BCG UK Chief Sees No Tradeoff Between AI Tech and Talent

Mai-Britt Poulsen reflects on her start at BCG 19 years ago and talks about what the firm now looks for in new hires.

(Bloomberg) — Mai-Britt Poulsen’s first job was at Boston Consulting Group. Her second job was also at BCG. Her third job? BCG. In fact, all her jobs over the next 19 years were at BCG, where she now heads the UK, Netherlands and Belgium businesses. “As a young associate I asked my project leader ten times every day, should I do this or that,” Poulsen says. “From the very first week, I was in the team room.”

One pandemic-driven hybrid work shift and a generative AI revolution later, the team room, where consultants come together to hammer out solutions for clients, is still where Poulsen wants to see today’s young versions of herself during the four days of the week they are required to work in the office.

“Of course not everyone agrees, but the majority of our teams appreciate that’s the BCG magic and that’s how you grow.” Work Shift asked Poulsen about the trade-offs between AI and talent as well as the hottest skills and latest trends in today’s consulting arena. (Responses have been edited and condensed.)

What do young people want from a job?

Work-life balance is a priority. There are topics like mental health, topics on which we didn’t get questions ten years ago. Just today I had a question about parental leave from a young person who just joined. They’re thinking ahead. One of our key initiatives in the region is to have equal paid parental leave: Whether you are the birth parent or the second parent, you can take 26 weeks of leave.

Climate and sustainability comes up in interviews much more than three years ago. People want to see that we achieve our net zero transition. And I’ve seen a big change: Graduates now want to do purposeful work. We get a lot of questions around what’s BCG’s work portfolio. What are you trying to achieve? Integrity and trust are also some things they’re looking for.

What kind of skills are you looking for at the moment?

Universities are a major source, we recruit from many different study lines. We also recruit industry practitioners. We’re looking for people who have been driving a big transformation and also for topic-specific expertise. That’s driven by the topics on CEO’s agendas. We’ve hired someone who is an expert in traceability (tracking manufacturing and supply chains) in one of the consumer sectors because our clients are asking for that expertise. We’ve hired a trade policy expert. Also a macroeconomist because we need to have a point of view with the whole macroeconomic uncertainty.

We have a number of core attributes that we are looking for in all the talents that join BCG. We want people who are curious and who are not afraid of solving a very complex problem, who’ve shown they can lead. And we want communication, presence.

Consulting is one of the industries set to see the greatest impact from ChatGPT-style technology. Has generative AI changed your skills wish list?

It’s still curiosity, communication, problem-solving. We have one major takeaway from our experience helping organizations implement AI. And that’s what we call the 10-20-70 rule. To succeed with implementing generative AI, 10% of the effort and the investment is around the algorithm, 20% is around the technology and — this is where it’s a big surprise to many of our clients —  70% is around people and processes. If you work on the algorithm with the data available and you work on the technology, that’s great. But your value lies in working with people across functions—  upskilling the workforce, helping people work with data and algorithms, which they’ve not been used to before, giving them better decision making abilities. Sometimes we hear from clients “why can’t we unlock value from AI?” Most often, it’s because there’s not enough investment in people and processes.

Are you also hiring more AI specialists?

Absolutely. We launched our technology unit BCG X in December doing all the coding and the algorithms. That’s where we’re hiring data scientists and engineers. We’ve built this over the years anticipating that implementing AI at scale is a massive priority on the CEO agenda. There are 3,000 technologists, builders and designers in BCG X already.

Are your clients looking at AI as away to cut the payroll ?

It’s fascinating that the topic of talent and work has really been on the agenda for the last couple of years. With generative AI, many companies are asking what are the skills that we need going forward and how do we upskill? Tech is becoming more and more important, but so is talent.

(Corrects spelling of Poulsen in first paragraph.)

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