|
|Isabel Gil-Casares Lacambra||Madrid||Madrid, Spain||Columbia Business School|
|Matt Martel||New York||Lincoln, NH||Harvard Business School|
|Annie Robertson Hockey||San Francisco||Seattle, WA||Stanford GSB|
|Atsushi Shimada||Tokyo||Hiroshima, Japan||University of Oxford (Saïd)|
|Rachel Yorke||Los Angeles||Los Angeles, California||Harvard Business School|