We have the honor today to present an interview Jenny Rae did with Carly Bigi, an alum of Vanderbilt University and Columbia Business School and formerly of Deloitte Human Capital. She is now busy “lighting the world on fire” – in her words – and we can’t wait for you to hear how she’s made it so far, so fast. Enjoy!
Jenny Rae: Why don’t we get started with a little bio about you? Can you walk through your background, how you came into consulting, and what you did while you were there?
Carli: Okay. Cool. I grew up in Houston Texas, one of three girls; I was a thinker and a problem solver at a very young age. I grew up in a tight community, as my parents were in a NASA offshore program; math and science were king. As such, there are a number of factors about me that were a little bit off.
At age 4, I carried a backpack around with tools in it. Back then, I was all about “what if I need to build something or fix something?” If I was with my dad and I needed to build a square, I needed to measure the height. It was a totally normal thing for a 4-year old to be thinking about! I was always measuring pipes and just being very curious and inquisitive. Any time I saw a problem, my go to at a very young age was to rally people around it and then get us to solve it. That is who I was in my core at ages 1-5. By the time I was in 6th grade, I tried out for the football team because, why not, I was a big athlete, I was a tomboy.
Jenny Rae: Did you make the football team?
Carli: I didn’t. It was a logistics challenge so we took it to the superintendent.
Jenny Rae: Locker rooms?
Carli: I think so. I was this tiny little girl and it was a sport for boys and I was like, “Really? Watch me.” I would never forget that, “I was like logistics reasons my ass. You are going to lose every single year if you don’t have me on your team.” And it is true, they lost.
After that didn’t end up working out, my mom thought, “What do I have on my hands? I have three girls.” She always said if she locked me in a closet for 10 years, I would come out with a plan and a whole team around me. She said, “I don’t know where you came from but we are just going to go with it.”
I went to a magnet school for middle school. I was in a totally different community in Houston and I was best friends with all the regular attendants. They were all the athletes and we all hung out. I loved my program but I was really more embedded in the core demographic that was there.
Jenny Rae: Was the magnet school an educational choice or an extra curricular one?
Carli: It was certain test scores that got you in and certain personality traits that they looked for in students. They pulled all of them together and they put in it in a program that was in a lower socio-economic area to balance and keep that school afloat but also give good exposure for everybody.
When I went to high school, I only knew one person when I started, which is interesting. I ended up being president of my class and working in philanthropy to raise $1M+ for a friend who passed from osteosarcoma by rallying other high schools in Texas. I was obsessed; it was a 5,000-person high school. We would have parties with hundreds of people, which was totally normal. It wasn’t all work; we would skip school to go down to the beach; it was so much fun. But, I put a lot into the school so it all balanced out.
I went to Vanderbilt for college. I thought I was going to end up in the Northeast and I felt I was an echo-chamber of infinity at that point. I was so intense and I needed to take a step back and balance out. I needed to go somewhere with great sports, somewhere with academics, meet people with a social life so I could force myself to be more social.
When I left Vanderbilt, I decided that I was going to go to consulting; it wasn’t even a question. It was such a linear career path. I love building teams, I love solving problems, I love going deep and figuring out the big picture; I was like, “This is what I am meant to do.”
Jenny Rae: At what moment in your life did you discover that consulting was even a career?
Carli: No one knows what consulting is unless you have a parent or sibling in it, or you went to Vanderbilt and studied human and organizational development. That was a major at Vanderbilt that studied a lot of the firms. You get so much exposure to consulting, you are part of this program and the whole major is about understanding human development at the core, team development, company development, and systemic development. How do you think about all the pieces related from a psychological level to business performance? It really sets you up for consulting. You get exposed to all the firms and it was just the start of it. Getting to know them, I was like “This is what I am meant to do.” I thought eventually I was going to be President of the United States, but maybe I would do that later.
It is so funny reading my goals from undergrad, I had this document on my computer called ‘Carli Goals.’ I read through it and it said:
- Be in management consulting
- Get sponsored for MBA
- Start a company while in my MBA
- Go run that after school, sell that, start investing, and then eventually go into politics and run the country
Good news: I am already more than 50% of the way there.
So back to consulting. I spent my junior summer with a firm, in New York.
Jenny Rae: What did you do by the way for freshman and sophomore summers? That can be a great dark hole for internships.
Carli: What did I do in freshman and sophomore year? I made a lot of money nannying. It was actually for the daughter of the head of the Medical School at Vanderbilt. She said, “I am looking for a mentor for my daughters, you can also take them to gymnastics and I hope that one day, they can turn out like you. We will pay you really well if you spend time with my kids.” I was like, done. I had this whole other network in Nashville, and it was a super-lucrative babysitting squad. Freshman summer, I think I did not do anything, which was surprising to me. I must have done something. I ran a law firm in high school for my principal’s husband; I think I must have worked for him after freshman year.
Jenny Rae: You ran it?
Carli: Oh yes. I was the main paralegal, I managed the whole office and all the clients, and he felt the pain when I left. I think I did that, and then in sophomore year I stayed in Nashville and babysat. I always have my side hustles. I was working on campus, had baby sitting, I worked at Caterpillar Financial and learned the ins and outs of finance. They effectively had their investment bank off sorts and I worked there for a year while in school; I would do classes two days a week and then I would work at the office.
I worked at PwC junior summer, and the whole time was aware that culturally, I needed to think about where I wanted to end up.
Jenny Rae: Was there a question for you after the summer if it was a cultural fit?
Carli: Well, I love New York, so it was hard to separate the variables: I loved New York, and I literally got myself on 5 different projects. I didn’t sleep at all; I was obsessed with my work. I remember sitting in my NYU dorm where they put you for the summer, cranking away on work during a sunny Saturday and Sunday. It was so normal for me because I was so hungry to succeed. When you have that itch, you pour yourself into it.
Jenny Rae: You didn’t know if it was them being amazing or you just wanting to be there?
Carli: Yes. There were some personalities that I didn’t really know if they were for me. There were interns and other people saying, “I don’t want to work as hard as you but if you work this hard, I have to work this hard.”
I was like, “I am not an emotional janitor, that is on you. I cannot make these decisions for you.” That was that and it left this weird taste in my mouth because I wanted to be in a place where people celebrated hustles and I didn’t want cutthroat competition. I believe in competing with yourself, I believe in upping your game and helping others raise the bar and raise it high. That was that.
So, I went back to campus; I just wanted to see what else was out there instead of doing a bunch of recruiting. It went really well, and I ended up with some strategy offers.
In the end, Deloitte just won my heart. Every single person I met, I wanted to be best friends with and get to know better. There was something about the personality and the cockiness. I felt it was a place I could grow and grow quickly, and that I would be supported for every reason. It was not “me, me, me,” and I would not have to sit in a box; that was important to me. I do believe in bringing your whole self to something and so I did.
I went to Deloitte, even though I had an offer in New York with PwC and Deloitte could not offer New York; they could only offer Chicago. I was like, “Chicago! I am from Texas, what am I going to do in Chicago? I am going to move to New York; I belong in New York.” I negotiated the hell out of it and they said, “We really can’t but we can always transfer you there down the road, no problem.” So I just went all in on it.
I am someone who likes to know where I am going. I always have a plan. I had a path and I had this crazy vision of how it was going to come to life and it was just so near. When you get into consulting, you come in and there are all these levels. You know if you crush it, you become number one. You are going to do great practically and financially but you also get to be promoted early and it is like these checkboxes that you can crack through your career and I did that. I had my own thought process, promotions, and strike teams; I loved it. I poured my heart and soul into it.
Jenny Rae: Can I ask you a question about that? Between working hard and working smart, a lot of people don’t understand the difference. Thinking about becoming a top rated analyst – what part of it was smart and what part of it was hard work for you?
Carli: Part of it was brute-force and putting in the hours, to be honest. You don’t know what you don’t know and that learning curve was steep and to get through it, I put in a lot of hours. Another part of it was relationship development. Earlier on, I was partnered with SVPs, and Executive Directors were emailing directly for thoughts on things and I had to step up. I think it’s imperative to align yourself with the right people and make yourself useful in a real way, and genuinely listen to figure out what needs to happen. Bring a perspective; you are in the room for a reason. Don’t sit against a wall and say nothing. I have always had that mentality – I never stepped on toes but I was always present and was always finding ways in person to add value and then cranking away in the back end.
Yes, I put in a lot of nights but eventually, you get through that part, you get through that learning curve and that is when the smart kicks in. It is aligning yourself with the top-rated team. Everybody I have worked with was the best themselves from the consulting perspective.
Jenny Rae: How do you figure that out?
Carli: I asked a lot of questions. I got to know everybody first and sat down. I got to know everybody in the office. I took everybody to coffee. I had a schedule. I never ate launch alone and I was constantly getting to know everybody. I happened to be aligned with an all-star mentor when I started and she went to business school early (HBS) and was promoted early. She had the same trajectory that I had. When you see it in someone else, you know you can accomplish it. I did everything she did and she was like, “Wow! I have a mini-me on my hands but let’s do it.” She supported me every step of the way. I think finding the right champions is an accelerator that helps you work smarter.
Jenny Rae: Yes. You forced your way into the right position. When you were there, you were listening very intently and you were…
Carli: Thinking strategically.
Jenny Rae: And open to adjust what you were doing.
Carli: Totally. I never felt like I had to do it by myself. If I am in it, I can figure anything out in 10 minutes. You cannot just sit there and mope at a document. Somebody knows this better, whether it is a Senior Manager or someone else. You can send a quick text saying, “Hey, Carli Bigi here. Quick question.” The number of times little things like that paid off is amazing. People know way more than you, so use them. I remember one of our very senior executives trying to complete really aggressive protocols in a year and part of that was reducing talent and hiring in; those kind of changes. One of the executives asked me to go to a work design session with them. He said, “I want you to do this with me and I was like, okay, great, I know how to do that.”
I went to a Senior Manager who was a mentor of mine, I said, “Can I have 30 minutes of your time on Friday so that we can do a mock for a design session? I want you to show me how you would do this so that I can just literally absorb.” I showed him everything and how the company was thinking about things. He and I white boarded it and I was taking mental notes. That Tuesday, I went back and did exactly what he did, and it is what they ended up using.
Jenny Rae: Amazing.
Carli: Know your strengths and know others’ too.
Jenny Rae: I didn’t ask this specific question; what group did you join?
Carli: I was in Deloitte Human Capital, and was in a position where most of my teams were strategy teams. I was either the only one or one of two human practitioners who would go in to think about the human implications of growth management strategies being implemented. It was interesting because so many of the other analysts were sitting in closets and working in Excel, but because of my position, I was steering meetings and joining in the quarterly Executive Team meetings. I spent a lot of time in top care, aka a lot of the chiefs and chairs and exec teams. I got access to leadership in an unprecedented way for someone who was 23 or 24.
Jenny Rae: Can I ask one other question – because this is getting to the real stuff! A lot of people, when they think of human capital, they think it is where all the non-quants go.
Jenny Rae: You mentioned earlier that you had this STEM history. Can you talk a little bit about that? Is that true, that human capital is a completely non-quant practice area? And what do you think is the right fit for somebody who is deciding between Excel in a closet and human capital – because I get that question a lot. A lot of people are thinking, I don’t think of myself as a consultant, but human capital sounds great – but what if a human capital consultant is a fake consultant…
Carli: I would say they are different. It depends on the project. If you want to be more quant-oriented, you can be inside human capital. Certainly human capital comes with change management, how to navigate and bring a whole organization along with a big change. When it comes to org design, it can be a little bit more quant oriented thinking about structure. It really is more art than science, but it is a little bit of both.
What else do we do in that space? Change impact. Thinking about each change that is going to happen and who it impacts and when. I don’t know if anything was ever really that quant. There are some modules that you are running and I definitely used Excel and built a number of dashboards. I even did that internally for practice financials. I got a lot of exposure helping our regional leader with all of the practice financials quarterly because I thought that was interesting and I wanted to be involved in more business.
I had one project where all I did was model, a 10-million cell model; build and run models partnering with a strategy manager. She was my day-to-day human but I was doing all the details, and I remember trying to connect all the cards to connect the model and send it back over. Trial by fire, but you really just have to do what you have to do.
I would say that you are solving different problems. You are all solving the same problem, just different factors of it. I like to partner with senior leaders and say, “What are your biggest problems? How are you going to tackle this?” As opposed to, “I want to take that quant analysis and go and sit over there and do it.” I need to know how to do that analysis but what really matters is what comes out of that and how you make a decision based on that analysis, and that is what excited me. For me, human capital is strength and it differentiated me from all of the other teams. They used to think I was a Senior Consulting Manager or Senior Manager because they were like “Why is she running around with all the COOs?” That is how I positioned myself – well, that and a great set of clothing! It is always the same problem – people like to put themselves in a box. We are all good at doing the same thing, just different factors and in different ways.
Jenny Rae: Can I ask a couple of specific questions? How long were you at Deloitte? How many projects did you do? What happened with the New York transfer?
Carli: I was at Deloitte for three years. It is dog years in consulting. I feel like I aged more like 21 years while I was there.
Jenny Rae: That is why they say you get promoted to a higher level in the industry.
Carli: I was promoted early twice while there. Once while there but the commitment was insane. I was always going 120% and the answer was always yes.
Jenny Rae: How many projects did you work on?
Carli: I probably worked on 5 total. I was usually just on one at a time, but I was always doing things on the side. I was running content for Deloitte University; I was running a new analyst program. I was working with our national service team leader on strategic initiatives for the practice. I was helping sell work. I was always finding other things to do so client work was maybe 50% of my time and everything that I was doing to help other people get other things done.
Most of my projects were in healthcare. I spent a lot of time in healthcare when I was I high school and college. I was on the boards of hospitals, partnering with different hospital programs raising money for non-profits and hospitals. That was a big part of me from an early age. I am willing to stay up to 4am if what we are working on is going to affect a patient’s life.
Jenny Rae: And New York?
Carli: New York – I never transferred; I had the opportunity to think about it but I loved my people in Chicago. I was so ride or die and when I went to visit business school, it was tough, and I didn’t know which office to back to. “Do I stay in New York because New York is home now or do I go back to Chicago where I have my personal friends and it’s where all my humans are?” I loved that office, really incredible humans. I had lunch with one of the partners I was really close with when I was in L.A. He was randomly in L.A and we caught up. I still stay in touch with all of them.
Anyhow, for me, which office was the wrong question to ask – we can talk about that, because it was not about offices. It was about not accepting the offer, which is another story.
Jenny Rae: I have maybe one-and-a-half more questions about fun at school. One of the questions is: Did you ever face the fear of missing out in picking something to go all in on? Because one of the things that strikes me as the secret of your success is the fact that you are 125%. I think some people hold themselves back from that because they want to take more of a survey approach. Let me try this, let me try that, and then I will choose what to go in on. I have a hunch about your answer but I am curious.
Carli: I certainly had to learn how to say no.
Jenny Rae: It does not sound like you did.
Carli: You learn that eventually. Others would say, “She has still never figured it out.” I just wanted to make a difference and you have to be all in on something. Two things: 1) My heart has to be there. If I am not excited by something, I might as well not do it at all because I am not going to put my best foot forward. I would force myself to and it would be painful. The other part of that is; if you say yes to something, you are going to disappoint people along the way. I was very intentional in thinking about, “What do I have that I can bring to this extra curricular, to the project, and to the team?” Also it was, “What do I want to get out of it?” The three main factors to consider are Location, Team, and Clients. If you get two of the three, awesome. Three of the three, double-check the facts because it is rare but I think there is a way to do it all.
You just have to be strategic about your time, be thoughtful about it and enjoy on the side. I traveled every weekend and I went to the most amazing places on Deloitte’s time. I had so much fun, and even met my boyfriend at Deloitte. We destination dated for two years and there is a way to live your best life and also work really hard. If you are doing it right, you can do it all.
Jenny Rae: I have to tangent on that question. Three best Deloitte sponsored trips that you were ever on?
Carli: Oh my God! One of the first was a team trip to Miami. The partner loved it so much, he was like, “Here is my AmEx, go and have a good time.” We had so much fun. People jokingly call me a biz-bot, AKA a business robot. They were like Carli, she just sits there and says the right thing; nothing is ever out of order with her. For me, a team trip to Miami, I was like, I don’t know how to be appropriate. So I wasn’t. We just had so much fun.
We did a team reunion in Charleston, which was amazing. The partner on the project was the same one who said go to Miami and have a good time. In between Miami and Charleston, I started dating someone I met while working on the project. I said, “First of all, you do not have to date me because if you ask me to choose between you and work, I will choose work every single time. Second of all, I would not date you when we are on a project together.” We ended up not dating then but when I rolled off, we did. He was there with and this partner goes to him, “How is dating life going?” and he was like, “You know, single in the city and living my best life” and she comes up to me and says, “Are you and Matt dating?” and I was like, “Yes, we are dating” and she was like, “Do you want to know what he just told me?” and I said, “We are just trying to keep it private.”
It is no one’s business, but his team was like a family and that is part of what drew me to Deloitte to begin with. Everyone was just so fun and we were all out until 3 am, we all got massages, and it was so much fun. Miami, Charleston. What would the next one be? I went to St. John, it was a really fun weekend and I sailed around.
Jenny Rae: That was a wrap around?
Carli: It was an all-travel. We all traveled and it was a long weekend there, which was so fun. We just had an amazing time. We came to Colorado, a couple of times. I ride or die Deloitte. I think they are incredible.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with the incredible Carly Bigi, coming next week!