Future career potential
Being a consultant gives you unparalleled practical business experience and real-world training at an early stage of your career. We hire people who are smart, curious and driven to make an impact in everything they do – they often have a career goal and a bucket list of things they hope to achieve in life, which Bain is more than willing to help with.
The people that eventually run companies, and mobilize them to solve their toughest problems, are what we call "general managers" with CEOs being the most extreme case.
The challenge of doing their jobs is that one day they may be faced with a customer issue. Another day, their organization's team members aren't working effectively with each other. Sometimes they have to deal with how to price their product and on other days they are focused on growing a business, entering a market, exiting a market, buying a competitor, investing in a new technology or solving product shortages. There's a lot of complexity, and the job constantly changes, but good general managers can have enormous impact on the company over time.
That is exactly what you're learning how to be when you're at Bain but, rather than getting exposure to this at low levels in the organization - until you rise up 15-20 years later - you're getting exposure to CEO-level challenges from day 1 on the job here.
The diversity of projects available to you never ceases to offer unique learning opportunities and a chance to make an impact. All of our consultants are ever-supported by our staffing models and our frequent global training programs enable all our employees to be on a fast-track for global leadership status.
We recognize your ambitions and want you to be successful, whether your goal is to make Partner or find opportunities elsewhere. Those who decide to leave Bain are equipped with a unique and transferable skill-set that enables them to run organizations of any size and thrive in any industry - our alumni network and former employees' stories offer continuous proof of this and, as part of this network, they will always be willing to help you accelerate your future career potential.
Just two or three years at Bain will open doors that others could not even fathom; your time at Bain could translate into starting your own successful business, stepping into a more senior role at a top tech company, joining a private equity firm or making a meaningful impact at a non-profit you love or have started yourself.
Whether it's in our videos above, or the personal stories of alumni featured below, you'll see firsthand how Bain equips you to be a successful entrepreneur. Our alumni are in senior positions everywhere including United Airlines, Facebook, the US Government, Siemens, Louis Vuitton and the BBC. Those who decide to leave Bain are equipped with a unique and transferable skill-set that enables them to run organizations of any size and thrive in any industry - our alumni network and former employees' stories offer continuous proof of this. Quite simply, Bain can be the catalyst to maximize your future career potential.
Dave Gilboa, Co-Founder, Co-CEO Warby Parker
San Francisco office
Dave Gilboa, 34, had always expected to become a physician, like both of his parents. But a change of heart in college led him to choose a business career: "I felt there was a massive opportunity to use business and management skills to positively impact the world." Now here he was, three years in Bain's San Francisco office under his belt, taking some time off to travel before starting business school. And he had left his $700 pair of prescription eyeglasses on an airplane.
But they say that adversity begets inspiration, and before long Gilboa found himself wondering: how come his near-magical smartphone cost only $200 while spectacles—a centuries-old technology—were so much more expensive? Starting school still without glasses, he found three classmates who shared his frustration. And why, they wondered, was no one selling eyeglasses online? After some research, the foursome came to the conclusion that eyeglass manufacturing and marketing was an industry just waiting for disruption. Thus was born Warby Parker, recently named by Fast Company as the "#1 Most Innovative Company for 2015" from a list that also included Apple and Google.
There's a lot you can say about Warby Parker. The five-year-old company's 12 retail stores record sales per square foot that rival those of Tiffany's, while selling eyeglasses for as little as $95. Warby Parker's well-known social mission—it distributes one pair of glasses for every pair sold—marks it as a successful social enterprise.
To Gilboa, though, the key to the company's success is the careful, step-by-step creation of a brand. "We spent a year and a half architecting every piece of the brand and product we were going to deliver," he says. Warby Parker did not follow the conventional startup wisdom of running lean, getting a minimum viable product out to customers, then iterating. Instead, its founders set out from the beginning to create a distinctive fashion brand, laboring over "every word and every pixel" of the website and every element of product and company design. They wanted Warby Parker to be known for leading-edge fashion, terrific value, and great customer service, as well as for its social mission.
That laserlike focus paid off, particularly when Gilboa and his cofounders hit a huge bump in the road right at the start. The commitment to a perfectly polished product landed a laudatory article in GQ, which dubbed the company a "radical new designer." Trouble was, the article came out before Warby Parker's website was fully functional and before the company had built up a healthy inventory of product. "We ended up hitting our first year sales target in three weeks," Gilboa remembers. "We were out of our top 20 SKUs in the first four weeks, and we had a wait list of 20,000. We were overwhelmed by the attention we were getting."
But the founders' commitment to service saved the day: they contacted every would-be buyer personally, saying that they were "extremely disappointed" that they couldn't fill the order immediately. "We explained exactly what was happening, gave them discounts, kept them notified as things developed and communicated timing. We found that customers were supportive and went on to become brand champions. They weren't used to companies offering that kind of personalized service."
The company's social mission isn't as important to most customers as factors such as design, quality and price, Gilboa says. But it's very important to employees and helps the company attract the kind of "talented and passionate" people who are drawn to mission-driven organizations. To reinforce the importance of the mission, the company sends every employee who has been with Warby Parker three years "anywhere in the world" to meet one of the nonprofit partners that distribute free eyeglasses to needy individuals. "It's incredibly powerful for people to make the connection between their work in the office" and the mission.
Gilboa's experience as a senior associate consultant at Bain taught him several lessons that he is applying to Warby Parker today. "One thing I learned [at Bain] was how powerful an outside perspective can be in shining a light on certain issues that organizations or departments might be aware of, but might need an outsider to really bring a new way of looking at the problem." This insight led to Warby Parker's practice of rotating every employee through customer-service teams. Gilboa also learned the importance of data such as customer advocacy in measuring progress. (Warby Parker is a devoted practitioner of the Net Promoter System—check out his recent interview on Rob Markey's NPS podcast). In addition, the Bain network has also proved helpful. Co-founder Jeff Raider is himself a Bain alum; some of the company's earliest investors were Bain partners; and Bain alumni such as John Donahoe of eBay gave useful advice on how to scale a fast-growing business. "The Bain network has been very inviting," says Gilboa. "Any time we've had a question, looking for advice or candidates, or finding ways to work with other organizations, it has been something we've leveraged quite a bit."
Given Warby Parker's accomplishments, it's safe to say that Gilboa and his colleagues are on their way. And he probably won't have to go without glasses for long ever again—even if he leaves a pair on a plane.
Bertrand Mallet, Group Business Development Director, Inchcape
When Bain Chairman Orit Gadiesh visited the Paris office more than 20 years ago, her speech to the assembled Bainies about what "true north" really meant resonated with a young consultant just starting his career. "I can still remember where I was standing in that office and where she was standing," says Bertrand Mallet, current group business development director at Inchcape, a multinational automotive retail and services company headquartered in London with operations in 26 countries. True north means "you shouldn't be influenced by what the client may actually want right now or what the current trend is in management; it's what you truly, strongly believe is the right decision for whoever the stakeholders are. That has helped me whenever I face complicated, difficult decisions."
Orit's speech is one of many impactful lessons learned during Mallet's time at Bain. Talking to him, you get the sense that his experience—he worked in the Paris office from 1997 to 2002, winding up as a senior consultant—has deeply affected his thinking about business:
There's the 80-20 rule, for example. "It's something you don't really learn in school or university or other businesses," he says. But at Bain, "you have to focus on what's going to make a difference for the clients very quickly. And it's the same when you come into a new business: it enables you to cut through layers of organization and move to what's really going to make a difference."
There's also the gut understanding of the importance of a company's core, drilled into Mallet by his Bain experience and reinforced by his company's history. Inchcape, a 150-year-old company, had mushroomed into a giant conglomerate, "difficult to manage and difficult to steer." But in the 1990s it shed all its businesses except automotive, and has since become one of the world's premier distributors of high-end cars. In 2014 it recorded its fifth consecutive year of double-digit growth in earnings.
One secret to this success: the Net Promoter System. For example, when Toyota Belgium, a division of Inchcape where Bertrand served as CEO, has the occasional customer who lodges a complaint, a "hot alert" shows up on Mallet's screen. In no more than an hour or two, he has called the relevant dealer, wanting to know exactly what the problem was and how it is being rectified. Frequently he calls customers himself. Inchcape gathers and measures Net Promoter feedback in "every single site of our business," says Mallet; the score "is part of everyone's remuneration up to group CEO."
And of course there are the personal contacts. After his stint at Bain, Mallet followed a fellow alum to Euro Disney, where he worked for six years. He stays in touch with former Bain colleagues from Paris on a daily basis, makes a point of checking in with other alums and current partners on his travels, and has welcomed a couple of Bainies to the Inchcape board of directors.
But most of all, he says, there's the sense of passion that he experienced first at Bain. "My strongest memory of this time was the extent to which a small group of people with incredible motivation, drive and desire to deliver results can achieve great things in a short period of time. It was this sense of making things happen, making sure that results would be delivered, that I found absolutely amazing." That is the kind of passion he has found at Inchcape.
Mallet is a self-confessed car guy, who loves the industry and drives (what else?) a Lexus RX. He'd like to see young Bain alums head for this business—a sector "that offers incredible opportunities for smart, strategic-thinking individuals." But he also has another piece of advice: "Never lose the passion you had at Bain. To me, it's been the key driver throughout my career. Make sure you keep that passion alive—it will determine the pleasure you get from your job every day and what you can achieve."
While it may have only been a five-year stint, apparently Bain taught Mallet some lessons that he never forgot.
Christina Tang, Founder, Blue Sky Energy Technology
Hong Kong office
Though many young men and women want to preserve the environment, not many attack the objective as aggressively and ambitiously as Christina Tang. Christina launched a rainwater-harvesting initiative in India while an undergrad, spent 12 months in Ghana helping a company that provides clean water to villagers and has recently started her own business, Hong Kong–based Blue Sky Energy Technology, designed to help solve the city's (and the region's) air pollution problem. Along the way she also spent time as a senior associate consultant in Bain's Hong Kong office.
Christina is not yet 30.
The rainwater-harvesting initiative began as a research project while she was a student at Brown University. But the undertaking evolved quickly: "We thought, there's a huge gap between research and what the communities actually see and can benefit from," she recalls. So Christina and her mentor began building and installing rainwater cisterns, supplying 1 million liters of water to villagers every year. It was the beginning of her mission as a social entrepreneur. "That experience allowed me to understand that every one of us can do something about a problem. Solving problems is extremely satisfying and rewarding when you see people benefiting from your product or service."
Next came the stint at Bain, with a very clear purpose. "I was hoping to learn best practices for dissecting business problems," says Christina. "Bain exposes people to some of the toughest business problems that companies face." Her next step, working in Ghana as an Acumen global fellow, helped her understand what it means to be a leader. "At Acumen, the transcending value is to lead with dignity. Leadership is not about authority or a title, it is about the influence an individual has." Another lesson from Acumen was the importance of developing other people's capacities. At first, she says, "I was very much in the mindset of delivering results." Then she realized it would be more sustainable to help build the skills and capabilities of her Ghanaian colleagues so that they could attack the problems themselves.
This experience led her to Blue Sky. "Right now air pollution is one of our top health risks, affecting life expectancy and causing heart disease. And electricity generation is one of the main sources of air pollution." Blue Sky's solution, currently in beta mode, enables people and organizations to monitor individual energy use in real time. The company's hardware and software lets employees or students, for example, check a mobile device to see how much electricity their activities are consuming from moment to moment; the system also suggests ways to lower their usage. Christina's ambitions for the company are nothing if not big. "We want to expand throughout Asia Pacific. We also want to go public, because we want to show that companies don't need only to make money. Companies designed to solve environmental problems can be financially sustainable and be successful."
Christina is acutely aware that her accomplishments aren't hers alone. "It's very hard, if not impossible," she says, "to do social entrepreneurial work without a supportive community." She has lined up a variety of outside experts to help her launch Blue Sky, and she is housing the company in a start-up accelerator known as the Blueprint program, which also houses 10 other young technology companies. Her Bain contacts have been helpful as well. "I met up with Bainies while I was traveling in New York, Shanghai and Beijing for the startup research work. They gave me grounded advice—and they kept me laughing." More recently, Bain alums have introduced her to client companies, and the informational interviews she conducted have been essential to Blue Sky's product development.
Two pieces of general advice have stuck with Christina during her short but impressive career. One is very much standard entrepreneurial advice: don't be afraid to fail. "Treat failure as one step closer to getting where you want to go," she notes. The other is something that hard-driving, action-oriented entrepreneurs often forget: make sure you create space for personal reflection and digesting what you have learned. "Take time to synthesize; schedule time to reflect on what you've done well and where there are areas for improvement."
It will be interesting to see what Christina accomplishes by the time she turns 40.
Pauline Brown, Chairman, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton Inc.
Pauline Brown's career has been anything but a straight line. A Wharton graduate who began her business career as a Bain consultant, she went on to work in corporate strategy for consumer-products companies (Estée Lauder and Avon), lead consumer-goods and retail investments for a private equity firm (The Carlyle Group), and advise emerging luxury brands as an independent investor and board member. Two years ago she assumed her current role as the Chairman of North American operations for LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Along the way, she has served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the board of overseers of the Henry Crown Fellowship Program at the Aspen Institute.
It's an eclectic résumé, but throughout her impressive career, three common threads emerge: creativity, authenticity and the need for continuous learning.
Thriving on creativity. "At LVMH, I interact with creative people in countless areas," she says, "from fashion designers to visual merchandisers to perfumers to winemakers." But she has learned that creativity is equally essential in less obvious areas like research and development, special events, training, customer relations, and even M&A. "I tend to think most businesses thrive on creative ideas and innovation. Even at Carlyle, I was struck by the creativity of its three founders. They essentially built the firm—with no precedents, no benchmarks, no comparables—like pioneers on the westward expansion." This, she adds, is the essence of what creatives do. "They unleash their imagination, apply their skills, and pave the way."
How to manage creatives? Pauline argues that creative teams need structure—just not too much. "It's important to provide a framework—to clarify what's needed, by when, and with what resources. But it's even more important to provide creatives with safe spaces to try and fail and try again. So long as their intentions are good, I believe their talents ought to be nurtured and trusted. And I like to reward progress as measured by learning and evolving, as opposed to maximizing or perfecting."
Being "real." The word authenticity is often overused these days, but it refers to something important: being yourself, not performing, not trying to assume a persona or a role that doesn't fit you. It's a trait that Pauline believes is critically important. "My best leadership is who I am, my authentic self," she recently told a Wharton interviewer. "I have learned over many years that when I lead—or even just act—from a place that feels real, honest, well intentioned, I'm effective. If I try to imitate someone else and their approach, not only isn't it credible, it doesn't feel good. And I don't think it generates results."
The drive for authenticity extends to her personal life as well. "I find that the more complicated my life has become amid all the demands of work, family and community engagements, the less I'm able to separate out my professional from my personal self. I simply don't have the energy to lead separate lives. My solution is to live holistically, even if it means my kids may call me 'Madame Chairman' or my colleagues 'Mom.' Luckily it hasn't come to that yet!"
Continuous learning. A final common thread in Pauline's career is constant learning—a byproduct, in part, of her moves from one industry to another. "I thrive in the world of ideas, and I love to explore," she says. "Each of my professional chapters, from consulting to private equity to general management, has presented me with new business models, new perspectives, new cultures and new ways of thinking." LVMH is the perfect place to continue the process, she adds, "With nearly 70 brands in five sectors, there's always something new to learn. Not even our CEO, Bernard Arnault, can master this broad collection of companies!"
Her Bain experience underscored the importance of lifelong learning. "I often refer to my chapter at Bain as my MBA Part II," she says. "As at Wharton, I was working with ultra smart people and tackling ultra challenging issues. I enjoyed both experiences immensely. Both helped me develop a much more sophisticated way of dissecting business issues and presenting solutions. Moreover, both experiences gave me the confidence that—with the right focus, discipline and team—most, if not all, business issues could be solved. To this day, I maintain that confidence."
All three of these threads have helped Pauline adapt to a fast-changing world and, fueled by personal interests and passions, to build a career not hemmed in by conventional career or industry boundaries.
Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah, Co-Founders, Zomato
New Delhi office
Not so long ago, Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah were analysts at Bain's Business Capability Center in the firm's Gurgaon office, near New Delhi, India. Young and busy, they ate a lot of restaurant food. So did many of their colleagues, to the point where people in the office would bicker over the shared stack of take-out menus.
Today the pair are founders and leaders of the award-winning start-up, Zomato, an online restaurant discovery service that does business in 20 countries, employs over 1000 people, and caters to upward of 35 million users a month.
"There was only one copy of each menu," remembers Pankaj. "We couldn't take them to our desks and had to spend a lot of time waiting for the others to finish placing their orders or figure out how to consolidate orders." Soon Deepinder and Pankaj began scanning the menus so that everyone could view them on a computer. Then they started visiting restaurants they hadn't yet tried out. "We spent weekends going around the suburbs of New Delhi gathering menus and putting them on the office intranet." In 2008, the light bulb went on: this could be a business.
The young company has already raised more than $113 million in venture capital and according to news reports is likely to attract considerably more. In October 2014 it won the "Start-Up of the Year" award given by India's Economic Times.
Zomato's sites—customized for each location—allow users to search for restaurants by name, cuisine, dish, and several other categories. Diners looking for a certain kind of experience can browse the company's "collections," such as "Rooftops" or "Pan-Asian Delicacies." The sites also incorporate user reviews, neighborhood guides, and links to top food critics in the area. Most of the company's revenue to date has come from ads, although it is planning to expand into table bookings (already offered in London, in partnership with OpenTable) and automatic cashless payment at the end of a meal.
The transition from Bain to a successful startup wasn't as abrupt as one might expect. "At Bain, we were problem solvers," says Deepinder. "At Zomato, we are no different. Running a business is about treading through problems each day and still hit the ground running." Adds Pankaj, "Bain helped us get the business acumen we needed to run a company." Bain colleagues helped out as well: India managing director Sri Rajan, former consultant Anshoo Sharma and others gave the young founders advice. "We often reached out to Bain partners and consultants who we were working with while at Bain for mentorship," says Pankaj.
As they began their global expansion, the pair tapped another Bain asset—the alumni network. Zomato team members sought out alumni in new locations to learn about each market they were considering. Deepinder and Pankaj also make a point of hiring former Bain consultants; six alumni are now on the company's payroll. This has helped the two founders address their toughest challenges: maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit or "Founder's Mentality®" and finding the talent they need to grow. "Getting the right people on the team is the only way to maintain the growth culture we have built for ourselves," says Pankaj. "But it is also the biggest challenge for us."
Zomato's international expansion has been rapid. After establishing its business in India—the market is now "highly profitable," says the company—it entered South Africa, the UK, and Brazil, along with many smaller countries. In 2014 it acquired several country-based competitors, adding New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy and Poland to its roster. "We want to be the Google of food," Pankaj told India's Business Standard. "Our vision is to be the global platform when someone is looking for food locally."
Zomato's most recent market entry—Canada—is already well under way. The experience gained there will be helpful, the founders believe, when they move into the United States, where Yelp and others are well established. "We will need much more bandwidth and money to go into the US," Pankaj told a reporter. "We have to do at least 50 cities very quickly to disrupt the player [that is] already huge there."
Neither Deepinder, who is CEO of Zomato, nor Pankaj, who is COO, expected to be an entrepreneur. In fact, Deepinder didn't even tell his academically minded parents until six months after he quit his job for fear that they would rebuke him. (Now, he adds, they're "very proud.") But the founders' experience with Zomato has provided them with some words of wisdom to pass along to other would-be entrepreneurs. "Don't start something just to be your own boss," says Pankaj. "Start something when you believe the opportunity is big enough that you can sacrifice what you already have." Deepinder adds, "It's also essential to have your core set of values and ethics in place. Big ideas are great for a startup, but strong values and work ethic are essential for the organization to thrive."
As for the most important piece of advice they ever received? The pair agree that it was the famous words often attributed to Gandhi. "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
Words to build a company by.
Nick Wheeler, Founder and CEO, Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts
Entrepreneurs, almost by definition, have differing ideas about how to grow their businesses. For Nick Wheeler, founder and CEO of the UK-based shirts-and-apparel company Charles Tyrwhitt, the differences come down to the familiar Aesop fable, The Hare and the Tortoise. "Entrepreneurs can be split into hares and tortoises," he says. "The hares are all about building business quickly, making deals, raising money, selling the business and moving on. It is very up and down, very hectic." Wheeler, a former associate consultant in Bain's London office, calls himself a tortoise. "The great thing about being a tortoise is you learn what is right and what your customer wants, and you really focus on that and keep growing and tweaking the organization. What you end up with is an absolutely rock solid business."
One way Nick maintains that focus is a "not-to-do" list. "Every week I get a load of requests from people who want to partner with us in India or China, or who want us to sell children's clothes," says Wheeler, who is 49 years old. "They sound like great ideas, really, but all of them are on my not-to-do list, so I just say no."
Wheeler wants Charles Tyrwhitt—the name is pronounced "Tirrit"—to be the best shirt company in the world, and he focuses squarely on that. Unlike the not-to-do list, he says, his to-do list is simple: 1) relentlessly gather feedback from customers, employees and vendors; and 2) make sure each group loves Charles Tyrwhitt. On the customer side, he spends hours in the firm's 22 retail shops, puts his own email address on every product the company mails out, and actively solicits and posts online feedback. "If the customer wants to say anything, they say it directly to me," Wheeler says. He makes both positive and negative comments public, including his company's polite and practical responses to the rare dissatisfied customer (see their feedback here—scroll down until you come to a negative comment and see the reply). The company's employees and vendors also get regular opportunities to have their say through surveys and brainstorming meetings about how Charles Tyrwhitt can improve.
Wheeler says he always wanted to have his own business, and from a young age aimed to offer something that combined high quality, excellent value and great service. Early on, he ran a number of small operations, including a Christmas tree delivery service and a custom-made shoe business. The shoe business failed, he says, because fax machines mangled the orders: "Shoe measurements [tracings] would go into the UK fax machine one size and come out on the receiving end in India elongated or shrunk. We had shoes for pixies and clowns, but none of them fit." From there it was on to shirts: "I've always loved shirts, and I liked the idea of having a product that is tangible, that I understand." Soon he was setting off in search of a manufacturer who could produce "the best shirt at the best price," despite the fact that he had no special knowledge of the industry at the time. In 1986, Charles Tyrwhitt, named for Nick's two middle names, was born as a mail-order company.
Nick's friends and advisors, however, were telling him he needed more experience before fully committing to his business. Turning down job offers from banks, he chose an opportunity at Bain. "Bain was so much more relevant to a budding entrepreneur. It was actually about business. I thought to myself, this is fantastic, I can learn a lot and then go back into my business." So he put his company on hold and joined Bain for two years as an AC. "Bain teaches you clarity of thinking. It gives you a framework for thinking about problems." In particular, he learned a tool he now uses regularly: Relative Market Share (RMS) diagrams that plot share against return on sales. "They're all about being number one in your market and having competitive advantage, and whenever I think about being the best shirt business in the world, that's how I think of it." He left Bain in 1989 to devote himself full-time to shirts, opening his first shop in 1990.
Even though his Bain days were a quarter-century ago, he continues to stay in close touch with current and former Bainies, including senior partner Julian Critchlow (who was in the same AC class) and current London managing director Paul Rogers. "Bain does fantastically well in looking after their alumni and staying in touch," Nick says. For its part, Bain calls upon Nick for his entrepreneurial expertise: he recently gave a talk to the UK alumni entrepreneurs' group. "There is such a strong sense of all having experienced something similar at Bain. We all have a similar approach to life, a similar positivity."
Nearly 25 years after opening its first shop, privately held Charles Tyrwhitt boasts nearly €160 million in revenue and an average annual growth rate of 22 percent, with the majority of sales now coming from outside the UK. It has expanded into suits and other men's apparel items as well as into women's wear. In recent years, the company has opened stores in the US and in Paris; and it is currently looking to stimulate existing customer interest in Australia and elsewhere through marketing, but not stores. Wheeler sees the strategy as optimal, given the nature of the product. "Shirts and ties are quite uniform in size, and we can ship them anywhere in the world at a low cost from our one central warehouse in the UK."
The company can also point to a number of accolades, such as being listed as one of the London Stock Exchange's 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain earlier this year. Wheeler was named 2013 Retailer of the Year by Retail News magazine and the Ernst & Young UK Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 for consumer products and services.
By some accounts, Charles Tyrwhitt is on its way to achieving Wheeler's big vision: being the best in the world. How will he know when he's there? Wheeler's answer, effectively, is never. "You have to keep working at it, because things are always changing," he says. "Ninety-eight percent of customers rate us excellent or good, but I want 100 percent. Will we ever get to constantly 100 percent? No—but we'll keep on chipping away at it."
Harlan Kent, Former President, CEO and Executive Director, The Yankee Candle Company
Harlan Kent found two enduring loves when he joined Bain after college in 1985. The primary one was his wife Patty, to whom he has been happily married for the past twenty-three years. The second was for working with popular consumer brands, a "huge revelation" that became apparent during his very first consulting assignment, Kent says.
During that assignment, which involved working at a textile plant that made sheets and towels for Laura Ashley, among other items, Kent says, "I realized that I was a very tactile person, that I liked to be able to touch the things I worked on." (He confesses that he was one of the few bachelor consultants who went so far as to purchase a Laura Ashley comforter for his bed at the time.) Since getting hooked on branded companies, Kent has worked for a remarkably wide range of top consumer labels. After leaving Bain in 1988, he championed products from Pepperidge Farm cookies, to Winchester bullets, to Isotoner gloves, until he joined premium candle maker Yankee Candle Company in 2001.
Currently CEO of Yankee Candle, a privately held, $786 million (in revenue) firm, Kent remains an unusually hands-on executive. Last year, he agreed to star in an episode of the CBS show Undercover Boss clad as a rather unkempt hippie with curly hair and a soul patch beard, to gain a deeper understanding of how Yankee Candle's customers and employees experience the company. Kent says he learned so much from his time on the show that he now participates regularly in various parts of the company's operations. Though he has dropped his TV disguise, Kent spends two to three days a week visiting some of the more than 550 retail stores the company owns across 46 states, or in other functions, such as answering phones in the call center, or packing boxes in the Whately, Massachusetts plant where all the candles are manufactured.
"I spend a lot of time in our stores and with our customers listening to what it is they want from us, and how they interact with our products and our brand," says Kent. "I'm also listening very closely to employees, because working with them is the easiest way for me to understand how I can enable their work."
One of Kent's major projects has been to get information from customers circulating at a faster velocity within the company. "We talk to thousands of consumers every day on the phone and they give us really useful feedback," he says. Over the past several years, he has helped develop new ways of capturing and sharing that information to make it actionable, allowing product developers and marketers to incorporate the responses much faster.
That kind of listening leads directly to rapid product innovation, an essential ingredient for success in the discretionary consumer goods space. Yankee Candle's standing goal is to derive 25 percent of its sales each year from new products. It introduced nearly 60 new fragrances last year toward that goal, and maintains close to 400 fragrances at any given time. Earlier this year, the company rolled out one of its most unorthodox products—"Man Candles" that smell like sawdust and fresh-mowed grass—to appeal to a group of consumers that are traditionally more resistant to the allure of candles.
He also notes that most of his jobs have come through people he met while working at Bain. Kent's first boss at Yankee Candle, Jane Brock-Wilson, was also one of his first managers at Bain and one whom he counts as a great mentor. Before joining Yankee Candle, he worked as SVP of wholesale for Totes Isotoner, a company owned by Bain Capital, then populated by more of his former Bain colleagues, and he reported to Doug Gernert, who had been his boss at Bain. And previous to that, Kent landed a major role in marketing at Campbell Soup's Pepperidge Farm division that came about through two Bainies, Mike Gunnison and Joel Davidson. Toward that end, Kent has aimed to return the favor, recruiting Bain alum John Fontana to head Yankee Candle's fast-growing international division.
"I'm very thankful to Bain—mostly for my wife Patty—but also for all these incredibly smart and talented people I had the chance to work with," says Kent.
Mireia Llusia-Lindh, Roger Hakes, UK entrepreneur network
London office London office
Launching a network to help alumni start-ups
In 2010, despite the economic turbulence still rocking the global economy, Mireia Llusia-Lindh left her secure job as a manager in Bain's London office to join the ranks of other start-up founders and launch Milli Millu, a line of luxury handbags targeting professional women. She enjoyed the freedom and independence that came along with the entrepreneurial world, but missed the brainstorming sessions with colleagues and office resources such as IT support. This was eased when a former London colleague, Roger Hakes, spotted Llusia-Lindh's venture on Bain's LinkedIn site and reached out to her.
"I know how lonely it can be," recalls Roger, another London-based Bain manager-turned-entrepreneur. In 2009, the UK native left to found Kite Kids, an environmentally friendly children's clothing maker. Hakes offered Llusia-Lindh some hard-earned advice about how to best set up a pressing agent/distributor agreement. According to Llusia-Lindh, "It was fantastic to have someone [answer my questions] immediately."
The two quickly realized the benefit of creating a network for other Bainies in the region who were trying to beat the disheartening start-up failure rate: according to Harvard Business School research, up to 40 percent of start-ups end up liquidating their assets, and up to 80 percent are unable to meet projected returns on investment. An entrepreneur network would fill a gap, providing a forum for alums that are employing the same Bain results-focused approach to achieve sustained, profitable growth. "Mireia came to me and suggested starting the group since there are so many entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs at Bain," says Anna Nicholson, an alumni and marketing representative for the London office. Within a week, the Bain UK team committed the resources to launch the network—a worldwide first for Bain.
The UK Entrepreneur Network officially kicked off in May, with about 30 start-up founders gathering in London for the group's first annual in-person networking event. It was a chance to mingle informally and rub shoulders with some star alums, including Nick Wheeler of Charles Tywhitt, the London-based shirt company, and Dheeraj Mukherjee of Shazam, the mobile phone music identifier. "It was inspiring to hear their experiences from 10 to 15 years ago and learn how they pushed through it," says Llusia-Lindh.
The event was not only a chance to hear from other Bainie entrepreneurs involved in a diversity of business types and stages, but served as a matchmaking vehicle for funding, resources and talent. That evening, Llusia-Lindh helped connect the producer of children's travel guides to the CEO of a publishing company. (He'd recently purchased handbags from Milli Millu for his wife.) She also made a valuable connection with a former Bain IT colleague who now operates a tech support firm. Hakes added several contacts to his file, including a company that later sold off some of Kite Kid's excess stock.
Six months after its debut, the UK Entrepreneur Network has more than doubled in size, with over 80 members. Feedback shows that founders value the chance to swap war stories and learn from their successes and failures. Because everyone knows "Bainspeak," it's easier to develop relationships and shortcuts to problem solving. "If Mireia recommends something," says Hakes, "I know she will have evaluated it in detail, so I have confidence in the recommendation."
Many alums credit Bain with equipping them with a vital skill set for surviving an entrepreneur's roller-coaster ride. Most importantly, Bain gave them a framework for tackling challenges and quickly making good decisions. Llusia-Lindh and Hakes believe that Bain recruits people who share characteristics with start-up founders—self-starters who think outside the box.
Like Llusia-Lindh and Hakes, many of the network's members launched ventures amid the economic downturn. Hakes explains his guiding philosophy: "If I can make it through the downturn, the company will make it. This is the time we can outgrow the competition." Llusia-Lindh made a similar gamble. After having her first child, she was eager to be her own boss with flexible hours. She saved enough to fund start-up costs, then took the leap even as some economic indicators tanked. "It takes a couple of years until you get traction," says the Barcelona native. "I figured by the time the economy gets moving, the business would take hold." Llusia-Lindh also discovered that suppliers, impacted by the downturn, were more accommodating. A year later, her company, Milli Millu, is cash positive, an enviable position achieved by plowing revenue back into the handbag business. Over two years after launching Kite Kids, Hakes' start-up is turning a profit but instead of taking money out, he's reinvesting to accelerate growth.
Both entrepreneurs offer some cautionary advice. Before quitting your job, develop a strategy for riding out the lean times. For Hakes, this means doing some independent consulting on the side to pay the bills. "This allows me to go on longer," he says. "I've met people with great business ideas who ran out of cash and had to give up, just when they were about to succeed."
The UK office plans to organize at least one meeting per year for the network, and in response to several requests, global alumni relations has created a Bain alumni entrepreneurial group on LinkedIn. (All Bain alums and current Bain employees with an interest in entrepreneurship are welcome to join.) Reach out to global alumni relations if you'd like to explore starting a group similar to the UK Entrepreneur Network in your geographic region.
Peter Hirschmann, CEO, Asian Operations of NEWAsurion
Hong Kong office
Peter Hirschmann was exactly what Bain wanted: a top college student with an impressive background. He moved to Hong Kong after graduating and helped found one of the first private equity companies investing in China. He joined Bain in 1996, and was a skilled senior associate consultant (SAC). Hirschmann thought he was on Bain's fast track, until his manager at the time, Mike Garstka, called him aside. Their conversation is chiseled in Hirschmann's memory some 20 years later.
Garstka told him that he was outspoken and risked coming across as arrogant to his clients. "My ego was my worst enemy," acknowledges Hirschmann, who is now CEO of the Asian operations of NEWAsurion, a mobile device protection business with more than 10,000 employees globally.
What happened next was a career changer and shaped his view of teamwork and leadership. Garstka, now a Bain partner, became Hirschmann's mentor. He told him that "underneath your attitude and over-confidence, there are actually some solid skills."
While the young Hirschmann had no problem analyzing data, what he lacked at the time, Garstka told him, was a more complex skill set: the ability to cultivate relationships with clients, to get inside their point of view and to partner with them to deliver results. He also had to buy into a core Bain tenet—a belief in the 1 percent chance he was wrong.
Striving for humility helped put Hirschmann on track for a 12-year Bain career that led to him being named CEO of NEWAsurion's Asian operations in 2008. At the time, the Asia Pacific business was relatively new and its revenue limited. Drawing heavily on his Bain experience, Hirschmann worked with his new Asia team to rapidly jump-start operations. Like other Bain alums-turned CEOs, his consultant training provided a framework for quickly tearing down business problems, identifying what was broken and developing the data needed to make smart decisions.
The lessons he learned have helped him coach not only other young SACs, but also his NEWAsurion team, growing Asia operation's revenue over 20X in the past four years.
In his career, Hirschmann has also learned a lot about the importance of talent. As CEO, he hires people for his team who are "two or three steps above me in smarts, experience and leadership...it pushes me and my whole team to constantly raise our game." Surrounding himself with unexceptional managers wouldn't "create shareholder value," Hirschmann says. "It's easier for power and politics, but it leads to the growth of mediocrity." After four years since leaving Bain, the 42-year-old chief executive acknowledges that managing a team of over-achievers is exhausting, but motivates him to grow and stay one step ahead. "You must keep building the team and building yourself as a leader," he says.
Pulling the best out of people also requires understanding the different ways people work. At Bain, it's known as "situational leadership," something Hirschmann admits he finds himself thinking about almost daily. Hand in hand is the role of humility in teamwork—that 1 percent possibility of being wrong. "In building our senior team, we are always looking for leaders who are humble and self-aware," says the Asurion CEO. The formerly cocky SAC now views humility as one of the most important tests of his own leadership.
Hayley Barna, Founder and Co-CEO, Birchbox
New York office
In the two years since graduating from Harvard Business School, Hayley Barna has racked up impressive wins: founding the hot start-up Birchbox, scoring $11.9 million in venture capital funding, signing up 100,000 monthly paid subscribers (as of January) for its beauty sample boxes and recruiting almost 200 beauty brands to supply the samples.
The 28-year-old CEO chalks up these rapid successes to a mixture of genes (both of her parents are entrepreneurs), chance (her roommate was a beauty editor) and business savvy. A good chunk of that savvy grew out of Barna's three-year stint at Bain as a senior associate consultant, providing a business foundation and toolkit that the rookie CEO draws on daily to navigate the complex intersection of beauty retailing and Birchbox's novel e-commerce model.
Fresh out of Harvard as an undergraduate, Barna joined Bain's New York office in the summer of 2005, where she worked on a wide range of growth strategy cases. What she enjoyed most were the assignments that involved consumer behavior, especially the challenge of cracking the code of how and why consumers make purchasing decisions. Still, Barna, a self-described geek and a makeup minimalist, never envisioned herself launching a beauty-related start-up. "Going into Sephora confused me," she confesses, explaining that she felt overwhelmed by the abundance of products and choices.
During her Bain years, Barna's best friend Mollie (a beauty editor) would bring Hayley a hand-picked selection of samples and would explain how to use them. Flash forward to 2009 when HBS classmate Katia Beauchamp discovered all of these samples in Hayley's bathroom. What Katia noticed was that Hayley had many top-quality products without ever having to shop for them.
Barna was fresh off an internship at Amazon, where she had a crash course in e-commerce and product management. She and Beauchamp quickly hatched the idea of turning free samples into an online business—a win-win for brands and consumers. Each month, Birchbox would send out four to five deluxe, personalized samples to members who paid a few dollars for the box. If they liked them, subscribers could purchase the products through Birchbox's online site where they also could find beauty advice.
The first hurdle was a potential killer: the two MBA students, who lacked beauty business credentials, had to convince global brands like Benefit Cosmetics to join a two-month beta test. Barna laughs at the memory. "It was an easy ask in terms of samples," she says, "but a big ask in terms of an unproven idea." Barna drew on the approach she'd learned when assigned a consulting case without in-depth information—develop insights by listening to what the client needs. "I felt confident because of my Bain experience of walking into boardrooms and being able to ask the right questions," she recalls. "We asked them for feedback and what their pain points were so we could address them in designing the business."
As they quickly built out their model using that feedback, Barna found herself relying on another core Bain skill: making decisions with an incomplete data set. "We didn't want to wait until we had perfect information to move forward," she explains. The co-CEOs took educated risks by breaking down complex issues into their different components. One example: pricing the sample box. An informal survey of female students on campus confirmed a willingness to pay. Barna and Beauchamp attempted to cost out materials going into the box and, almost two years later, the original $10 price hasn't changed.
Since launching Birchbox in September 2010, the innovative online model has caught on with customers and backers, growing from 600 members by word of mouth to 100,000. To rapidly expand the business, the cofounders have adopted key traits of Bain's culture. They ensure results by making data-driven decisions. And in an organization of self-starters, the focus is on action, with every proposal outlining next steps. In addition to three Bain recruits, two investors are also Bain alums, although, Barna only discovered the connection after winning funding. But she doesn't believe it was a coincidence, noting: "The way we presented our pitch and talked about strategy resonated with them."
With continued VC support, Birchbox is expanding, with long-term plans to build on their alliance with global brands to grow internationally. Recently, the start-up branched out, launching Birchbox Man. In addition to shaving cream samples and socks, they expect to include tech items in the $20 monthly box, after a successful pilot project with Skullcandy headphones.
Has Birchbox taken the fear out of beauty for Barna? She now describes herself as a geek who's discovered chic. Or as the CEO's bio puts it, Barna now is "officially qualified to use liquid liner and is steadily amassing an enviable nail polish collection."
Jean-Pierre Remy, CEO, Pages Juanes Groupe
Jean-Pierre Remy admits he's always been hooked on competition, even as a kid growing up in a small town nestled in wine country in the east of France. At the time, he didn't realize it was an essential character trait of entrepreneurs, but it's the reason he joined Bain. "I chose Bain because of its entrepreneurial spirit. They do things differently," he explains. It was the perfect boot camp for the young French consultant, hungry for global challenges. On his first day at Bain, he received a call from his boss. "Go directly to the airport," Jean-Pierre says he was ordered. "You're going to Saudi Arabia." It was baptism by Bain fire, teaching the future dotcom-er essential survival skills: think fast and adapt even faster.
Jean-Pierre's entrepreneurial drive kicked into high gear years later when, as a newly promoted Bain partner, he was sitting in a room filled with corporate road warriors and listening to a highly respected private equity investor describe the success of Hotwire, a dotcom phenom. The start-up invented a business out of selling distressed travel inventory to leisure travelers. Jean-Pierre knew something about dotcoms—at Bain, he specialized in advising worried European CEOs on how to navigate the emerging digital economy, a game-changer that threatened their time tested business models. The Hotwire story sparked an idea. "This could work in the high-end as well," Jean-Pierre recalls thinking. "If I can advise people on how to do it . . . then I should try my own business." Exactly one year later, Jean-Pierre, along with Bain alum and friend, John Perkins (who had gone on to Dell, as the European head of marketing and sales), launched Egencia, a groundbreaking online travel service for corporate customers.
Their decision to rely on Bain's playbook and alumni network helped turn the start-up into one of the world's leading Internet business travel companies. John, now CEO of Play.com, describes their co-CEO relationship as a "unique experience" where they jointly made the big decisions, a process made easier by Jean-Pierre's "open and honest communication style." They drew on each other's strengths—Jean-Pierre's strong analytical and management experience in ecommerce and John's extensive sales experience and contacts. But Egencia faced a triple whammy in its early years—the dotcom bust, which dried up IPO financing, the September 11th terrorist attack and the Asian flu epidemic. "In 2002, no one wanted to travel anymore and I was in the corporate travel business," says Jean-Pierre.
How did Egencia survive—and ultimately dominate—when so many dotcom wonders vanished virtually overnight? They adhered to two Bain fundamentals: stay the course by picking the right business strategy and build it to last. Even in the worst stretch, Egencia continued eking out steady growth, reassuring investors and clients that the pioneering corporate travel business wasn't going away. Jean-Pierre's and John's team focused on the power of innovation to fill a void for corporate clients. Amid a travel recession, Egencia empowered businesses by offering online tools and services that reduced costs and made it more efficient and easier to book and track employee travel.
By 2009, when Jean-Pierre left to become CEO of the PagesJaunes Groupe, Egencia had been acquired by Expedia, and was established as one of the world's leading Internet business travel companies.
In his current post at PagesJaunes, the 47-year-old's challenge is a variation on the one he faced as an ecommerce pioneer: how to rapidly transform the printed phone directory business model into an innovative online platform for search, advertising and other business services. In order to produce quick results, Jean-Pierre tapped the same resource he relied upon to build Egencia—Bain's alumni network. Jean-Pierre recruited Bainies for key spots throughout his management team. "They are extremely results oriented," says the PagesJaunes CEO. "They know how to drive change. It was key at both companies." Having a common business language has accelerated problem solving and innovation, which is critical as new game-changers, like increasingly sophisticated smartphones and social media commerce, keep redefining the marketplace.
To spot trends and innovate ahead of competitors, Jean-Pierre relies on an advance warning system that includes PagesJaunes' small army of 500 Internet engineers, charged with spotting the next big thing and creating solutions. He also taps into a worldwide eco network of start-ups that helps speed innovations to market with leading edge technology and business models. Jean-Pierre's focus on innovation and the Internet is paying off. The company's Internet audience is steadily increasing, with especially strong growth in the company's mobile phone audience, which surged 117 percent over the first quarter of 2010 and now accounts for twelve percent of its total Internet audience.
Bain alum and a key member of PagesJaunes' management team Julien Ampollini is confident in Jean-Pierre's leadership and ability to turn "this traditional directory business into a leading online local advertising player." After also working with Jean-Pierre at Egencia, Julien observes, "What is very impressive about Jean-Pierre is his ability to combine clear and powerful strategic vision with pragmatic and efficient management of the operations. In a context of drastic change, this balance is a key to success." With ambitious goals set for 2012, and Bain hired to supplement his team in implementing organizational change, Jean-Pierre will have to maintain this balance as he faces the ever-changing, competitive ecommerce landscape.
Jeffrey Zients, Chief Performance Officer, Executive Office of the President of the U.S.
As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jeff Zients had never heard of business consultants. But when he was 10 years old, Zients hit on a repeatable model for success built on thorough research, patience and attention to detail. He took it to the next level after graduating from college with a political science degree and joining Bain as an Associate Consultant. He fell in love with Bain's culture, teamwork, well-rounded people and analytical rigor—ingredients he added to his model and that helped launch his own consulting career. Now Zients, 44, is using a remarkably similar version of that model to tame the sprawling federal bureaucracy as the US government's first chief performance officer and the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
His business savvy took shape in the 1970s, when Zients would spend his Saturdays scouring the classifieds for hard-to-find Topps baseball cards that he purchased with money from his paper route. His attention to detail (he only bought cards in mint condition) and entrepreneurial instinct for value (he unearthed cards at every garage sale he could find) kept growing the collection's worth.
By the time Zients entered Duke University in 1984, he owned a collection valued at almost $30,000. By 2002, the same entrepreneurial instincts landed him on Fortune magazine's exclusive list of richest Americans under 40. Although he'd never taken a business public, Zients patiently nurtured two companies with a low-key leadership style that delivered IPO smash hits for The Advisory Board, a health-care consultancy, and its corporate spin-off, the Corporate Executive Board. After stepping down as chairman of The Advisory Board in 2004, Zients scored another first. At 37, the avid baseball fan championed the successful campaign to bring a major league baseball team back to the nation's capital after an absence of over thirty years.
When Barack Obama took office in 2009, the new president was looking for someone to fill a new—and daunting—post: the first-ever chief performance officer, housed in OMB. Zients had a reputation in Washington circles as a veteran business executive who produced results. He landed the job even though he had no government experience. "In many ways, the content of the job is similar to what I did at Bain and in the private sector," recalls Zients. Before saying yes, the father of four paused only long enough to check with his family about a position with 24/7 demands. His wife gave thumbs-up to a job that some refer to as the president's weed-whacker.
From his marriage, to his White House appointment, Zients' career path is populated with Bainies. He met his wife, Mary, at the Boston office, and a Bain recommendation led to his hiring at The Advisory Board. Its founder, David Bradley, wasn't a Bain alum, but he was connected: Bradley went to the Harvard Business School with a group of future Bain Partners, including Bain Chairman Orit Gadiesh. Zients' path crossed with Gadiesh while he was an AC. She was on a Bain team that gave Zients a crash course in delivering results. Two decades later, the results-oriented approach Zients learned as a consultant is guiding his strategy to weed out waste and make government more productive and efficient.
The task is remarkably similar to one of his initial Bain assignments. Back in 1988, 21-year-old Zients was dispatched to Detroit to work with a Big Three automaker on a well-known case: figuring out the cost of complexity for the car manufacturer. The outcome showed that by reducing complexity, the client could increase both quality and profits. Zients was charged with mapping out all the possible options on a car model that customers could select. "The ultimate answer was that every buyer in the US could have some variation of the car," says Zients. His team included Orit Gadiesh, David Harding and Jon Mark. They schooled the young AC in Bain fundamentals—figuring out what matters most to the client and delivering results. After cutting his teeth on one of the Detroit Big Three, Zients now is applying those lessons as he faces the behemoth of complexity—a $3.55 trillion federal budget. He calls the Bain approach "central" to his efforts to tame government complexity. "[They] taught me to be rigorous analytically and then how to take the insights and present them in a simple fashion so that the client could understand and implement them," says Zients. "It's served me well."
To help him navigate through the federal budget thicket, Zients brought in Michael D'Amato, a former Bain Senior Partner and colleague at The Advisory Board and Corporate Executive Board. D'Amato describes the chief performance officer's job as "a Bain consultant's dream." As Zients' right-hand man, D'Amato and his boss spent the first three months mapping the government, and then setting priorities that could generate quick wins. "We ended up with six areas, chosen because they all affect structural aspects of government, and therefore are changes which will have the longest-term impact on government performance," explains D'Amato.
The job grew even more complicated last summer when Zients took on the added responsibility as acting OMB head after the director stepped down and the nominee, Jack Lew, faced protracted Senate confirmation hearings. Despite the double load, Zients' budgetary weed-whacking is starting to pay off. Quick wins include the launch of the website Performance.gov, aimed at making government more transparent and accountable; identifying $40 billion in potential savings in contracts; buying in bulk; and transforming the way government deploys expensive, large-scale information technology projects. Instead of improving productivity and efficiency, the unwieldy IT systems often add more layers and problems. To find solutions, Zients' team looked for agencies and private sector organizations with high success rates and discovered that successful projects are implemented in chunks, with functionality delivered every six months, rather than through monolithic, multi-year approaches. This practice allows organizations to troubleshoot along the way, making mid-course corrections as necessary, up to and including terminating projects when it becomes clear they aren't going to be successful. Says Zients: "We're rolling this approach out for use across government, which will greatly improve the performance of Federal IT."
The demands of streamlining government have put other passions on hold. Ask the diehard baseball fan if he's surprised that the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, and he answers apologetically that he was too swamped with work to watch it. And it's his wife who continues working with the Urban Alliance Foundation, a nonprofit that Zients cofounded. The foundation partners with corporations to give economically disadvantaged youths paid internships, mentoring and job training. Does Zients long to return to the business world? "At some point, I may circle back to the private sector. But I love serving in government," he replies emphatically. For now, Zients seems totally hooked on getting the federal government's $3.5 trillion complexity beast under control.
Janet Voûte, Former Partnerships Adviser, World Health Organization
Geneva, Paris, Zurich
Janet Voûte's challenge can be simply stated: Focus more of the world's health resources on stemming the tide of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases that cause 38 million deaths each year.
In her role at the World Health Organization, Voûte shines a spotlight on the death grip these noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have on populations in developing countries, where funding to combat them is virtually nonexistent. According to Voûte, NCDs are responsible for 60 percent of all global deaths, with 80 percent of those deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. "If you look at any estimate of the health overseas development commitment, only 1 to 2 percent goes to noncommunicable diseases," says Voûte, partnerships adviser to WHO's assistant director-general of Noncommuicable Diseases and Mental Health. "There's a mismatch between the disease burden and overseas funding."
Despite the soaring death rate, there had been no coordinated effort among governments, researchers, businesses and nonprofits to help developing nations. That changed last July, when the World Health Organization (WHO) launched NCDnet, a network of leading organizations and experts, to combat noncommunicable diseases. WHO recruited Voûte, former CEO of the World Heart Federation, to orchestrate the partnerships needed to turn NCDnet into an effective weapon in the fight to prevent and curb these lethal diseases.
To develop critical alliances for NCDnet, Voûte relies on many of the skills she honed during ten years at Bain, beginning in 1989 when she joined the Paris office and was quickly promoted to manager. Soon after helping to open the Geneva office, she was made partner in recognition of her contributions to the office's growth. Voûte's path seemed set until 1999, when she found herself at a crossroads. Bain was moving the Geneva office to Zürich but Voûte, married with three daughters, didn't want to uproot her family. And her last assignment—a supply chain analysis—had resulted in the closing of 32 warehouses across Europe. "That's when I decided I wanted to give back," she recalls in the rapid-fire manner of a New Jersey native, laced with a hint of Jersey accent.
Voûte's career—and lifestyle—took an unexpected twist when she spotted an ad in The Economist: The World Heart Federation (WHF) needed a new CEO. During her eight-year tenure at the WHF, the organization developed into a global leader in the fight against heart disease. While there, she tapped her Bain network, contacting former colleague Josef Ming, who put her in touch with a Bain team in Germany. They provided pro-bono strategy work for expanding a major American Heart Association initiative, "Go Red for Women," globally to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke. The Bain team also helped with every aspect of the campaign design and roll-out. "Bain's results orientation and pragmatic, analytical approach had a strong impact on WHF," says Axel Seeman, a partner in the Frankfurt office.
The more Voûte learned at the WHF, the more she realized that she was at serious risk herself. Many of her family members had died from heart disease and stroke, and Voûte had overlooked her own health. "I used to define exercise as running across the Frankfurt airport with a briefcase," she says, laughing at the memory. Today she has a personal trainer and her family members all are healthy lifestyle converts.
Converting the rest of the world with limited resources requires Voûte to speak two languages—nonprofit and profit. To convince multinationals that investing in health initiatives makes sound business sense, she relies on Bain style results-oriented analysis, strategy and metrics to sell her argument: For every dollar spent on employee wellness programs, companies typically earn a $3 to $4 return through reduced health costs and increased productivity. Voûte tells skeptics, "The metrics are undeniable." She is forming partnerships with industry associations, policy makers and nonprofits in an effort to break the link between NCDs and at-risk, low-income populations by reducing tobacco use as well as salt, sugar and trans fats in people's diets. Together they are working to win over food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies by helping them understand their social responsibility and the value of helping poorer consumers.
Voûte believes that Bain's focus on teamwork and collaboration helped to lay the foundation for the partnerships she is now forging. Early in her career at Bain, when people asked her why she had come to Bain from BCG, Voûte would often answer: "It's because of the power of the team." Two decades later, she's counting on the power of Bain-style teamwork to do the seemingly impossible—reduce disease worldwide through improved healthcare and healthier lifestyles.
Derek Ferguson, CFO, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment
In the annals of relationships between CEOs and their chief financial officers, hip-hop mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Derek Ferguson may break the mold. They have wedded the celebrity icon's uncanny instincts with Ferguson's data-driven business strategies to grow Bad Boy World Entertainment into an estimated $300 million, multifaceted hip-hop empire. But in a universe better known for sex and violence than faith, Ferguson has Combs' blessing to follow his passion and lead weekly Bible study sessions at Bad Boy.
In 1999, the former Bain manager joined Bad Boy as the financial guru to the impresario credited with turning hip hop into a lifestyle. Within a year, Ferguson found himself increasingly conflicted about the impact of Bad Boy's lucrative products on society and his own religious convictions. Instead of walking away, he decided to become more public about his faith and champion Bible study groups, ministries for the unemployed and showcases for budding Christian hip hop artists. "Once I made that choice, it helped me figure out my place in the entertainment world... I'm surprised I got away with it," admits Ferguson.
There is nothing orthodox about the business marriage between Bad Boy's CEO, who is known for pushing the envelope, and his churchgoing, family-man CFO. The battery of skills Ferguson honed during his five years at Bain's Boston office allowed him to quickly adapt to the often irrational world of music and entertainment. His top survival skill: the ability to rapidly digest complex information and crystallize it into a crisp strategic analysis. For a CFO who is constantly vetting stacks of deals, that skill alone is critical. But Ferguson's boss is a globe-trotting rapper, fashion designer and entrepreneur, with his own recording and production companies, clothing line, restaurants, movies, publishing and nonprofit enterprises.
To keep up, Ferguson has mastered the art of condensing a two-hour PowerPoint presentation into a snappy, five-minute synopsis while Combs is being made up for the Letterman show. "My boss may not talk or rap like other CEOs, but he is very much like the CEOs I worked with at Bain," says Ferguson. In a crunch, he's reached out to Bain for data that he needed quickly to evaluate deals in complex, fast-moving industries. "I knew Bain had it in some form," says Ferguson. Facts and analysis aren't enough. He's learned to follow his CEO's uncanny ability to spot the next hot sound, trend or branding coup even when the numbers are not clear cut. Combs isn't shy about taking full advantage of his celebrity status to negotiate a moneymaking, out-of-the-box opportunity for Bad Boy.
Even though both men are hard-working, successful New York natives, born just five years apart—Combs is 40 and Ferguson is 45—their lives didn't seem destined to collide. Combs grew up in Harlem, where his father was killed, and later moved to Mt. Vernon. Ferguson was raised in a close-knit Bronx community with churchgoing parents who emphasized education. Always a top student, he graduated from Wharton, launched Urban Profile, a magazine targeted at young, professional African-American males, and earned a Harvard MBA. In 1991, Ferguson sold the magazine and joined Bain's Boston office. Meanwhile, his future boss dropped out of Howard University and quickly became a star producer at Uptown Records. After Combs was fired, he struck out on his own, founding Bad Boy Entertainment.
By the mid-1990s, both men were making their mark. Bad Boy had signed hit artists and Combs made his solo debut as Puff Daddy, topping the charts. At Bain, Ferguson made history when he was promoted to manager in the Boston office, one of the first two African Americans to hold the position. He admits that the lack of diversity at Bain was a concern, but he worked to bring in more minorities, founding Blacks at Bain. Today, he still is a Bain recruiter, telling minority candidates, "At Bain there is objectivity. If you crack a case for a client, you will be significantly rewarded."
One of Ferguson's Bain assignments, shadowing a music executive, ultimately led him into the music world. He was the vice president of BMG Entertainment when Diddy came calling. Twelve years later, the two men still sit in offices near each other at the company's midtown headquarters. While their teamwork has grown Bad Boy, Ferguson's partnership with his pastor, also an MBA, has continued expanding ministries that connect companies with the jobless, and film and TV projects to launch talent rapping an alternative message. P. Diddy's financial strategist still is surprised at the irony: how his job at Bad Boy ended up empowering his faith.
Nagi Hamiyeh, Managing Director of Investments, Temasek Holdings
Paris and Singapore
If not for the prolonged civil war in Lebanon, Nagi Hamiyeh may never have left his hometown to study in the United States, and ultimately join the Paris office of Bain in 1994. In 1996, he asked Bain for a transfer from Paris to its Singapore office. The associate consultant, a Lebanese native, wanted something different from Europe and the Middle East, where his family had repeatedly sought refuge from the turmoil at home. Following his departure from Bain, Hamiyeh remained in Singapore to pursue a career in the investment world. Today he is the managing director in charge of Natural Resources for Temasek Holdings, a Singapore-based investment company, which has a diversified SGD$172 billion (as of 31 July 2009), or more than US$120 billion portfolio.
Like all investors, Temasek had a tumultuous ride during the global financial meltdown. But the government-owned investment company has quickly rebounded, building up a hefty war chest with market recovery and well timed exits. Temasek's resilience is also due in part to its shrewd bet on Asia's emerging markets, which weathered the financial storm far better than the West.
Just five years ago, Temasek embarked on an active overseas investment strategy and recognized early on Asia's potential. "We were one of the few and first to invest heavily in China, Indonesia, India and Vietnam," says Hamiyeh, who also oversees the firm's initiatives in Africa and the Middle East. "Based on our early experience with the Asian markets, we saw similar trends and lessons that we are now able to apply to other emerging markets." After pulling back during the turbulence, Temasek is now back in deal-making mode and Hamiyeh is on the hunt for selective mining investments, including in Africa and Mongolia, two regions that he believes will become key suppliers of the industrial minerals needed to fuel Asia's rapid growth.
After Hamiyeh joined Temasek in 2005, he recommended his former employer to help analyze the future of a key sector and some portfolio companies. Five years later, that initial work has evolved into an ongoing relationship. "[We] may ask for help in evaluating portfolios and sectors given the size and breadth of Temasek's investments," says the Bain alum. He also tries to instill Bain's "Answer First" approach in colleagues as a way to quickly spot winners. Hamiyeh explains, "Often, you come up with a conclusion before you've waded through all the material. Wading through is more of a confirmation."
Temasek has hired a number of Bain alums in addition to Hamiyeh, to help strengthen an area which focuses on adding value to companies, postinvestment. The company has discovered that Bainies often have the three key traits it's looking for: the ability to put their egos aside and be team players, to think outside the box and work independently.
Those traits helped Hamiyeh, an MIT graduate with a master's in engineering, land his first job with Bain in 1994. His initial stint in Asia left a lasting impression. Hamiyeh was 27 when he spent a year on assignment in the Philippines, living with a large team housed in three apartments. "We all were from different cultures—it was a melting pot, an amazing experience with different ways of thinking," he recalls. In 1997, he left for the investment world. At Credit Suisse First Boston, he served as a vice president of its energy group. Following his experience at Credit Suisse, Asia Pacific Resources Group, an energy trading company, named Hamiyeh its CEO.
When Temasek hired him in 2005, Hamiyeh found their values were similar to Bain's as both emphasized the importance of people and talent. Investments to him are a team decision. "We all vote and never look back and point fingers if something goes wrong," says Hamiyeh. And like Bain, during the recent downturn, Temasek preserved its most important resource—its talent—by avoiding layoffs. Salaries were reduced across the board. "Everyone took a haircut, from the CEO to the most junior associates," he stresses.
Although Singapore is home, Hamiyeh says his roots still are in Lebanon. He has a home there and often visits his extended family with his three young children. After the upheaval of the civil war years, most of his relatives chose to stay close. But Hamiyeh is a globetrotter, traveling the world as he scouts investments. The father of an eight-year-old daughter and two-year-old twin boys notes, "The only time I sleep is on the plane."
Jon Wright, Co-founder and COO, Innocent Drinks
Who knew that the odd-tasting onion-juice smoothies passed around in 1998 by Jon Wright, a young consultant in Bain's London office, would help pave the way for Innocent Drinks, the British natural smoothie phenomenon that recently won a €30 million stake from Coca-Cola? Given the recession and wary investors, the Coke deal was a major coup.
During Innocent's 10-year journey from niche smoothie maker to a national brand with a cult-like following, the eco-friendly business has repeatedly triumphed over obstacles and missteps that kill so many entrepreneurial ventures—like those early recipes. "Someone told us that onion juice didn't taste so bad," recalls Wright during a call from Fruit Towers, Innocent's headquarters in London.
The onion-smoothie episode is part of Innocent's colorful lore—how Wright and two college pals from his days at Cambridge University hit on the idea of launching a fresh-fruit smoothie business during a snowboarding trip in 1998, even though they knew nothing about fruit. The following summer, they mashed up €500 of fruit and sold smoothies at a jazz festival. The sign by their stall read, "Should we give up our jobs to make these smoothies?" People proceeded to put their empty bottle in a "Yes" bin or a "No" bin. By the end of the weekend, the "Yes" bin was overflowing and the next day they resigned their blue-chip jobs—Wright from Bain, Richard Reed from advertising and Adam Balon from a marketing job. Wright recalls telling the Bain recruiter in 1995 that he wanted to run his own business in three to four years. "I'm not sure I expected it to happen in that time frame," he admits.
The tale of Innocent's growth from a niche startup into a business with an 80 percent market share is laced with Bainies, who offered support at every phase. In 1998, Wright's manager gave him a leave of absence to focus on Innocent's business plan even as Wright still worked out of the London office. The office manager kept them "sweating the business model" so that the cost structure would generate enough profits to feed the startup's growth. After 20 bank branches rejected the struggling entrepreneurs, the Bain network helped them connect with the business angel who funded Innocent's launch.
As the company grew, Wright recruited Bainies for Innocent's two major expansions—into children's smoothies and healthy Veg Pot meals, billed as high fiber, low salt and providing three of the five recommended daily portions of vegetables. And this spring when Coke made its offer, Wright found himself across the table from another Bain alum, James Quincey, president of Coke's Northwest Europe & Nordics business unit. While they didn't know each other, Wright felt prepared, explaining that, "We knew that we were up against a smart guy set on creating value."
The Coke offer was complicated. While the beverage behemoth had the money and distribution muscle to help Innocent fend off intensifying competition from PepsiCo's Tropicana brand and expand into the European market, the cofounders knew that Innocent would be accused of selling out its ideals to a corporate titan. Again, they turned to Bainies. "We had some good sounding-board sessions with Bain partners. We hadn't seen this kind of deal before," says the 37-year-old Wright, whose estimated worth is about €55 million.
In the end, they crafted a win-win: Innocent gets an infusion of cash but maintains its freedom, while Coke gets between a 10 percent to 20 percent stake in a fast-growing venture that's tapping into consumers' desire for healthier, sustainable food. Wright insists that the partnership is a smart move with "fewer strings attached" than other offers. As proof, he points to Odwalla, the US fresh-fruit smoothie maker. Although it's wholly owned by Coke, Odwalla has maintained its independence. Ironically, Wright credits the Odwalla smoothies he downed during a stint at Bain's San Francisco office with setting the standard as the founders experimented with recipes.
Is there something about Bain that breeds a steady crop of bold startup founders like Wright? He credits a "think like an owner" approach to consulting and a culture filled with entrepreneurial energy—as Wright puts it, "all the chaps... at lunchtime talking about their ideas."
Lucas Carné Carcas, Co-founder, Privalia
Chicago and Madrid
As co-founder of Privalia, a three-year-old online "shopping mall" for trendy fashion-wear and sports apparel, Lucas Carné Carcas has seen this innovative Spanish-based business flourish and spread, with new virtual outposts and markets in Italy and Brazil.
"Bain was really the best school I could have gone to for becoming an entrepreneur and CEO," the former Madrid manager says. "When you spend enough time at Bain, you come away with not only the analytical skills to run a business, but the perspective of a general manager. Bain training provides skills in focus, priority-setting, decision-making and simply making up your mind quickly."
The genesis of the business emerged after talking with his good friend and fellow ex-Bainie, José Manuel Villanueva, who had become general manager of the Spanish operations of New Balance, the sportswear and running-shoe company. Villanueva—who joined with Carné to found Privalia—told him how New Balance routinely cleared out its overstock items through a private online sales business in France.
Intrigued, Carné started doing due diligence, beginning in January 2006. His premise was to develop an online shopping club that provided upscale clothing and sporting goods at about 50% off list price—these being overstock or out-of-season items (at first). After six months for the development of a platform, the creation of an office and the establishment of relationships with sellers, the online "store" went live in June 2006.
"Getting the right suppliers is the hardest job we have," Carné says, but it has gotten easier. Initially in Spain, "most brands didn't see the Internet as a distribution channel. Rather they thought of it as a communications channel to their customers. At worst, they thought of the Net as a place for parallel commerce, or a place to sell fake products."
Today, Carné and Villanueva have to turn away suppliers. These makers now understand that e-commerce offers not only incremental sales, but is a valuable channel in its own right. That rising demand means that Privalia has to be diligent in understanding fashion trends. To that end, Carné maintains sourcing teams comprising fashionistas in Spain, Italy and Brazil—who go to trade shows and visit makers—supplemented by a market intelligence team in each office who stay abreast of clothing trends.
Starting with five employees, Privalia today employs more than 200 people in offices in Barcelona, Milan and São Paulo. And realizing the benefit of Bain training, Carné, along with Villanueva, has built his leadership team with additional Bain alums Francisco de la Calle Martinez and Valentina Visconti Prasca.
And how is the alums' business doing? It's booming: In 2008, Privalia did $22 million in revenue, and Carné expects to more than double sales of discounted goods in 2009.
Katie Hood, Former CEO, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research
New York office
As Katie Hood (then Higgins) neared the end of her first year at Bain New York, she felt restless even though her job had many elements she enjoyed. "My work at Bain combined everything I like: solving a problem, figuring out a plan, bringing it to life—and doing that with great people," Hood says. "But in the aftermath of September 11, the innate desire I had to have a career focused on making a broader positive effect on the world was stronger than ever."
And so Hood called a mentor from her prior days as an analyst at Goldman Sachs who probed her state of mind and then suggested she contact Debi Brooks, another former Goldman employee who had just launched The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) with the famous screen actor.
"I had no personal connection to Parkinson's disease before I came here, and I was most interested in speaking with Debi about the transition to the nonprofit world from professional services," Hood says. "My biggest question," Hood recalls of the conversation, "was could I find a nonprofit whose culture and urgency to have impact matched my own? I was afraid of being tied down in either bureaucracy or a slow-moving environment." Brooks assured her that MJFF was anything but slow. "We are not confined by traditional models of philanthropy. Our job is to figure out exactly what it takes to get a cure," Hood recalls Brooks saying. "And we need somebody like you to help us figure that out."
So Hood arrived at MJFF still very much in the startup phase, and she focused on building a smart, efficient process for selecting and administering grants. Soon, though, she and Brooks realized that "best in class" process was not going to be sufficient, and that developing an MJFF viewpoint on the problem was essential.
From its earliest days, MJFF used benchmarking—a Bain-emphasized technique—to speed its learning and hasten its progress. Closely studying the efforts of other like-minded and more established disease research foundations, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, "gave us new ideas—not only about what we should do but about what we shouldn't. Unintentionally, it also created a culture of continuous improvement which I think has helped us to this day."
Having added neuroscience PhDs as full-time staff, the Foundation initiated a formal "PD landscape assessment, through which we started to map what was going on in the field. It was just like Bain where, when you're put on a case, you learn everything you possibly can about it and identify the unique opportunity that exists for your client… except, this time, we were the client."
Through these efforts came increased awareness of "a giant translational gap" in PD. Under the existing business model, academic researchers were great at early-stage basic research and pharmaceutical companies were good at late-stage preclinical research and clinical trials. But there was no player in the middle focused on shepherding hits from discovery through multiple stages of development and into the clinic. And with countless biotech companies popping up throughout the middle of the pipeline, in some ways the need was even greater, Hood recalls. "We now had information scattered all over the place in hundreds of biotech companies with unstable funding—and no incentives to share."
So just a few years after its founding, MJFF began to focus its activities and funding on the translational gap, soon developing a robust strategy for driving research progress in this space. Hood's own role evolved as she moved from VP of research programs to deputy chief executive officer, then took the reins as CEO in December 2007.
Since 2000, MJFF has funded over $140 million in PD research, and is the largest private funder of Parkinson's research in the world. The Foundation works closely with both academic and industry leaders to accelerate progress toward new therapeutics and, ultimately, a cure for Parkinson's disease. Hood says: "Today we know it's not so much the amount of research we fund, but how we fund it. We are one of a handful of medical research foundations bringing strategy to science, and every day offers new opportunities to bring the skills I learned at Bain to bear."
How about Michael J. Fox? "He's exactly what you think," she says, "optimistic, down to earth, easy to work with—but also a good judge of character—and incredibly smart." She adds: "This has never been about curing him. Rather, he realized that his fame provided him the opportunity to bring scientific, strategic and financial resources to this fight in a way that could speed the path to a cure. And while it's not easy, I have no doubt progress is happening faster with us on the scene."
Thomas Tierney, Chairman and Co-founder, The Bridgespan Group
San Francisco office
It was just before the height of the dotcom craze when Tom Tierney started hearing "a little voice" in his head. Insistently, "it kept whispering: 'Am I leading my life in a meaningful way? How can I be the most useful?'"
"It was a penetrating little voice, one that was eventually impossible to ignore," Tom recalls of his reflections. "I loved Bain & Company, loved business, but I felt a call to service, the same call that my dad echoed in a different way."
Acting on that internal guide—linked with the belief that a strong and effective nonprofit sector can be a powerful force for good—Tom and fellow Bain alum Jeff Bradach launched The Bridgespan Group, a totally new kind of professional services firm: one that would "help nonprofits and philanthropies build a better world."
The then-Worldwide Managing Director of Bain & Company (1993-2000) had overseen the firm's turnaround from a reduced headcount of about 600 people to over 2,200 worldwide. And he was hearing other voices, too: Silicon Valley headhunters were calling, dangling CEO jobs with potential $100 million upsides. But the man who started out driving a bus always remembered some advice his father had given him: "It's not what you have that matters; it's who you are. And who you are depends not on what you say, but on what you do in life."
Today, the nonprofit Bridgespan Group has grown to 200 staff in offices in Boston, New York and San Francisco. It advises philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, as well as leading nonprofits across the country.
In fact, philanthropists like Ted Turner, Michael J. Fox and Charles Bronfman, along with top foundation leaders, will tell you exactly how they've been building a better world through a video series on the firm's website, www.GiveSmart.org. Meanwhile, Tom coauthored an influential book on philanthropy, Give Smart, variously called "the Bible of philanthropy" and "the best small book about philanthropy ever written."
But, of course, that's all hindsight. "My transition looks fine in the rearview mirror," admits Tom, "but my departure from Bain wasn't personally easy. Forty-six years old and in my prime, I left a rapidly growing top-tier consulting firm spanning more than 20 countries to launch a charity with three other people—and serve as an unpaid volunteer. The decision did seem a bit crazy."
A bit crazy also (at first blush) is Bridgespan's method: It labors incredibly hard to devise breakthrough strategies for multiplying clients' impact, then turns around and gives away its findings for free. The idea being that by sharing best practices, "we magnify the social impact, not the profits, of our work," Tom explains.
Tom thus conceives of Bridgespan as sort of Bain's mirror image. "We help nonprofits and philanthropy achieve results across three basic building blocks for achieving social impact," he says. These include, "scaling NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and their impact, strengthening their leadership and advancing philanthropic excellence."
"Nothing like this has ever happened in professional services," he adds. "We are a combination consulting firm, leadership development center and financial services provider."
But while Bridgespan has blazed a wide path in social impact, it has not strayed far from its Bain roots. On the occasion of Bain's 40th anniversary, Tom reflects back on their common heritage:
"I think there are three cultural attributes that, together, make Bain & Company (and Bridgespan) a great place to work," he says. "The first is a focus on excellence. The second is the notion of communities of extraordinary teams. The third is a leadership attribute that permeates the firm. And, borrowing Jim Collins' phrase, I call that 'humility and fierce resolve.' In other words, we're not arrogant. We don't have all the answers; but we do have the right questions. And we work like people possessed to help our clients answer them."
Over the years, Bain has provided more than the cultural DNA for Bridgespan. It has given "invaluable access to intellectual capital as well as allowed many of its best and brightest to join the firm as externs, permanent staff and members of our board," Tom says.
He answers a question about his legacy with typical modesty: "It's hard for me to articulate a single accomplishment, given my 20 years at Bain, but I'll give you a theme: helping other people succeed. Watching people at Bain & Company achieve their potential, move forward, develop themselves—whether they were young ACs and consultants, or experienced partners—brought me the most joy, by far.
"Why? Because to be of service to others, both clients and teammates, even in the smallest way—and help them achieve things they could not otherwise have—in my opinion this is my highest possible calling.
"So my memories are kind of a kaleidoscope of people succeeding beyond what they would otherwise have done at Bain & Company, Bridgespan, and with an array of exciting clients. It's extraordinary, and I feel so grateful to be a tiny part of that experience."
Andy Dunn and Brian Spaly, Former CEO (Andy) and Designer (Brian), Bonobos Pants
Chicago (Andy) and San
Francisco (Brian) offices
From the day they arrived at Bain in the summer of 2000, associate consultants Andy Dunn and Brian Spaly were on a collision course. It would take five more years before they'd meet. Both did nonprofit work at Bain—Spaly with Bridgespan in San Francisco, and Dunn initiating a pro bono case with a domestic violence shelter in Chicago. Both eventually migrated to private equity firms after Bain, and both were subsequently accepted to Stanford's business school. At the insistence of mutual friends and former Bainies, Geoff Lieberthal and Jim Kunihiro, they met in 2005 and decided to room together during grad school.
While Dunn became caught up in the Web 2.0 buzz sweeping Silicon Valley, Spaly was fixated on pants. It was a project born out of frustration. His athletic body didn't comfortably fit into fashionable trousers designed, in his words, for "anorexic Europeans or New York runway models." Tired of paying for pricey alterations, Spaly did what any self-respecting business grad student would do—borrowed a sewing machine from his girlfriend and started ripping apart seams, then reconfigured them in search of the perfect pattern. "I'd never sewn before, not once," admits Spaly, but he persevered.
When Spaly finally hit on a design that passed the test, the grad student stitched up a sample, financed a modest production run, and started showing off his innovation to friends. The high-quality corduroy pants accommodated muscular thighs, calves, and rears, making them an instant hit. He named his alternative trousers, Bonobos, after a chimpanzee-related breed that makes love, not war.
To help create a website, Spaly asked Dunn to snap a few pictures—and those pictures soon morphed into a business partnership. Dunn helped turned Spaly's low-tech pants into an online retail venture, bonobospants.com. In October, they officially launched Bonobos, Inc., in New York City, with Dunn as CEO and Spaly as designer. The startup aims to be an iconic brand of men's pants, evangelized by loyal customers and sold through the internet, with a noquestions- asked return policy.
Spaly and Dunn credit their time at Bain as instrumental in helping them develop as entrepreneurs, and the Bain network has been invaluable. "The basic business intuition our Bain upbringing provided has guided nearly every important decision we've made," says Spaly. Adds Dunn, "Our strategy sessions are riddled with Bain vernacular, two of our key investors and advisers are favorite managers from our AC days, and we are stacking our management team with 'top bucket' Bain alums."
In December, Bonobos closed an angel financing round led by a couple of Stanford professors and diehard customers, followed by feature stories in Men's Vogue, Time Out New York and DNR (a weekly magazine about apparel and fashion retailing). Dunn and Spaly know the daunting odds faced by startups and to beat them, the entrepreneurs plan to continue drawing on Bain insights. And it doesn't hurt these days that Spaly no longer has to tinker with a sewing machine to stitch a straight seam.