Bhushan Sethi is a PwC Partner and global thought leader on the future of work. As the Joint Global Leader of People and Organization at PwC, Bhushan brings decades of experience to this conversation around work-life balance, diversity & inclusion, what going back to the office will look like, and more. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how a global firm thinks about the support and overall development of its people. Read the transcription of the conversation below.
Pwc Partner Shares the Firm’s Strategy for the Future of the Workforce, DEI, and Work-Life Balance
We are delighted to have Bhushan Sethi here to chat with us about his work, what he’s learning about the future of business and the current state of work in the turbulent environment that we’re in. In addition, he’ll give some advice and guidance to aspiring consultants as well. Bhushan, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself – your background, education, experience, etc.?
Thank you, Stephanie. I’m delighted to be here. And thanks for the great work you’re doing for our profession. I live in New York City, but as you can tell from my accent I didn’t grow up here. I’ve been living here for 20 years and have been a consultant most of my life. I was raised in the UK of Indian origin. My undergrad was in accounting and economics. After that, I worked and studied at the same time. I studied management accounting professional qualification while working a job at a company that was called Boots and is now called Alliance Boots.
I worked in their graduate training scheme while also studying management accounting. Through that, I got to learn about strategy and management and got to apply it through a finance function and working in Risk and working in industry. And then after that, at the ripe old age of 24 I decided to join a consulting firm, which was PwC at the time. Since then, I’ve worked at PwC, IBM, Deloitte and now back at PwC.
I obviously love consulting! I love working with clients, I love building teams, I love solving problems. Lord only knows the world needs more people to take different approaches to solving problems. The pandemic has shown us that and I’m looking forward to discussing that in all aspects during this session.
I love it! I want to dive into so many different areas of that. First, though, you laid out what sounds like a more typical path to consulting. It was a little bit of business foundation in the choices that you made in education and in your early 20s. But for those listening who don’t come from that traditional background, do you feel like there’s still a pathway to going into strategy consulting as well?
Absolutely. I think consultants in lots of places get a bad reputation for taking your watch and telling you the time and coming up with lots of consulting jargon and us creating our own problems. But if you think about it, even if you work in any business, the ability to diagnose a problem and address the root cause of that issue – whether it’s a supply chain issue, or a “How do we grow our revenue issue?” or a “How do we implement technology and drive the right adoption and business case savings?”
It requires the ability to solve problems, root cause diagnose, and come up with solutions that will be sustainable and drive business benefits. That’s what consulting is. I think lots of people in all businesses perform forms of consulting. We just happen to be specialized in firms that work across and have the benefit and the privilege of working across lots of different businesses and applying those lessons learned. So yes, there are good consultants and bad consultants. There are lazy consultants and very data-driven, purpose-led consultants.
I think there’s a lot of demand around the consulting profession. There are many different forms of consulting. But I think that those skills are very applicable, whether you’re working in a big company, go on to form a startup, go work in the public sector, or do something completely different. I think there are some very transferable skills, whether you’re in consulting for 2 years or 22 years.
Absolutely. I love that you pointed out the importance of the diversity of input, the diversity of thought, and the diversity of backgrounds. When we talk through and teach through the case interview process, we talk a lot about layering on insights and providing good analogies and context, even from what you know because you’re not going to be an expert in that case that’s put in front of you. Because you’re also not going to be an expert in your first several years on the job when you’re put across the table from a client who is a Subject Matter Expert. And so that diversity of background experience can actually lends well towards creating diverse teams and diverse trains of thought. So, let’s pivot from there. I’d love to hear a little bit more about how PwC thinks about its people strategy and diversity, either through their hiring process, or how you celebrate that at the firm more broadly. How does PwC think about that?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s one of the reasons why it makes me very proud to be a Partner and a leader at PwC is that we have a purpose. And I believe, by and large, we live our purpose consistently every day. Our purpose is to build trust in society and solve complex problems. And the need for us to have values around care and compassion and driving inclusion and equity in all aspects, and building diverse teams, and making sure that we’re progressing our diverse populations in our company are so important to us.
A couple of years ago, we made an even bigger commitment. I want to recognize that today is the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death. But a couple of years ago, we had one of our own consultants shot in his apartment by an off duty police individual. It really triggered us to focus on this topic of, “How do we address systemic racism?”
We galvanized people in our own company, and we galvanized other businesses. We created a forum called CEO Action where we said that we’ve got to address some of these issues as business leaders, and address some of the systemic issues. So fast forward a couple of years, and over a couple of thousand CEOs have signed on to this pledge. They are sharing actions; they are sharing what they’re focusing on. After the terrible murder of George Floyd, we produced an even bigger focus on that where we had clients and our own people dedicate people to addressing some of those systemic issues.
We’re now very boldly tackling topics that business in the past never even wanted to go near. For example, issues around the judicial system, the police system, how do we drive access to credit in housing, all of the issues that address systemic issues. Now, I’m very conscious that the African American population in this case is only one demographic. But when we think about Diversity and Inclusion at PwC, we’re focusing on all under-represented minorities, I’m just highlighting the Black population as one.
It’s not lost on us that there’s a rise of hate crimes across many demographics, whether it’s Asian Americans, the anti-Semitism that we’ve seen, even in my hometown of New York recently. So, we see our purpose to lead on those topics. We’re trying to do that through the work we’re doing and the opportunities we’re creating for our people. In addition, we’re trying to be a conscious voice for the business community and try and lead others. And, you know, we’re learning in the same way as everyone else. But I think there’s a big focus right now on businesses taking the lead in this area and I’m very proud of the work we’re doing. There’s a long way to go though.
You talked a little bit about that the Black community. One thing that we’ve seen you announce was that PwC has recently committed to helping start the careers of 25,000 Black and Latinx students by 2026. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Similar to many businesses, we’ve had a good year and we want to give back. And one of the ways we wanted to give back is to invest in under-represented communities around education. Education, as everyone knows, is the ticket to opportunities in corporations – in corporate America and businesses around the world. So what we’re doing is pledging $125 Million to focus on Black and Latinx students. We’re also making a commitment to focus on their access to education and some of our pro bono activities. We’re also making a commitment to hiring significant numbers at the entry level in our firm, whether that’s in our Assurance business or in different aspects of our Consulting business. We know that it’s very easy for businesses to write checks. There’s a lot of check writing that’s been done. We’re trying to support that with action, in terms of providing voice and some skills around education, but also hiring and creating opportunities for people, which again, provides economic opportunity and access to employment.
We know that PwC is on the cutting edge of a lot of different things. The firm has an inside perspective on the future of the post-pandemic workplace, work from home, and what that will all feel like moving forward. You’re a thought leader in this space, so could you share a little bit more about what you’ve been learning, and what you think some of the main takeaways are in this space?
Of course, I’m happy to. Some of the key themes that we’re seeing, and this was before the pandemic, Stephanie: the need for businesses to think about their strategy, and really understand the external environment and the different scenarios in which they may face themselves. How do they respond to competitive threats – when competitors are coming up with innovative technology? How do they deal with geopolitical challenges? How do they deal with resource scarcities or aging populations? They need to think critically about those changes.
The pandemic is another big scenario around health. Who would have thought that a pandemic would have forced many businesses to work from home? Who would have thought that we would have been able to work from home quite successfully for 14 or 15 months in a number of services type businesses? So when our clients think about their future of work, it’s “How do I think about my strategy? How does my strategy and business model stand up to different scenarios, the pandemic being one, which has obviously heavily impacted those human contact businesses?” It’s also other factors to say, “How do I responsibly digitize my business? How do I introduce automation and cloud solutions, and digital access for my customers, and useful productivity tools for my people in a responsible way? How do I build people skills, as well as digital skills and different leadership skills and skills around new topics, like how we think about climate, how we think about diversity and inclusion? And how do we do that in a different physical workplace?”
I have the pleasure of being back in the office today, but we know that a hybrid workplace is here to stay. A number of people in professional services, consulting, and tech will probably work two to three days a week. That may go up or down for certain people based on teams, on business model, or on preferences. But the ability to be able to work seamlessly from your home and your office or your client’s office is really here to stay. So that workplace design and how we make it experiential when we’re in office, and how we drive the right human connection and collaboration when we’re in person, and have the right tools to be productive, and know the work process when we’re out of the office is so critical.
So, for me, having worked on different future of work topics for the best parts of 20 years, and having advised governments and different industries and being part of policy-making teams at the G20 in the World Economic Forum, as well as implementing these in different businesses – these are not new topics. We need to have the ability to understand strategy and plan for it, to understand the role of technology and understand your workplace in your workforce. The pandemic is just another scenario. We’re going to have other geopolitical shocks, we’re going to have other new innovations, we’re going to have other different customer buying patterns or different behaviors that we as practitioners in the consulting space have to be mindful of. And we need to help our clients and their businesses look forward and anticipate some of these to make sure that they are prepared to change.
What were some of these changes that you felt perhaps most challenged the culture that you have at PwC? And what did you do in response to that over the past 16 months?
In our consulting business, we are a very in-person business. We go to our client’s sites, we travel on planes, we stay in hotels, we whiteboard with our teams, and we strategize and we innovate. We’ve invested in physical space where we apply design thinking creative techniques, where we’ve kind of redesigned our offices in that way. That will not go away completely, but some of it will be changed on a semi permanent basis. So what we what we’ve been doing for the last 15 months is doing all of that from home, using the tools that we have in place, and making sure that we’re very deliberate to check in with our people. We’re making sure that we’re looking for tell-tale signs of mental health challenges and exhaustion, and making sure that we’re incentivizing people to take vacation time.
We’ve gone through a learning curve since the start of a pandemic, when it was everybody rolling up their sleeves to get done what you need to do, which is typical in a crisis. We did that through the summer and saw a lot of pandemic fatigue and zoom fatigue, because we thought it would be over by then. Then came the good turn of the year, when we all started getting vaccinated and we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We are now reopening many of our offices across the country between now and September. So we were well prepared in terms of our digital tools and our ability to work from home. That doesn’t mean we don’t crave the interaction with our clients and our colleagues, which I’m happy to say we’ll start building up slowly – with safety at the core – over the next few months, as you’ve seen many businesses starting to do some similar things.
Absolutely. And it seems to be changing so quickly at this point in time. With that being said, even a couple years ago, prospective consultants – those applying and wanting to get into the space – felt like they had a blueprint of what that would look like for them. You would travel Monday through Thursday at most firms, you would spend a lot of time at the client site, a lot of time with your team during the week and then come home. For those who are looking to potentially apply this fall that are imagining themselves in this industry in the future, how do you think they can think about it at this point in time?
I think the basics of what we do in terms of helping clients implement their strategies, helping them prepare for future changes, helping them get the value out of any M&A that they’re doing, helping drive growth, those business problems aren’t necessarily different. We won’t be working them five days in the office or at our client’s sites, but we will likely be doing them through a mix of virtual and in-person. For example, we may be onboarding teams more virtually during the summer. However, the need to analyze data through technology is still going to be important, the need to ideate with team members, maybe through video calls, as opposed to all in one location is going to be there, There’s definitely going to be a saving of commute time, there’s going to be less air travel, which is obviously good for the planet. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have people going to offices.
In September, if I had to predict, there’ll be some people at client sites. For certain days of the week, there’ll be some people in the office for certain days of the week. There’ll be some small amounts of business travel if we have to go to a critical M&A transaction or if you have to help a manufacturing client and you have to really understand the manufacturing line so you can look at what process improvements need to be put in place. Or if you’re working on an M&A transaction that requires, in M&A terms, a cleanroom where you need to look at certain confidential data because clients sometimes prefer to do that in a physical place. So I think some aspects will be changed and some will be the same. If I fast forward 24 months, I think we’ll all figure out a steady state of working from our preferred location, analyzing sets of data, doing heads down work, some thinking work, and also using our client’s locations and our own locations to do some of that collaboration, onboarding, learning, creativity, and socializing. We’ve all missed socializing. We’ve missed human connection over the last 15 months, which is a really important part of work, especially in your early years. It’s hard to do that virtually.
I couldn’t agree with you more! You’ve alluded a lot to the fact that human capital is kind of the essential resource to you as a consulting firm and to the consulting industry overall. When we think about the way that PwC is thinking about its people and supporting its people, we’ve seen news come out that you as a firm are raising base salaries and the bonus pool across the board. So what can you share about how that reflects PwC’s priorities in terms of its people?
So, again, consistent with our purpose, we’re taking care of our people, whether that’s appropriately rewarding them with with salary increases or giving them back the currency of time. We’ve also encouraged our people to take their vacation. Recently, we went public with our policy where we said, if you take one week of vacation, we will pay you $250, up to a maximum of four weeks and $1,000. It was our way to make sure people prioritize themselves and their mental health.
Now, I know that’s not always easy when you’re working on a tough client. And there really are going to be times when you have to work longer hours. Even during the pandemic, there have been times when we’ve had to work weekends and holidays. But PwC and a number of our clients are really focused on mental health and the fact that people people want to be paid a fair wage. And we’re very fortunate and privileged in our industry that we don’t have to worry about minimum wages and challenges as some other workers and industries do.
But you can’t put a price on the currency of time. People need time to rest and recover. Whether that’s Fridays in the summer, whether it’s making work and life easier. For example, blocking some time out in your schedule or doing no video calls on Fridays. We are also trying to make sure people actually take their vacation. Hopefully, that will be easier this summer with more things reopening. It was a real challenge last year, because people were not taking vacation because you would just stay in your apartment or stay at home when various parts of the world were still locked down.
So we care about it, we encourage it, and our leaders need to continue to model it. And my advice to any of my teams is, whatever you need – whether you need time off, a sabbatical, a half day or a full day off, or to block out your schedule, just to rest and recover or take care of something in your personal life – you’ve got to raise your hand and make it known to your colleagues and your clients. And then we can do something about it. It’s no longer a stigma to say if you’re struggling with something, and giving back time has been such an important part of what we see as needing to regenerate people’s productivity and personal wellbeing.
I think the vacation incentive is an amazing addition! It’s just that extra little incentive to say, it’s not only here for you, but we want you to take it. It’s quite a different message. When I was at McKinsey, the messaging was always that we do care about you, but it felt like there were sometimes opportunities lacking for the tactical levers in which that was applied. How are we actually supplying these mental health support services or giving opportunities for mental health half days or full days, etc.? So when you think about some things that you’re really proud of that PwC has put in place to be these tactical levers – you’ve mentioned a couple – are there any other ones that come to mind in time in terms of how you support your workforce?
We’ve designed an array of benefits where if people need to take a sabbatical for six months, we pay them 20% of their salary. If they want to take time off for whatever reason, we guarantee their job. If people want to take unpaid leave for certain periods of time, we allow that. If people want to have the flexibility of working in a different location, we allow that. A lot of this is discretionary discussions between managers and employees or different teams of people. If you’re working on a complex M&A transaction that has a defined start and an end for when they need to close, or you’re in due diligence, that’s obviously much harder. But it’s not impossible. The key thing is just is that we need to we encourage our people to raise their hand when they need help. We make sure that our leaders understand that there are an array of benefits that our human capital professionals have designed for our people so they can be better for our clients, for themselves, and for their family members.
In the work from home environment we’ve been in this year, many of us have felt this lack of align, that feeling of being always on where it’s difficult to feel like we can disassociate ourselves from our work, because there’s not really a different place I’m going to. I’m not leaving the house, I’m just walking 20 feet across to my kitchen table. So this feeling of being always on or always working, how do you see this? How have you seen this impact? And how do you see this moving forward in terms of the broader future of work?
Yeah, it’s a real issue. For me, it’s up to leaders to give permission and role model the way. First of all, every piece of work you do in business doesn’t have to be a meeting. You can actually get heads down work done – you could produce some analysis, develop parts of a report or a presentation, analyze your client strategy with technology through different workflows, and share documents – without calling a meeting. In addition, not every meeting needs to be a video call. Now, if you’re working with clients that want to see and interact with you, that’s different. But there are many virtual brainstorming tools where people can collaborate and do work. Those tools can be helpful.
In terms of the blurring of the lines between work and life, leaders have to set the tone around when we’re going to meet, how we’re going to meet, what the different tools are when we need to do ideation using experiential tools. We’ve even used virtual reality for some of our global meetings. You can’t use virtual reality all the time, because it’s exhausting, as any gamers would know. But you can also do phone calls and go for a walk in the park or in your neighborhood. As leaders, we must impart the basics of personal wellbeing to our people, like taking breaks to get some fresh air. But the videos have been great because we’ve gotten to know each other and got to know our family members and pets and got to see into each other’s houses. But I think we’ve gone a little bit too far with every call and everyone on video, even on weekends. And I see a big retrenchment around that. But again, I think setting your own boundaries, working with your leaders, understanding what works for you and for the clients that you work with are probably good starting points around that topic.
You mentioned a lot about accountability and example setting from leadership. Of course, you are a senior leader at PwC. You alluded early on into our conversation that you had left for a while. Can you talk a little bit more about why you ended up back at PwC? And why did you choose to invest yourself back there again?
So consulting, like any business, you join because of firms and brands, but you really join because of the people. So the head of financial services at the time, John Garvey, and I spoke and basically as soon as I met him, I said, I want to work with this guy. We were building a practice around organization and human capital strategies. There was a real focus on financial services and growing that part of the business. And what he said was, we’re going to invest in this business. And I’m personally going to be working with you to grow this business. And so that level of commitment from a very tenured partner who really wanted to focus on this with me was music to my ears. So it felt entrepreneurial in a very big firm to build out a new practice.
Subsequent to that, we’ve hired many, many people, and reorganized the business. And now we’re an integral part of a number of financial services clients’ workforce and organizational strategies and helping them. So, it really came down to to the people. It sounds trite, but it came back to the leadership and hopefully, I’ll have the ability, and I have had the ability to influence other people’s careers in similar ways. But it was really about leadership. And the culture of the firm hasn’t really changed in the last 20 years. I’ve been here in two different stints and two different geographies. I like the purpose and the culture. I think every consulting firm has great traits and great people. You’ve got to find the one that works for you at the stage of life that you’re in. And this is the right one for me right now.
Absolutely. So being a leader still at the firm, as you said, you have the opportunity to help mentor folks along the way as well. I think for a lot of the people that we work with, a difficult thing to wrap their head around is, when they start and they have their their entry level analyst or associate position in consulting, that really there’s a whole new set of networking and activities that they have to do internally in that firm. They need to find their supporters, they need to find their tribe, they need to find the areas of interest that really fuel their passions. But it’s not really a strategic process for many new hires. And I think that this is an area of opportunity for many newer consultants to really start actively and strategically building their network inside their new firm and trying to find those mentorship opportunities. What have you seen that works well, for early stage, early career consultants to start to build their internal firm resume and find their mentorship network?
So the first thing I would say is find a leader in the firm that you respect, and ask them to mentor you. I remember my first job, I was 21 years old, didn’t really know anything about business. And I worked for a guy called Jim Marsh, and he gave me three bits of advice that I keep with me 20-something years later. The first was: always ask good questions. Be very comfortable asking good questions. The second thing he said was to challenge everything, whether it’s this market strategy, this technology, this business process. And the third thing he said was always understand who your customers are. This is very relevant when you work in business, probably easier when you work in consulting. But so many times when someone asks you to do something, if you don’t challenge, ask the right good questions and say, who’s the end customer here? Is it the shareholder? Is it a regulator? Is it a business leader? Is it a member of the workforce that we’re trying to develop a better benefits package or strategy for?
And so surrounding yourself with good leaders and mentors, who you can really learn from and are comfortable to on the job coach you and you feel comfortable around asking those questions that are going to make you much more curious. So yes, this is much more challenging in a virtual environment. I actually wrote an article for Harvard Business Review earlier this year around how people new to the workplace can take advantage of more virtual onboarding and being in meetings like this. You can actually be exposed to many more executives than maybe if you were in a physical workplace. So you get the best of both worlds.
But I think surrounding yourself with good people, being incredibly curious, asking great questions, doing your homework and research and challenging some of their assumptions, their assumptions about future progress, about fiscal requirements, about technology, innovation, about the competitive landscape. We as business leaders love that. We absolutely love it when someone who has much less experience than us asks really, really good questions, it shows business acumen, it shows curiosity, and many times your questions are things we haven’t even thought about.
Absolutely, it’s a two-way street. It’s a learning experience the whole way through! So, that was for folks that are already in the profession and a little bit early stage. Of course many of our listeners as well are aspiring consultants. They would love to get into and break into the industry. So from the perspective of being a leader of PwC, what kinds of folks are you trying to get into your firm? What’s the culture? What’s the fit that that you’re looking for?
It’s problem solvers. It doesn’t matter what your background is, whether you’ve studied sciences, or studied the arts. In certain parts of our network we’re even taking people in that don’t have undergrad degrees. In London, we’re taking people in through more of an apprentice model. So it’s that you have a curiosity around business, and understand how the elements of Business and Technology and people and purpose, how they mesh together and how businesses work. We’ve seen right now, factors like environmental, social and governance, climate change, resource scarcity, are big, big issues for our businesses and our governments.
It’s people who are curious about the world, curious about business, curious how solutions get designed and implemented. Some of these patterns are very similar across business cycles in terms of how businesses need to reinvent themselves, how strategies need to get reformulated, implemented, which companies win. So come with whatever kind of school you went to and qualifications, but come with that learning agility demonstrated through the right curiosity. And I think it’s a great place to practice that. Again, it could be for a short period of time as a stepping stone to something else or for a long period of time.
I love it. And we talked a little bit about diversity, inclusion, and work-life balance, but you’ve also alluded to that training process that inevitably happens through the apprenticeship that is consulting. So in terms of professional development, how does PwC think about that, and in really enhancing the skills of your workforce?
I’ll give an example of a couple of years ago. A couple of years ago, we went on a journey to digitize our entire firm. We said, we need to have digital products, we need to have much better digital engagement tools with our clients, and inside our firm in terms of how we collaborate, and we realized to be a digital firm, we needed a digital workforce. So we invested heavily in what we call citizen-led learning, where we taught our people – for some people it was coding, but for many of us, it was things like how do we build automation so we can improve our work and our productivity, so we’re not reconciling different spreadsheets? How do we better use visualization tools as we analyze pieces of data, so no more rogue spreadsheets with errors in them? How do we use AI, with certain parts of our data analysis, etc.?
How do we understand agile as a way of developing products, software, solving problems? How do we embed design thinking as different ways of thinking? We wanted to build digital skills, which was about automation and visualization and other aspects of digital and agile learning into 55,000 people. We branded this program Your Tomorrow. We said, everyone has the opportunity to opt in, we will not leave anyone behind. We gamified that learning experience, we engaged our people, we gave them dedicated time to learn that. And that was for everyone. We also had people who wanted to get deeper into some of these digital skills and learn to code, go through a digital accelerators program, and then come back to our practices and teach the rest of us. So it was a multi pronged approach. But again, back to our purpose, it would have been so easy for us to say, we will go hire different people with digital skills, or we will go buy firms with different skill sets.
We said that we have a commitment to our people today and we want to invest in their reskilling. And I think that’s a really important point. As we think about big businesses in America and globally, you have great potential in your organization as you need to reskill people, whether it’s around digital or whether it’s around business skills, whether it’s around Industry Skills. There’s potential there for everyone. The more and more we can have businesses be responsible to start engaging and reskilling some of their people, even if it’s to produce transferable skills they can apply in another industry. It’s the ultimate part of being a purpose driven organization. So that’s one of the things we did. We also have a good culture of on the job coaching, where you’ll get feedback. But the Your Tomorrow program was something that we put in place to really make a change and accelerate us into digitizing our workforce.
I’m sure a lot of people are hearing you talk and thinking, I would love to work at a place like this. So when you talk with or coach folks who are intrigued in getting into the industry, what are a couple pieces of advice that you have for them about either investigating the space or even preparing for the interviews?
Have a point of view on business topics. So if I said to you Stephanie, what do you really think about diversity and inclusion? Everyone’s talking about it, have you seen a step change? Tell me about some of the businesses that you think really excel from a diversity and inclusion perspective, whether that’s because you’re a customer of that business, whether you’re a supplier into that business, or an employee, or you have friends there. But taking a position and being able to back it up with some examples. No one’s expecting you to be an expert on in that case, diversity and inclusion strategies, but taking a point of view that shows that you are in tune with what’s going on in business, you follow news cycles, and you look at lots of data, and you have the courage to form your own opinions based on the data and the evidence that you cite. So it’s being bold, it’s being courageous, it’s demonstrating a point of view.
And another very simple thing, listen really well. So if you’re in an interview, and you hear someone talking about future regulation around climate, if you listen really well, and maybe you’ve read something about firms going trying to go to net zero by 2050. And whether that’s an energy company, if you listen really well through the interview process, and you try and connect points, that really endears you to clients, to colleagues, to leaders, because it shows you’re listening. So many times I walk into sessions with my teams, my clients, even today, I’m thinking about what I’m going to say. But if I’m not listening to some of the cues, and I know it’s hard to do virtually because we don’t see all the aspects of body language. But if you’re not listening to the cues, and being prepared to respond, you lose your audience, whether that’s an individual or an entire team you’re working with.
How encouraging it is to hear from someone who is a top leader, who is a top expert, who’s the thought leader in terms of future of work, that if someone much earlier in their career, someone much more shallow in their overall depth of expertise and understanding, that you would still want them to assert their point of view, you would still want to hear their recommendation or their thought process around that. To hear you encourage that, I think should be an encouragement to our listeners who are going through this interview process right now. A lot of folks that we work with feel a great amount of pressure and stress having to try to speak to business problems in areas that they’re unfamiliar with. And it seems to be very difficult to get some folks’ heads wrapped around the fact that that is the nature of the work, right?
You’re going to be put in lots of different team contexts and industries, functional areas, etc. of which you’re never going to be the subject matter expert, but how can you still bring the power of you being a thought leader, still your thought process critical thinking, etc. to the table? Is there anything else that that makes you think of in terms of how our students and prospective applicants can get their heads in the right zone for this process?
I would maybe throw the question back to you Stephanie and your time at McKinsey. I bet you they put you in many, many stretch roles and you felt uncomfortable, but you used some of the skill sets you have to say, I may not have seen this problem before but it has a certain pattern. How do I gather facts around it? How do I become very resourceful and talk to the right experts? How do I formulate a hypothesis or a point of view? It doesn’t necessarily have to be right but being very comfortable that if you put yourself in a stretch role, you may not get it right but you will learn so much. I’m sure Stephanie, in your experience, you’ve seen similar things.
Absolutely. And that idea of getting the getting the basic consulting toolkit down such that then you can leverage pattern recognition., One of my favorite things to talk about with folks is I do truly believe that consulting is an apprenticeship overall, right as role, as an industry. And so many firms like to hire folks at an earlier stage in their career, to be able to bring you up in their way of working and in their culture, because all of these are incrementally different at the different firms.
And so they would much rather hire you and kind of help apprentice you into the way that they want their presentations to look, the way that they think, these communication niches, etc. And so there’s an opportunity here just for our folks to feel even more secure in the fact that they don’t know everything yet. Because it will come to them over time. And that pressure test, that continuing to put you in different industry, functional areas, etc, is only going to sharpen those skills and really help you gain that skill set over time.
And the challenge here is, back to the point we made about listening and reading the room is, you’ve got to be confident and have a point of view. But you’ve also got to be humble, because you don’t know everything. And there’ll be someone who knows more than you on how to implement this solution. So having that humility, just because you have a nice degree from a great school doesn’t mean that you have a monopoly on what is right for your client or your company. Building good relationships and being being well liked by your colleagues is so important as well. It’s not the smartest person in the room, it’s the person who can actually bring people along, make people feel comfortable, build trust, and relationships.
And so, the best ideas may not be the ones that always get implemented. It’s the ones that feel a sense of ownership and agency, and people were co-creating that solution that is actually going to be more sustainable than maybe the best innovative idea. I’m not saying it’s easy to do all of those things, but you’ve got to be mindful of your audience and listening and reading the room. Humility and relationship building are equally important, so is what we’ve mentioned around the stretch roles and courage and having a point of view.
I love that. As we are beginning to wrap up our time together, but one thing that we always love to do is just to get to know you on a little bit more of a personal level. We have an opportunity here to ask a couple of fun questions just to help our audience understand and get to know you a little bit better. What’s an accomplishment that you’re really proud of, Bhushan?
I’ve run seven marathons, six in New York. So that was a great achievement. It’s so fun having your young children cheer you on running up First Avenue and entering Central Park, so that’s really nice. And if I just add another one, because I think it’s relevant here. I have not worked with governments and policymakers and I am not a very academic person. I don’t have a PhD. But something that I’ve been doing for the last few years is being part of a taskforce on the future of work at the G20. So taking my business experience and helping policymakers around the G20. Think about topics like, how do you think about good jobs? Have you think about responsible workforce productivity measures? How do you think about safety? For me, giving back some of the business lens that I provide to say how do governments actually help with what we’ve been talking about: reskilling, productivity, better disclosures around organizational purpose, to me has been great.
I love to travel. My grandfather was a diplomat. He used to tell me his stories of traveling around the world and I had the great fortune of being in places like Argentina and two years ago in Japan and last January in Saudi Arabia at some of those G20 summits with the Future of Work Task Force and it made me feel incredibly proud to be with think tanks and academics and representing the voice of business and it’s part of giving back and and it’s incredibly interesting as someone who loves to travel and see different parts of the world.
Speaking of travel, speaking of wanderlust – the world is opening back up. What are one or two of the countries on the top of your list, moving forward?
We’re hoping to go to Greece with my family We have some very good friends who live there and have access to a house and we can hopefully safely get there. It is open. I’ve never been to Antarctica, I would love to go to Antarctica at some point, hopefully if my wife will join me. I don’t know if that’s something I do in retirement. One of my former colleagues actually ran a marathon in Antarctica. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that, but I’d love to go visit at some point.
I’m glad that you’re gonna be able to get to Greece this summer. That sounds lovely. I hope you have a great time with your family. The Antarctica marathon is something I might think twice about, but you’re experienced veteran in that area at this point. Our last fun question that we’ve prepped for you is: are you a coffee or tea guy, and why?
Coffee unfortunately, I started drinking coffee when I was like probably 12 or 13 years old. As a British Indian guy I should be drinking much more tea. But yes, I love strong black coffee first thing in the morning. I probably drink too much of it. But yes, that’s that’s one of my vices (laughing).
On this side of the pond, I don’t think that you’ll likely get much slack about not being too much of a tea guy! But I can understand that for sure. I hope that you have a fantastic trip upcoming here. I’m quite jealous of that. But Greece should be a great time this summer. We just really appreciate you being willing to take the time and speak with us about not only helping us understand the tip of the iceberg about what the future of work means and your thought leadership in that space, but really helping us understand how PwC is thinking about different things in terms of how it prioritizes, structures, supports its workforce, and thinks about its people. And these points of advice that you’ve had for aspiring consultants as well. So we really appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us today.
Thank you, Stephanie.
Thanks for reading and/or listening! It was so encouraging to hear how Bhushan and PwC are leading the charge and helping support and develop their people. If you’re interested in working for a firm like PwC, do your research on the firm here, read up on case interviews, and then make your resume stand out before applying to PwC.