This internship was a formative experience for me for a couple of reasons. First, the opportunity to be on two cases (engagements), each with quite different clients and team dynamics, allowed me to get a broad lens into what life and work at Bain is like. Further, the D.C. office has a unique culture due to its smaller size and I felt that I was in an environment where interns and people at all levels were celebrated. These factors in conjunction led to an overwhelmingly positive experience, and a place where I felt that I belonged. While there were some in-congruent aspects between my expectations and the reality of management consulting, this is something I was able to work through and become content with come the end of my internship. I’ll first detail these similarities and differences while recounting what I learned over the summer. Finally, I’ll touch on the way which my leadership courses and the theories which I was aware of affected my experience.
First, I learned on a deep level how a high-level consulting engagement is structured and carried out, and the various nuances which exist when executing such a project. I never considered all of the confounding factors which went into making a successful project, and seeing them first hand opened my eyes to just how much goes into a successful engagement. Consulting is the cross-section of the team’s individual goals and aspirations, leadership’s vision for the project and the firm, and the client’s expectations for the project. In order to align these three interests, each party must have a common interest in a mutually beneficial outcome. This is easier said than done, however, as a multitude of factors from any side can derail an engagement and lead to one or more parties being dissatisfied. It was fascinating to learn first-hand the leadership and communication techniques which all parties must take to ensure that the engagements were successful.
While I didn’t think about how much I’d learn about the way which engagements are run and teams find success, I did pick up just about all of the quantitative skills and learning which I anticipated and desired. From a technical perspective, I learned quite a bit about Excel and PowerPoint, and became faster and more skilled at conducting analyses and displaying information than I thought I would in such a short time. While I learned all the shortcuts and Bain best demonstrated practices to make these tools easy to use, more importantly I learned how to use the technology at my disposal to create the outcomes which the team and I were striving for. Throughout the summer I was continually reminded of the fact that a consulting firm and its employees are only as valuable as the recommendations they create which clients are willing to take and run with. The way which analyses are conducted and framed is a fundamental part of that mission, and while the nuances of Excel and PowerPoint may seem mundane and trivial, they are an integral part of accomplishing the mission of the firm.
Along the lines of a firm’s recommendations only being as valuable as what client’s find useful, the other primary learning goal I had for the summer was to sharpen my critical thinking skills and the way I communicated my findings to clients. As mentioned above, the thinking that goes into a solution is only half the battle, with the battle truly being won when you can get a client to come on board to your method of thinking. I think I certainly sharpened my ability to think, but did find it hampered at times by the expectations of clients and the requirements and ideas of leadership. This was an unfortunate part of the job that I had to cope with, and made me realize that down the road I will likely want to make a change to a career with more creativity and autonomy.
As far as client interaction goes, I got very little on my first case and quite a bit on my second. This was a frustrating aspect of my first case, and something I spoke with staffing about when being staffed onto my next project. In my next project, however, I got to interact with senior level clients firsthand and lead them through quite a bit of training while pulling on my business knowledge to guide them. This gave me an appreciation for how to navigate client relationships and gain credibility, especially as a much younger face in front of much more experienced clients. Overall, this goal was satisfied and then some by my second case, and it was a fantastic opportunity to have had.
Thinking through the ways which Jepson informed my understanding of the company and performance over the summer is a daunting task. Jepson has truly been the capstone of my experience at Richmond and has informed how I communicate, approach and solve problems, and think about things such as social justice and other social issues. Considering this, I saw my Jepson education informing my internship in two primary areas. First, I noticed that my ability to synthesize and communicate ideas both quickly and intelligently paid dividends, and largely came as a result of my coursework and the way which Jepson students are expected to participate in class and engage with material. The second place where I noticed my Jepson education coming to the forefront was in understanding the theories and models of leadership at play on my team, and how those both positively and negatively influenced group dynamics and team success.
I quickly realized an ability to synthesize the large amounts of information being thrown at me this summer and make actionable connections between this information and the specific workstreams I was staffed on. On top of this, I found it much easier to create frameworks and think critically about the work which I was completing. This was further augmented by my ability to articulate my findings at the end of this process and make my analyses clear and understandable to supervisors and clients. Each of these abilities are things that I sharpened immensely during my time at Jepson. Whether it was the way I learned to think in Critical Thinking, the small class sizes with ample participation, or the task of synthesizing large amounts of information and arguing them at Ethics Bowl, Jepson prepared me fantastically for this summer.
As it relates to the specifics of my course work, I found that my learning from Theories and Models surfaced time and time again as I thought about the leadership dynamics of my teams, and the way that it influenced my work and the team’s success.
The most specific instances of leadership theory came in my interactions with the managers on both of my teams. This is understandable because the role of the manager is as the liaison between the case team and the upper level leadership on the case. In this way, the manager represents the thoughts and working styles of more junior members of the group and tries to balance them with leadership’s expectations, on top of keeping a realistic scope for the project. Fortunately, on both case teams I had fantastic managers that exemplified two important theories of leadership: Individualized influence and the Leader Member Exchange Theory. On my first case, I felt individualized influence from my manager very early on, as he made an effort to distinguish my work as something integral to the product and an area he wanted me to become an expert in. This gave me both the confidence to speak up when need be as we worked through a tricky client situation, as well as provided me with a sense of accomplishment and pride that the work I was completing was valued not just because it fit the bill of what was needed, but also because my manager valued me for who I was and the work that I specifically brought to the table. On the Leader Member Exchange side of things, my second case team manager did a fantastic job of exemplifying the positive aspects of the theory. In establishing trust an making me feel trusted from the outset, I was motivated and felt like a valued member of the team just as any other member of any other tenure likely felt. In this way, I was integrated and thrust into a role quite quickly that I picked up in stride, but may have floundered through if my interactions with my manager weren’t so positive from the outset, leading me to have the confidence I did.
I could easily go on about the other theories which I observed during my time working at Bain, but will spare you the detail. The reason why I believe I was able to spot so many theories so quickly was because of the proximity which consulting case teams work in. My work is so uniquely intertwined with the work of the whole team, and we spend so much time together, that both our personalities and working styles become evident very quickly. Through this, we can realize the leadership styles of different team members early on, but I certainly would not be aware of these leadership styles and the outcomes they had on me were it not for my Jepson education. On top of this, this Jepson gave me the ability to think more critically and creatively through problems, while articulating my findings in a way that my team and clients would find acceptable. This is all augmented by the multitude of skills, both technical and interpersonal, which I had the opportunity to sharpen over the summer, leading to this experience being one of the most formative in my life to date. I appreciate Jepson for the opportunities it gave me to grow over my three years here, and am proud to say that I’ll be going back to Bain next year and joining an environment where I feel supported and successful.