Meet Bain & Company’s MBA Class Of 2022

“When you develop great people, they do great work and get great results. That attracts more great people. It’s not a complicated formula.” – Keith Bevans

A MATTER OF TRUST

It comes down to trust, Bevans emphasizes. That starts with like-minded individuals coming together to do what’s right for their clients, teammates, and society-at-large. And Bevans feels blessed to see this dynamic play out, day-after-day, at Bain.

“What I often tell people here is that trust is a choice. Trust in an organization that says it lives by its operating principles, where we are one team, where diversity is a strength, and where we focus on results and our True North is powerful. When you truly buy into that, you start to realize that this is actually how we do things. You spend less of your time worried about that not being the case and more of your time experiencing what it is like.”

The Class of 2022 has certainly seen the difference. With help from senior leaders and even junior team members, Bilal Ajram says he has been continuously honing his problem-solving approach.  He has also leaned heavily on internal support, such as practice area experts and the Advanced Analytics and Digital Marketing groups. That said, there is another group who has been equally helpful, Ajram adds.

“Our clients are often the foremost experts in their industries. As a result, our success in providing results for our clients is, in large part. a product of our effectiveness in leveraging their expertise.”

WORK AS A TEAM, INVESTED IN INDIVIDUALLY

Dubem Mbeledogu

Another Bain differentiator: the sense of being “seen and valued” to paraphrase Cecilia Rios Murrieta. Here, MBAs aren’t treated as commodities. Instead, they are brought into the fold and receive ongoing training and mentoring. They get tapped for their expertise and positioned to make an impact at the highest levels early on. For Dubem Mbeledogu, that has meant being given the opportunity to “help shape the firm’s vision on advanced analytics, rather than be a cog in a machine.” This dynamic also runs counter to what ’22 hires like Sasha Foo had expected.

“I had an impression that the corporate world was hierarchical and stiff, but Bain is really all about teamwork with each person contributing their expertise to our final product,” writes the Michigan Ross grad who operates out of the San Francisco office. “Great ideas can come from anyone, be it an associate consultant or a partner, and Bain really encourages everyone to shape the answer.”

That answer is formulated using a variety of pathways. The process starts with viewing problems – or even data points – from a variety of perspectives. In some cases, that can mean going out and creating data or devising new models, understanding that every solution is ultimately custom and client-specific. After all, MBA consultants are hired to be a fresh set of eyes; they tackle the issues involving scale, complexity, and velocity that in-house resources are ill-equipped to address holistically. Just as important, Bain consultants must deliver these answers in ways that are easily understandable and can be executed in bite-sized steps.

“I have learned a lot so far about how to wrestle with ambiguity,” explains Bilal Ajram. “If there is one defining value Bain provides to clients, it is taking complex and often ambiguous problems and providing clear and simple solutions.”

“At the end of the day, our most important asset goes home every night and chooses whether or not they want to come back the next day. It’s important to us that they continue to choose to come back.” – Keith Bevans

A STORY TO TELL

One strategy employed at Bain is storylining. This starts with thinking like the stakeholders in crafting an argument. In many cases, consultants are painting the picture early: opening with the outcome and subtly addressing the audience’s questions, fears, and doubts before diving into the details. In any storyline, consultants outline the needs, risks, strategies, and anticipated results – hoping to gain commitment by framing a future where change results in greater ease, security, and prosperity. In other words, they tell stories – replete with characters, plot, and themes. The storyline includes data and proof, but those elements reinforce and never overshadow the narrative – one designed to make the proposition as logical as it is compelling.

This approach required a major transition for Dubem Mbeledogu. “In my past job as an engineer, our solutions were typically communicated to senior engineering leaders who didn’t ask or often didn’t want a storyline to the solution. Just tell them how you did it and present the data and they will determine the efficacy of the solution for themselves. The stakeholders on a Bain case have a much more diverse set of backgrounds and have varying objectives. Developing the ability to communicate to that audience is directly helping me in my goal of communicating advanced analytical concepts to business leaders who may not be familiar with the concepts and who have differing objectives.”

The Class of 2022 has absorbed many lessons during their first year at Bain. Early on, Sasha Foo was exposed to 80/20 Principle – a check against over-analysis positing that 20% of issues produce 80% of the impact. At the same time, Yasmina Atallah learned the concept of timeboxing from her first Bain manager.

“As a new joiner, I used to spend too much time looking for data or trying to come up with a solution for a specific problem. It used to drain my energy, and I would feel frustrated if I couldn’t find what I was looking for after some time. The rule we set was that after 30 minutes, if I am still struggling, I would reach out for help to unblock to situation and get the ball rolling. Timeboxing is key to improving efficiency and learning as well as to reduce time loss and frustration.”

Once again, the top consulting firm according to the employees in the industry: Bain & Company. Bain photo

EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES

For Mathilda Deng, Bain represented an entirely different way of approaching her work. “When I first started, I had a mindset of simply “Doing the work.” However, over my first six months, I had a shift in perspective towards “Owning the work.” This meant taking a more proactive approach to driving my own workstream and career development. Learning to take ownership has not only made me a more effective consultant, but it has also allowed me to be more thoughtful and practical about the potential consequences of my work.”

One of Keith Bevans’ biggest takeaways came by mistake…literally. In his first Bain case, he let the name of his client slip during a survey interview with one of its customers. Even worse, during a presentation to a Fortune 100 company’s leadership team, Bevans made a “horrific” typo: “Title page, second word, 18-point font – I’m not exaggerating.” Rather than asking Bevans to pack his bags, his teammates shared their own embarrassments with him, a reminder that he was far from alone.

“What you find is that Bain is place where people understand, “That could be me.” We’re one bad day away from making a similar mistake. It is a cool to work in a place where people can be vulnerable and open and honest with each other [rather than] putting up this air that it has been this tremendous upward trajectory from the first day of their career. What is unique about this place is that people are here to pick you up. It’s not whether or not you make a mistake or fall down, it’s making sure you fall forward.”

CLASS ROLE MODELS

Bryan Dunklin

Each member of the Class of 2022 has found that manager who would show them the ropes and boost their confidence. Cecilia Rios Murrieta credits Bryan Dunklin, an associate partner in the Dallas office, with throwing her “right into the ring” while positioning her for early success.

“It was literally my second day on the case, and I was asked to present my analysis directly to the client,” Rios Murrieta reminisces. “I had given presentations before, but a part of me just felt like there was so much more on the line here. Bryan coached me to feel confident in my own ability as well as [making me feel] secure, in the sense that if anything were to come up, he or another consultant would be there to support me. It was the best possible experience to have in my first case at Bain.”

Indeed, Bain managers play roles ranging from sounding board to skills coach, personifying the mission as much as teaching the methodology. Even more, they are the culture keepers who transmit Bain’s hard-won lessons from class-to-class. “Keith Bevans gave me advice during my first week that has carried me through my first year,” explains Malachi W. Randolph, a Chicago-based consultant. “He said, “As a new consultant, there are three things to focus on: having a good attitude, showing interest in the work, and earning a reputation for being reliable. If you do these three things well, everything else will fall into place in its own time.” These guiding principles have kept me on track.”

“Part of what is unique about Bain is that we feel that early in your consulting career, it is important to build a broad foundation across a lot of different industries and types of work.” – Keith Bevans

LEARNING TO TAKE FEEDBACK

Historically, Bain has ranked as the top consulting firm for training and mentoring. One reason is Bain’s larger vision – “Training innovative responsible leaders of tomorrow at the highest levels” – according to Bevans.  In other words, Bain works to imbue its values with talent, whether they aspire to make partner or leave to eventually become a CEO, elected official, or nonprofit director. That means preparing them to do the right thing – even when it isn’t easy, notes Bevans.

He also hopes a stint at Bain trains them to adopt creative problem-solving, going beyond settling for Option A or Option B and exploring wider and deeper for long-term solutions. “We want to inspire people because that multiplier effect that they have on their organizations and their stakeholders – that’s where the difference gets made,” Bevans adds. “I like to think we’re training that generation of business leaders who multiply their impact through the people they work with. In pro sports, you can talk about these legendary coaches and their coaching lineages. Where do their assistant coaches go and how many championships have they won because they learned from one person at the top? I like to think that the people who are working at Bain are training to win championships in the places they go after – and also training the next generation of leaders to do the same.”

Where do consultants get tripped up on the way to making an impact at Bain? For Bevans, the biggest mistake is literally the flip side of a growth mindset: not internalizing feedback or rationalizing why it doesn’t truly apply. During feedback, Bevans has seen some consultants dispute what they hear. If anything, Bevans points out, they should be stepping back and asking what is driving the conclusion.

“Even if it is not accurate, it is still the feedback you are getting. So maybe there is something about the way you are approaching the job,” Bevans continues.

This insight comes courtesy of Bevans’ own experience as a new consultant. “I remember when I got feedback that I did not seem that interested in the work. I decided to probe. At MIT, I worked until 2:00-3:00 in the morning every night. When 11:00 came at Bain, people were talking about how they were in it for the long haul. Thing is, 11:00 was normal to me; I didn’t get the adrenaline rush until 3:00 in the morning. So people interpreted my lack of “Let’s go get ‘em” as being disinterested. What it meant was I needed to acknowledge [to the team] that we were going into new territory. So take the time to learn how you might give an impression.”

Page 3: Profiles of 11 Bain hires and Bain study of hiring probability based on number of cases studied.

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