Bain Partner on Finding Balance in High-Pressure Consulting
For Bain Consulting national partner Mark Gottfredson, one of his earliest business lessons came as a missionary in Japan, when a mentor told him he would never learn to speak the language until he made a minimum of 1 million mistakes.
“You have to make mistakes to learn from your mistakes, and then to be able to improve,” Gottfredson told students at the Feb. 2 VIP Distinguished Speaker Series, hosted by the Undergraduate Business Council. “I think that’s true in a business career, and you learn more from your mistakes then your successes.”
Gottfredson (now fluent in Japanese) founded the Dallas office of Bain in 1990 and is now global head of the company’s performance improvement practice. A graduate of Brigham Young University and Harvard Business School, he was named one of the world’s top 25 consultants by Consultant Magazine in 2005.
Asked about Bain's most famous employee--Bain Capital founder and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney--Gottfredson acknowledged a high-profile politician's affilation could have short-term consequences for the business but he thinks it will ultimately be a plus.
People writing about Romney and Bain "don’t make the distinction between Bain Capital and Bain Consulting, which are completely different companies which have no legal ties to each other," Gottfredson said. "If you are a company and you want to do some cost reduction and you want to hire a consultant, and you start to think about your unions picketing Mitt Romney’s campaign, and being on national TV, you might think twice about it. So it’s a concern for us right now. In the long run I suspect it’ll be a positive just because it increases the awareness and we will be more of a household name and credible.”
During the talk Gottfredson frequently emphasized the ability to manage time and priorities, and his own efforts at balancing work, family, and, faith.
“If you set your priorities wrong it is very had to accomplish anything at all,” he said. “You have to have good foundations; the things that will be constant will be your family and your faith. Your faith builds the moral foundation on which you create integrity, and on which you are able to effectively work in the business world.”
Gottfredson said that throughout his entire career he has never worked on a Sunday. While his job is high-stress and time consuming, he said he makes efforts to show his wife and kids he puts them first. Many nights, he explained, he would help with math homework from a far-away hotel.
Along with a sense of balance, Gottfredson stressed the importance of flexibility, dedication, and pragmatism. The ideal Bain employee, he said, is a risk-taker.
“I do think that to succeed in consulting or to succeed in business you have to have a sort of curiosity and you have to have a desire to accomplish something,” he said.
In the high-pressure world of consulting, Gottfredson said success comes from viewing the unpredictable nature of the job as motivation.
“For me, one of the things that has been important is the ability to have some variability in the job and to be facing different problems all the time,” he said. “I find myself extremely motivated to be able to identify those and to always be thinking two or three steps out on the chess board. That gets me up in the morning. What’s the next thing and how are we going to be able to implement it?”