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Inside View: Bain & Company Asia Pacific

Stephen Shih, who leads Bain & Co's MBA recruiting efforts for the Asia Pacific region, speaks exclusively to BB about what the top management consultancy looks for in new hires.

Thu Mar 27 2014

Bain & Company needs few introductions, so we’ll spare you the boring details – however impressive the company has proven to be.

The leading management consulting firm is one of the most popular among MBA graduates. The world’s biggest companies turn to Bain when they want problems solved and enduring results.

The firm’s name is echoed at business schools across the world. And it is not surprising; Bain has been voted as best firm to work for 11 times in a row in Consulting magazine’s annual survey; and was named number-one in Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Award, which ranked the 50 best places to work in 2014.

They are also well adept at turning their management consultants into tomorrow’s CEOS and leading entrepreneurs. A quick flick through their alumni data would reveal a raft of famous figures, including: Jayne Hrdlicka, whom is now CEO of Jetstar; Rick Yan, the CEO of 51Job and a founder of Bain’s Hong Kong office; and Larry Zhu, COO, Asia at Sotheby’s.

What is less well known, however, is that there may be a talent crisis facing many companies in the Asia Pacific region. Stephen Shih, who leads Bain’s MBA recruiting efforts for Asia Pacific, believes that the management opportunities within high growth companies are simply too numerous for the region to keep up with demand.

Believe it or not, companies in many of the emerging markets cannot find enough experienced managers to keep up with the pace of growth.

Steve speaks exclusively to BusinessBecause about career opportunities with Bain in the Asia Pacific region, what background experiences and qualities the firm looks for in new hires, and what an MBA job at Bain can do for your career.

And he should know, he earned an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management.

You studied an MBA yourself - how did you first get involved with Bain?

I joined Bain as an intern while I was studying economics during undergrad. Then I went and earned my MBA and decided to re-join Bain because it seemed like the best place to continue building my career.

I still spend most of my time as a consultant; I am a partner and I work with clients in China. I spend a portion of my time helping to lead the recruiting efforts. Recruiting is so important for us; we have our consulting staff at all levels actively involved in recruitment.

Why may MBA graduates be a good fit at Bain?

I think MBA graduates often exhibit the qualities we’re looking for.

There are three [sets of] qualities I would highlight: the ability to lead, having an entrepreneurial attitude, taking responsibility, teamwork and achieving results with integrity; the second is energy – having enthusiasm and commitment to your mission, and delivering results; and the third quality that MBA students have is problem-solving – the ability to frame complex problems and use data and analysis to find pragmatic solutions.

What level of background work experience is desirable?

We’re looking for a wide range of educational and work experiences. But in all situations we are looking for someone who has demonstrated a track record of creating change.

We’re looking for people who have challenged themselves and who have shown strong intellectual or analytic skills. It’s more important to see what the person has done in their job, not the specific title or employer or school they attended.

We go through a rigorous interview process and what we’ve found is that people who make it through the process are able to succeed at Bain.

Which parts of the Asia Pacific region can MBAs expect to be placed into?

We recruit for all of our offices across the Asia Pacific region. We have offices in Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and India. And we actively recruit MBAs for all of those offices.

It has been suggested that there is a lack of management talent facing China and Southeast Asia – would you agree?

This is something which we certainly hear about from our clients and experience as we work with companies in the region.

It’s something that’s also quite commonly discussed in various surveys and reports; just recently the American Chamber of Commerce in China released an annual business climate report and once again businesses in the region identified lack of management talent as one of their top-five management challenges.

What do you think is driving this talent shortage?

It’s primarily the fast growth of companies in the region, which is creating demand that’s outpacing the ability of the region to keep up.

Do you mainly recruit from Western business schools, or business schools in the Asia Pacific region?

We take a global view. Traditionally we hire from the top 25 or 30 schools from around the world. We have hired from Asian MBA programs.

Considering you recruit for roles based in Asia, are bilingual qualities desirable?

Yes, they are desirable. 

Are they essential?

They are important. We look for candidates who would have the ability to work in the countries they are interested in working in, and to be successful in serving clients in that country.

What can an MBA graduate expect within two years of working at the firm in terms of career progression?

An MBA graduate can expect to have had the opportunity to work on a variety of very challenging and interesting projects, helping companies – some of the leading companies around the world – to solve their toughest problems. And I think that experience will have prepared them to be better consultants, better business people and better leaders.

An MBA graduate will have had the opportunity to take on larger and more complex assignments within Bain, and they would be in a position where they are active leaders in our firm, helping to shape the offices that they work in.

How does Bain help turn its consultants into CEOs and entrepreneurs later on in their careers?

Our consultants receive support throughout their career at Bain and that’s in the form of coaching, training programs, and in the form of a culture which wants to make sure that everyone is being helped to develop to their full potential.

Our consultants also benefit by gaining a broad set of experiences, helping clients solve some of their most complex and challenging problems and developing skills, which allow them [our consultants] to become adaptable, creative and energetic leaders.