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View from the street: summertime programme blues

Edinburgh festival

Iain Gibson


I worked with people from Boston Consulting Group virtually every day between 2015 and 2018. Much of my time was spent in Saudi Arabia during those years, and Boston had been quick to take advantage of the Kingdom’s newfound need for consultants, hoovering up a number of lucrative contracts.

The perception I gleaned of “BCG”, as it is universally known, was positive. They were smart, disciplined and largely friendly people. Moreover, they were highly skilled in the management consultancy offer that was suddenly required to help Saudi transform its wider economy and business ecosystem into something more enticing than what had previously greeted the average investment prospect.

Given this positive perception, it is a bit surprising to learn about a nepotism row the firm looks to have created for itself. Over the weekend, the Financial Times published reports of complaints from BCG’s London office (£) that it had to run a week-long work experience programme for the children of BCG’s global senior partners.

One employee said: “They received office tours, dinners and stuff that wouldn’t normally be given to [job] candidates. They basically made it a bit of a holiday for the partners’ kids who came over.” The paper reports that the programme took two months to organise and amounted to work that would cost BCG’s external clients in excess of £1m.

The Bruce Henderson Summer Programme, named after the company’s founder, is well established, so it is important to stress that this was not just a new initiative dreamed up specifically for the class of 2022. Also, gaining experience in an environment where your parents work is natural, usually easy to organise and, by and large, something to be encouraged. It provides a young adult with a glimpse of the prospective world and workplaces that await them.

There is a difference, however, between the facilitating of individual learning opportunities and an alleged mass red carpet rollout for the children of the elite.

Culturally, BCG’s response to the FT raises some questions as well. Stating as they do that consultants who had worked on the programme volunteered their time and that “BCG did not staff a team to organise this” misses the point. When the offspring of the great and the good are in town, is there any realistic prospect of ambitious employees opting out?

What looks to have been needed here was a strong challenge culture at the very top, certainly from an ethical perspective but, failing that, from a communications and presentational viewpoint too. Did anyone wonder aloud whether this was an imposition on employees and how more junior staff would feel? Or even, heaven forbid, if they reacted badly and contacted, well, the Financial Times?

Speaking truth to power in the office is rarely comfortable, but in order to see every angle, and identify every problem, it is essential to encourage the practice. A culture where everyone feels empowered to offer their view is one that manages risk more effectively. In this instance, it may also have ensured that the attention of the outside world remains focused on the substantial abilities of BCG’s workforce, as opposed to internal discontent.


In case you missed it, England’s women won EURO 2022, beating Germany 2-1 yesterday after extra-time. It was England’s first major football trophy since the men won the 1966 World Cup.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is leading a US delegation to Asia this week, with stops in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. According to the FT, China has escalated a campaign of threats and war-games in an attempt to dissuade Pelosi from visiting Taiwan in the coming days. (£)

Analysts expect the Bank of England to raise interest rates this week by 50 basis points, as it steps up its fight to get control of inflation by increasing the cost of borrowing.

Nine Scottish Conservative MSPs, including Rachel Hamilton, Murdo Fraser and Stephen Kerr, have written a joint letter for The Times today expressing their support for Liz Truss in the leadership election. They said that Truss would “break with Treasury orthodoxy by investing directly in projects in Scotland that will benefit the families, communities and businesses we represent”.