Soumitra Pandey joined The Bridgespan Group’s Mumbai office as a partner in January 2016 and became head of the office in 2017. Prior to Bridgespan, he led the consulting and client work for industrial and consumer businesses at Ernst & Young. He started his career at Andersen Consulting (Accenture), where he spent more than 17 years advising clients in the areas of strategy and business transformation.
How did you begin working in the social sector? What attracted you to it?
About ten years into my life as a consultant, I switched from working in consumer products and the automotive industry—which at the time were focused on the urban population—to the metal, mining, power, utilities industries. That took me for the first time to the rural areas of India, and I saw the disparity that existed. There is of course poverty in urban areas as well, but generally people don’t go hungry. That’s not true of the villages. Over time, I realised that I should support the social sector and decided to move into it eventually, but I wasn’t sure what exactly to do. Twenty years into my career, I took six months off to figure it out and make it happen.
Ultimately, I was attracted to the social sector for two reasons. First, I wanted to use my privilege for good. Second, I spoke with several people in the sector during my six months off, including a couple of my classmates and my sister, who worked in NGOs at that time. These were people whom I highly respected, and I found them to be quite talented and passionate.
How did you arrive at Bridgespan?
In a word, it was serendipitous. I received a call from a search firm from during my last week at Ernst & Young. Bridgespan’s Mumbai office had just opened, and I was looking for my next job. I thought it could be the right fit because of my experience: Although the sector and clients would be different, the work was essentially still advisory problem-solving, which I had done extensively in the private sector. I also watched a video interview of Bridgespan co-founders Tom Tierney and Jeff Bradach, and was impressed by them and their vision for the organisation.
During the hiring process, I laid out three requirements to the people I met at Bridgespan: The work should have a positive impact on society, and lead to results; there should be learning; and my colleagues should be people with whom I enjoy working. Bridgespan checked all three boxes.
After nearly five years with the office, what else have you appreciated about Bridgespan?
The high quality of our work. The work that we’ve done is quite impactful, and we are not wholly driven by commercial considerations. Our team is also very passionate. Everyone says that in every organisation, but we truly have some high-caliber people. What makes the difference at Bridgespan is that everyone is here because they want to be here and believe in what we do. Also, the alignment between our professed and our practiced values is very high.
As the head of Bridgespan’s Mumbai office, what do you look for when hiring?
We’ve always been clear that we will not take anyone—no matter how brilliant they are, no matter what contacts they have—if they don’t meet our core values. We want people who fully believe in the need for the kind of work that we do, and people who are pragmatic but optimistic. The quantum of resources that the sector has at its disposal in relation to the scale of the problems is quite miniscule, if you compare it to the for-profit world. So you need people who believe, despite all the constraints, that we can support our clients in moving the needle.
The Mumbai office is celebrating five years. Apart from expanding the team from two to 25, how has the office developed?
Given the current global pandemic, we are not necessarily “celebrating” this milestone—or the manner of it will be different—but the many accomplishments of our team are worth celebrating.
A large majority of our clients are happy with our work, and our Net Promoter Score is quite high. We’ve clearly delivered on our promise to clients. Bridgespan tracks how our clients have implemented our recommendations and what the impact has been, and when you are at about the five-year mark, you have enough data to see how that has panned out. Now we can clearly see the through-line.
Our efforts in knowledge have also been very well received. We are not very prolific, but we aim to be very thoughtful, and all of our knowledge pieces, barring none, have genuinely added to the narrative and the knowledge out there, according to our colleagues in the sector.
Last, I am very pleased with our sector-building efforts: be it in scaling, collaboratives, or our new Pay What It Takes India initiative (which builds on previous work by our US colleagues). These are core issues for the sector, and I’m glad we pursued them even in the early years. We could have focused only on building a commercially viable entity at first, but we have done that while also developing the team in the right manner, delivering value to the client, and working with clients to build the sector.
What do you see in Bridgespan India’s future?
We will continue to strengthen our work from diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective. Our office has made substantial progress on gender equity, and we have increased the number of people who identify as Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi. We plan to make even greater strides forward in this area, in terms of both of our cases and in the composition of our staff.
We will also deepen our work on collaborative platforms, and I would like to see India become a talent base for the region, should Bridgespan expand within Asia. And we will see some of the people who joined the Mumbai office at the entry level be promoted to mid-management. The way our staff is growing—on the individual level—has been a joy to witness.