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Making pussy cats out of tigers 01/06/2003 Live

Tom Tierney was worldwide CEO of international consulting firm Bain & Company.

By Stuart Crainer . 01 March 2003

Tom Tierney was worldwide CEO of international consulting firm Bain & Company from 1992 until he began to focus on the Bridgespan Group, Bain’s non-profit affiliate, in 2000.


TomTierney

Under Tierney’s leadership, Bain grew its revenues six-fold, expanding from 12 to 26 offices worldwide. He has now captured what he learned from the experience in the book Aligning the Stars (Harvard Business School Press), written with Harvard Business School’s Jay Lorsch. With talent shortages and companies increasingly reliant on a small number of key individuals, Tierney says that managing talented but demanding individuals now lies at the heart of many organisations and that the lessons of professional services firms – such as legal, accounting and consulting firms – are increasingly relevant to those in other industries.


Managing consultants has been compared to herding cats so many times that it has become a cliché. How correct is it?


You can’t control these people. You don’t know whether they’re working 60 or 70 hours a week. Your most important asset is out of your control on a daily basis. Herding cats is a flawed metaphor. The cats are very powerful tigers.


How do you manage such people?


The really great firms give people a fair amount of independence. They don’t control the people. They control the culture rather than the individuals.


Are the lessons from running a consulting firm universal to business?


Increasingly so. It took Harvard Business School 45 years to address professional services, a sector worth $1trn worldwide. Professional services are a hidden giant. Professional services are driving economic growth.

I teach executives from all over the world and from a variety of different industries at Harvard. They all have something in common: they are selling their time and selling hired Upfrontinterview Making pussy cats out of tigers Tom Tierney was worldwide CEO of international consulting firm Bain & Company from 1992 until he began to focus on the Bridgespan Group, Bain’s non-profit affiliate, in 2000. Under Tierney’s leadership, Bain grew its revenues six-fold, expanding from 12 to 26 offices worldwide. He has now captured what he learned from the experience in the book Aligning the Stars (Harvard Business School Press), written with Harvard Business School’s Jay Lorsch. With talent shortages and companies increasingly reliant on a small number of key individuals, Tierney says that managing talented but demanding individuals now lies at the heart of many organisations and that the lessons of professional services firms – such as legal, accounting and consulting firms – are increasingly relevant to those in other industries. talent. The lessons available from professional services firms can certainly be used in other businesses.

The basic business model of professional services is that people are the product; who they are and how they behave ultimately determines the financial performance of the business. Firms manage their top talent, their stars, to build lasting productive institutions. The people they pay are more important than the people who pay them. Star-driven businesses account for half of GDP. In 1950 it was 20 per cent.

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