BRIDGESPAN INTERVIEWS & CULTURE
Today we continue our firm profile series with an in-depth review of Bridgespan. Founded in Boston, MA , and containing the heart and DNA of consulting industry giant Bain & Company, Bridgespan is the key non-profit consulting firm in today’s consulting industry.
KEY STATS FOR BRIDGESPAN
Bridgespan Website: www.bridgespan.org
Bridgespan Headquarters: Boston, MA
Bridgespan Employees: 15-60 Consultants
Bridgespan Locations: 3 Offices in the USA
Bridgespan Chief Executive: Jeffery L. Bradach
Bridgespan Revenue: $1-5M
Bridgespan Engagement Cost: $350K
Bridgespan is the offspring of none other than consulting industry giant Bain & Company. Bridgespan was birthed out of Bain’s desire to expand its support of nonprofits.
The founding story goes like this: Bain consultant Thomas Tierney had an active involvement in non-profit work since the early 1980s and because of this, when he became worldwide director of Bain, he started focusing his personal attention on consulting for charities which led to the completion of 3 Bain studies between 1995 and 1998 about the market for nonprofit consulting.
As a result of the studies that the small team conducted, the proposition was put forth that Bain establish a non-profit practice area which was considered, but ultimately rejected. After the rejection, Tierney pitched the idea of creating an alliance with Bain that would be independent. Bain accepted and blessed the creation of Bridgespan with a $1M grant for the first 3 years in addition to administrative support and several loaned Bain employees.
Former Bain Consultant and business professor Jeff Bradach became a co-founder in 1996 and another former Bain Consultant Paul Cartar jumped on board as an original member in 1998. Tierney came on board as the third co-founder in 1999 and stepped aside as Bain’s CEO in 2000 to focus on Bridgespan.
- In 2000, the group launched its first website, www.bridgespan.org, and started operations from a Boston-based office. By the fall of that year, the organization had 27 employees and had already opened an additional office in San Francisco. Their services emphasized analytical consulting.
- In 2003, Bridgespan created the “Bridgestar” initiative to focus on leadership development and to help professionals transition into nonprofit careers. The Bridgestar.org site merged with Bridgespan.org in 2012.
- In 2005, it received 1,700 applications for 18 positions and turned down 90% of client approaches.
- In 2008, Bridgespan redesigned its website in an attempt to provide better knowledge transfer.
Bridgespan has a board of 12 distingushed trustees whose backgrounds include both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, two of them being Thomas Tierney, Cofounder & Chairman, and Bob Bechek, Worldwide Managing Director of Bain & Company.
Additionally, Bridgespan also has a Knowledge Advisory Board from which it draws insight and experience to ensure that its research and publishing efforts are guided by a clear understanding of the nonprofit sector. The Bridgespan advisors are a group of recognized leaders from nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and academic institutions, all whom share Bridgespan’s passion to accelerate impact in the social sector.
Bridgespan is a for-profit consulting group that primarily serves the non-profit sector.
Bridgespan has 6 key capabilities. Most are directed towards assisting and aiding non profits and key capability areas that aid mission-driven organizations, many of which are full of heart but unfortunately not very well-run.
1. Strategy Consulting
Bridgespan brings a passion for making the world a better place into strategy consulting. The firm focuses on results that matter and are consistently and constantly seeking ways to help organizations maximize their level of impact.
They do this through joint collaboration with the companies that they work with, focusing together on resolving the difficulties that the company faces. They go in with humility, seeking to understand organization’s most critical decisions and helping them define what triple-bottom-line success looks like.
Many that serve clients with strategy come from organizations (like Bain or McKinsey) that offer excellent toolkit and skills training pre-Bridgespan; the training at Bridgespan is there, but not as thorough.
2. Group Consulting
Bridgespan Group Consulting helps groups of organizations answer the most important and critical of questions so that when problems arise they have the solutions to them. This approach minimizes the per-organization cost and maximizes sector impact.
Participants directly execute on individual projects following a pre-determined structure and process that builds internal capacity. Experienced Bridgespan staff provide organization-specific coaching and feedback, along with tools, guides, and templates.
3. Philanthropy Advising
Bridgespan assists philanthropists to achieve the results they want in the areas that matter most to them. They do this by simply helping them find out what success is to them, and how it can be measured for the issues and people that are of prime importance to them.
Bridgespan is not just interested in figuring out flagship issues for them, but they primarily aim to teach and train their client and their client’s staff on how to find the answers to selected social and economic problems.
4. Leadership Program: Leading for Impact
Bridgespan’s Leading for Impact is a six-month-long course that brings together nonprofit executive directors/CEOs and their senior staff to build capabilities across the critical dimensions that enable nonprofit leaders and their teams to become highly effective.
This is an amazing opportunity to dive into content and tools used by Bridgespan in their work advising nonprofit clients, to apply those tools in meeting organizational priorities, and to do so in partnership with a select group of nonprofit leaders.
5. Nonprofit Job Board
Bridgespan is committed to to helping nonprofits find the right people that they need, and as such have set up a nonprofit job board that contains both full and part-time jobs positions which include specialized leadership positions as well as board of director positions.
If you are interested in non-profit jobs in general, or manage a non-profit that wants to expand its reach, check out the Bridgespan Job Board.
6. Networking Groups
Bridgespan offers a wide variety of online LinkedIn groups for networking purposes, ranging from role based groups including operations and finance, to general networking, to groups designed for those who have transitioned from a for-profit to a nonprofit career.
It is Bridgespan’s hope that these groups will encourage the sharing of ideas, best practices, and networking with peers in the nonprofit sector.
Bridgespan has a strong focus in nonprofits and in social work across key sectors:
- Funding Strategy
- Global Strategy
- Leadership Effectiveness
- Organizational Effectiveness
- Performance Measurement
- Revitalizing Communities
- Strategy Development
- Youth Development
Bridgespan has just 3 offices located in the USA, and most of its clients are also based in North America as well. Here are a list of the 3 Bridgespan locations:
- Boston, MA
- New York, NY
- San Francisco, CA
The career path at Bridgespan is pretty industry standard, but is a little more condensed than at a standard consulting firm (ACs and SACs and Consultants and CTLs have similar roles):
Associate Consultant – Senior Associate Consultant – Consultant – Case Team Leader – Manager – Partner
Most undergrads join Bridgespan at the Associate Consultant level, but only after at least 2 years in either a consulting (or other heavily-analytical) role or 2-4 years in a major international name-brand non-profit. MBAs are the same; only after 2+ years of relevant work experience after their MBA are they considered for Bridgespan employment.
At Bridgespan, employees have access to training and mentorship opportunities to help push them forward – but Bridgespan skimps on this a bit, because they expect employees to come in already highly-trained, and motivated by the mission of the work more than the culture of the workplace.
At this time Bridgespan does not currently offer internships – the firm does, however, offer select 6-month rotations to Bain employees that want to extern as a part of their 3-year Associate Consultant training.
Because the Bridgespan experience is 1 part strategy and 1 part mission, the exit opportunities into blended non-profit leadership and for-profit roles.
Bridgespan employees stay for longer than standard MBB employees; it’s a place to go either to live out the happiest and more relaxed days of your illustrious consulting career, or a place to prepare for on-the-ground non-profit leadership.
Non-profit leadership takes 2 forms – many employees exit into senior roles (mostly CEOs) at major global non-profits. In addition, others use the tools and strategy they gain to fulfill a bucket list item: starting their own non-profit.
A small number of Bridgespan alums move back upstream to MBB firms or into industry after discovering that the slower pace – and increased bureaucracy – of the non-profit world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
- Don Howard - CEO – The Irvine Foundation
- Daniel Stid - Senior Fellow – The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
- Tara Abrahams – President – Girls Rising
- Geoff Chapin – Founder and CEO – Next Step Living
- Amy Saxton – CEO – Summer Search
- Colin Bowman – Product Manager – Yahoo
- James Willcox – CEO – Aspire Public Schools
- Erik Nierenberg – Vice President of User Growth – Salesforce.com
- Jennifer Koss – Founder – Brika
A defining trait of the Bridgespan culture is collaboration, both with clients and with each other. When going to work for Bridgespan, you will be working in close-knit teams – no divas allowed. Bridgespan actually believes that you have something valuable to contribute to everything that you do, and is even more diplomatic about the voice that everyone shares than is required at Bain or BCG.
One of the greatest things about of working at Bridgespan is the people that you will work with. The firm is very passionate about changing the social sector and righting the wrongs of the world, but they are also incredibly selective: they hire only the smartest, and most talented people. These are incredibly intelligent, passionate, intentional, and inspiring individuals who have chosen to work in the non-profit sector when they could be working anywhere and making a whole lot more money.
Bridgespan is known for offering world class training – for those that haven’t worked for a consulting firm before, you get trained internally by Bridgespan but also by one of the top three consulting firms, Bain & Company, via Bridgespan’s connection with them.
In addition, each Bridgespan office features communal spaces, and in Boston, they have even adopted an open-plan workplace to encourage interaction. In short – Bridgespan brings the best and the brightest that are also motivated toward social impact together in a Bain-like environment with lots of cool points; its focus, people and tools has earned it the reputation as the premier non-profit consulting firm in the world.
Bridgespan has these 5 core values:
Impact – The firm has high values, aims to make an impact in all the work they do, and sets high standards which they hold themselves accountable to.
Respect - Bridgespan places a high value on learning from the thoughts and perspectives of everyone they work with – from their clients, funders, to one another. They seek to incorporate values and input from others into their work.
Candor - Bridgespan believes that the best of choices are grounded in good information and, unlike the emotionally-driven industry it often serves, highly values facts and feedback. They believe in speaking openly and honestly and realize that sometimes hard decisions have to be made.
Collaboration - The company believes in working well together and with their clients. They openly share what they know and make every effort to work together with those who about passionate and determined to make an impact in the world.
Passion - Bridgespan wants to make a difference in the work that they do and seeks to create what can be instead of what is.
From reports of former employees and our personal experience with the organization, Bridgespan seems to consistently uphold their core values. However, one key trait often touted in business is innovation – the firm has attempted to innovate over its 15+-year history, but many of its innovations have been re-packaged or closed down. In short – it’s a place where they found what worked early, and they stick to it.
Maybe because it doesn’t have many peers in the space, or maybe because of the challenges faced by Bridgespan in its history of bridging fancy penthouses with inner-city offices, but the company doesn’t have any listed awards.
BRIDGESPAN INTERVIEWS AND RECRUITING
Bridgespan’s interview process is fairly straightforward and is pretty much the industry norm when it comes to interviewing with a consulting firm. However, there are 2 exceptions: a focus on social impact in the fit interview, and the need to submit a essay with your application and cover letter.
Typically the first rounds of interviews is a screening round that takes place over the phone, on-campus, at a job fair, or at their office. The first rounds typically consist of basic fit questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why Bridgespan?” – however, don’t rule out the possibility of being asked any case questions because they have been known to ask a couple of fit questions than a case question even at this point in the interview process. The key is to show that you are personable, thoughtful, a clear communicator, and that you have a passion for non-profit work (and experience in the sector).
The second round interview is conducted either in-person or on the phone by a consultant or someone more junior, while the 3rd round is almost always conducted in the office with someone at a more senior level. Depending on region and your background (especially for senior levels), Bridgespan may have you go through a 4th and even a 5th round as well. Bridgespan is fundamentally an image-oriented and risk-averse organization without the same funding for global training that creates armies of McKinsey or Bain consultants, so they protect their core assets – their people – extremely diligently.
The whole interview process usually contains of a significant portion of fit and behavioral questions and a few situational case or brainteaser questions. Although there aren’t usually many curveballs in the application process, it doesn’t mean it is easy to get an offer. On average, only the top 5% of applicants receive an offer, so be sure to brush up on your case skills and especially your fit skills, as you will be asked a lot of those. The candidates who prepare thoroughly come off with more confidence and ease than those who don’t.
Typically Bridgespan doesn’t do a lot of hiring directly from schools, because the hiring process generally favors recruits with 2+ years formal experience and heavy on-the-job analytical training. Though they have been known to recruit only from elite universities, they are very secretive when it comes to their recruit process, from which schools they recruit, and to the extent that they do it.
Like at Bain, diversity at Bridgespan is big deal. They believe that any organization that mirrors the diversity of their clients and their beneficiaries will be able to better serve them and that diversity creates better solutions. Bridgespan employees do a couple of things to make diversity happen at their firm which include:
- Affinity groups for Latino/Hispanic staff, LGBT staff, and Black/African American staff
- An advisory group of senior leaders at the firm as well as Black and Latino staff to ensure that what they do fosters diversity and inclusion
- A completely voluntary 10-week Diversity Dialogue group in each office, which includes staff from all units and seniority who wish talk about diversity and its impact on their personal and professional lives.
Networking inside diversity groups at Bridgespan is a huge bonus – diversity groups serve both Bain and Bridgespan, but each of the groups have their own email addresses. They provide an avenue for people with a shared interest or background that are interested in joining the firm because each of the groups helps with the recruiting for its individual demographic.
Here is a list of the staff groups offered at Bridgespan:
The Human Right Campaign 2014 Corporate Equality Index gave Bridgespan a 100-percent score for the best places to work for LGBT individuals. That’s amazing, right?
We’ll wrap up with some quick links to all the Bridgespan articles on the MC site, as well as Twitter handles, key reading for anyone that wants to jump on board Bridgespans team, and more. Enjoy!