The first week of October marks the official end of my case, and with it the stress of preparing for our final presentation, clearing up files and writing a summary for the GXC (Global Experience Centre), our online knowledge management resource. The summary will hopefully provide a helpful steer to other Bain teams tackling similar client challenges; however synthesizing and sanitizing four months of knowledge and case-specific content proved a difficult task, but a great learning experience.
As a post-case reward, my partner and I flew off to Istanbul for a long weekend of kebabs, Bosporus cruises and carpet haggling - a great way to unwind after months of concentration. Next up was a quick trip to San Francisco to attend Reaching Out, the annual LGBT MBA conference which Bain sponsors. The conference provides an opportunity to meet potential recruitment candidates from across the world, as well as discuss common issues with LGBT business leaders and friends. Bain and sister firm Bridgespan chaired a seminar on Corporate Social Responsibility, indirectly highlighting the opportunities Bain consultants have to help the community as well as to make companies more valuable.
A week straight of travel then came to a dramatic end - I returned from San Francisco, unpacked, repacked and flew to Amsterdam in the space of 6 hours, to start my 6-month transfer. Bain Amsterdam arranged a stylish, central apartment for my stay, about 20 minutes from our office in Rembrandt Tower. After a day of office orientation with Michael, my official "buddy", I had the luxury of two days on the beach (e.g. unstaffed) to adjust to my new surroundings. My first order of business was to buy a bike (and, even more importantly, a lock), which I purchased in a market behind the opera house. My time on the beach ended abruptly with a call from Karen, my manager on my first Amsterdam case.
A team had just been set up to conduct a full strategic review of a global business services company, and I was to be responsible for analyzing the client's customer value proposition, as well as conducting a deep dive analysis on their North American analysis. As an added bonus, one of the partners on the case would be Chris Zook, author of Profit from the Core, perhaps Bain's bible on strategy. So after three days, I had a new apartment, a new bike and an exciting new case with a great team. To close out the week, I celebrated the start of six months of fun and learning in true Dutch style - at the pub, with my colleagues, eating bitterballen (a fried meat-based snack) washed down with Amstel beer.
Since my blueprint was presented to the steering committee at the end of August, I have been going back to each of my client's functional and business unit heads to get agreement on implementation, as well as to give them an opportunity to request final changes. This may seem like an easy task, but it has been anything but... Each meeting takes 3-4 hours and invariably involves cross-time zone conference calls. The final meeting took an entire day and included representatives from Brazil, the UK and South Africa. Each meeting results in a new series of iterations, but each time I feel we are getting closer to developing a set of guidelines the client can actually follow.
I was also able to take a week off in the middle of the case to go to Cornwall to visit my in-laws. We had good weather, for Britain, and I even managed to come back to work with a suntan! I returned to complete the final stages of my case, with our last steering committee meeting at the end of the month.
September 18th marked the end of my first year at Bain, and proved a good time to think about the year I've had as well as the year to come. With five cases under my belt, I feel I have gained confidence in the work I am doing; I am also much more able to give something back to new recruits. I have just been assigned my first mentee - a new Associate Consultant - and will be responsible for providing guidance and influencing his career development. I have also had the chance to become a trainer for the AC induction weeks (Pre-ACT), which makes me feel more of an old Bain hand than I thought possible, even after only a year.
My peer group scheduled a night out on the town to celebrate our first year - by playing Urban Golf. I had images of teeing up on Trafalgar Square and putting for the win on Oxford Street, but sadly everything was indoors and electronic... at least the beer was authentic. This event also gave me the chance to catch up with my peers and to say a short goodbye - in less than a month I move to Amsterdam where I am doing a 6-month transfer. After the great time I had as a transfer in Madrid, I can hardly wait to cycle to work next to the canals and to get used to the famously blunt Dutch sense of humour. So this time next month, I'll be on a new team, with a new client in a new city. Par for the course at Bain!
Unlike the rest of Europe, London does not really slow down in August. My month was no exception - busy working for one of the world's largest industrial companies, on a case to reorganise their central functions and to define the role their HQ plays in decisions which affect the company's business units. On most days I shuttle back and forth between the Bain office just off the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square and my client, off the southeast corner - a "commute" of five minutes and the envy of my colleagues.
It is the first case I've had in which my work stream uses no numbers; for most of the month I have interviewed my client's business unit and functional heads about the activities they conduct, the issues that arise and their views on potential solutions to these issues. Earlier in the summer, we spent a week in Johannesburg conducting the first round of interviews, and so it's nice to have a full month at home. My work stream involves translating notes into a blueprint for how processes could be done more effectively and efficiently; a summer associate is helping me to benchmark our client's activities against its competitive set, and several associate consultants are building a numerical fact base to match the number of employees and costs to each activity.
This month we are working towards a 30 August deadline, when the blueprint will be unveiled to the company at a steering committee meeting. This means a few late nights in the final weeks of the month, having my work assessed almost daily by my manager, the partners and our client contacts. Although it means reworking the same document many times, the process has taught me to choose my words extremely carefully, which should be a great skill to have in future cases.
I have also learned a lot from managing a summer associate - he is here for eight weeks before he goes back to finish his MBA at London Business School, my alma mater. I have had to coach him on his oral and written communication - subjecting him to the "lift test" to try to get him to make his key points in the time it would take him to get from the fifth floor where he sits, to the lobby. He's been improving daily, although Bain's Answer First culture is not always easy to learn.
Although my case is pretty intense, I have had time to enjoy London's famous Proms, a series of classical concerts held every summer at the Royal Albert Hall. Best of all was a Luzern Festival Orchestra performance of Mahler's 3rd Symphony, conducted by one of my heroes, Claudio Abbado. Unfortunately most pleasures this summer have been indoors, as we've had our wettest summer on record. My partner Phill and I are planning to catch at least a bit of sunshine next month, when we spend a week in Cornwall, in the far Southwest of England.