Partner Highlight: BCG

Q&A with Zia Yusuf, Managing Director & Senior Partner BCG

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Zia Yusuf (@ZiaYusuf) is a senior member of BCG’s Global Technology, Media and Telco Practice, Global Head of IoT and BCG’s lead for Silicon Valley. He advises CEO’s & executive teams on a broad range of topics, including innovation and new businesses, product and market strategy, sales and marketing growth approaches, digital and cost transformations, restructuring, M&A and ecosystem/channel build.

Let’s start with your background. How did your experience as an entrepreneur lead you to Boston Consulting Group (BCG)?

I have been an entrepreneur in a typical sense (e.g. CEO of IoT startup Streetline), but also an “intrapreneur” during my 10 years on the leadership team at SAP as well as the World Bank working on healthcare in South Africa. I think that the skills and approaches to create new opportunities, look around the corner, take risks, inspire people towards a long shot goal and not taking anything as a given or “this is how we do things” are traits that epitomize the core of an entrepreneurial perspective. I also think the approach of a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset” that Stanford professor Carol Dweck has pioneered has also been at the core of how I have approached my career.

We are all the sum of our experiences, and the rich tapestry of roles and companies over the years has provided me with an amazing diversity of perspectives that I am able to bring to our clients at BCG. The 20+ years of working in various aspects of the technology sector on the client side (large tech, startup, VC) has provided me a solid foundation to draw upon for real-world examples and experiences to help guide our clients.

What inspired BCG to open the new Silicon Valley office in Mountain View?

Over the past few years, our clients in every industry have been engaged in some form of digital transformation, and BCG over the past five years has built up tremendous capabilities to help our clients on this journey. There were really three main reasons for us to open a second office in the Bay Area. First of all, we are extremely active with technology companies and other clients in the SiliconValley area, and our new office allows us to further enhance our client engagement platform. Second, our global clients want to engage deeper with the innovation ecosystem of startups and VC firms in Silicon Valley and our local office acts as a base for that reach out. Lastly and most importantly, a new office allows us to continue to recruit the best local talent and provide our BCG teams and valued alumni another avenue to engage in a local office. We opened the office in January 2019, and in this short time, it has been a great success in providing an exciting new platform for BCG to serve our clients and also be a stronger player in the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

How does BCG leverage partnerships in the Silicon Valley ecosystem to benefit its clients?

Now more than ever, it is important to leverage a broader ecosystem of partnerships for BCG to deliver value to our clients. BCG has taken a leadership role in helping our global clients on their digital journey — this journey has actually been accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis. This capability requires us to ensure that we have a robust engagement with the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem of large technology companies, startups and VCs to deliver an integrated value proposition. This strategy is what led us to open the BCG office in Silicon Valley in 2019. In particular, our valued partnership with Silicon Foundry has been an important part of this strategy to connect into the SV ecosystem.

How have you seen companies react to COVID-19, particularly as the situation on the ground changes on a daily basis?

It has actually been remarkable and inspiring to see how our clients and their teams are stepping up to the challenges of this situation. People are having to deal with the situation at multiple levels, and the impact at the individual level is pretty strong. We are all dealing with ensuring that our families and friends remain healthy first and foremost, and we are all also dealing with a range of personal challenges (kids at home, confined work spaces, financial challenges, etc). The level of collaboration and teaming is remarkable and I see it every day with our clients and their teams.

At a company level, there are a broad range of challenges, but also opportunities. These differ widely by industry, geographic location and also the size and financial health of the organizations. Companies are certainly focusing on a few specific aspects.

First, they are interested in having a coordinated and rapid response for their operations, people and systems. Ensuring that teams are safe, supported and able to work remotely has been at the top of the list. A tactical, but critical point is to ensure that your IT systems can manage the stress of this changed work environment and have the adequate security systems in place to manage remote work is very important. Secondly, ensuring the financial health of the company becomes important and scenario planning looking out for the rest of 2020 becomes key.

People always remember how you treated them during tough times. Putting your customers first, going that extra mile to ensure that your employees know you have their back and doing good in the community are all critical areas to consider.

Finally, and most importantly, authentic leadership at all levels of the company is so critical. You have to lead with your head, your heart and your hands. This is always true, and it has never been more true than right now when we are facing an unprecedented challenge to how we all work, live and play.

How does COVID-19 change the way BCG serves its clients in Silicon Valley and beyond?

BCG’s purpose is captured by our core value: “unlocking the potential of those who advance the world.” This phrase has been used as our guiding light to drive our work these past few weeks. I am incredibly proud of how our teams around the world have stepped up to support each other and our clients. There are some aspects of our COVID response that make BCG a great firm that does not change with the current crisis. We value our relationship with our clients and will always step up to help them. We leverage our global teams and deep content knowledge to bring the best of BCG forward every day. We seek to get to the heart of the issue and bring facts and data to bear to help our clients solve tough problems. This is who we are and these values and capabilities have allowed us to step up during this time of challenge across the world.

Another important approach that we are taking is trying to connect companies within an industry (eg. within the healthcare industry) and also across industries (eg. business roundtable) to enable sharing of ideas, approaches and resources. This is a collective challenge, but an opportunity to leverage our wisdom and expertise.

Finally, within Silicon Valley, and in particular in the technology sector, the level of activity and engagement is very high. The technology sector, in general, is playing a strong role during this period (remote working and collaboration software, security software, networking equipment etc.) as there is more demand to accelerate the digital transformation capability of our clients.

Silicon Foundry is an innovation advisory platform that builds bridges between leading multi-national corporations and global startup ecosystems.

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