I realised I didn't "fit in" with corporate culture very quickly, but stuck it through at Bain, learning as much I could. Most of the time I preferred to make a parody of the whole situation and of myself, as a survival strategy.
One of my favourite ways to make fun of corporate culture was what we called "Hot Topics".
Every week, there was an open office meeting, in which we'd talk about problems facing the office. These went from the banal ("Can people please be quiet in the mornings") to the somewhat serious ("Can people wear less extreme amounts of perfume, I have an allergy") to the downright frivolous... those submitted by me.
Below is a list of the best hot topics I submitted in loosely chronological order. This is partly for the sake of my own archives, so I can have after-laughs at my own jokes, but maybe you'll find them funny too.
It helps to imagine these being read out by an Australian senior partner, male, in a suit (we always wore suits and ties), to a room of people who took themselves very, very seriously. We were consultants! Whatever that means.
* Side note: I realised I had to quit Bain while hurriedly preparing slides crammed into an budget airline's economy-class seat. I was on my way to Bangkok for a meeting... to which I wasn't invited, but for which I had to be "around". The meeting had been organised in a rush, and my team-mate and I were forced to throw out months of research and modelling and basically make up data (which the senior partner called "backing out assumptions"... 🤮) to force-fit a nice-looking hockey-stick growth curve which she had illustrated on a whiteboard ("make it look like this"). But none of this was why I quit. I quit because I caught myself thinking: "Hey, if this plane goes down, I won't have to go to this stupid meeting."
In this list...
- Junior Senior Associate Business Consultant Analyst
- Complaining about my office-assigned buddy
- Extra-curriculars that would give us back time
- Urinals that are too close
- Static electricity in the carpet
- Free office sandwiches
- Insecure Friday
- Mints in meeting rooms
- The recruiting "milkround"
- People walking in on me changing in the stationery room
- Complaining about the free cake we got on Fridays
Topic: Junior Senior Associate Business Consultant Analyst
Issue: I'm proud to work at Bain, but the title "Associate Consultant" is really very long. I'm terrified of when (ok... if) I'm promoted to Senior Associate Consultant, a title so long it only really exists practically in abbreviated form. We need some shorter, snappier, action-packed titles.
Suggestions for new titles:
- Associate Consultant: Pack Animal; Excellerator
- Senior Associate Consultant: Deck Jockey; Chart Shark
Topic: Buddy love
Issue: My assigned office "buddy" I got when I signed up has hardly been very buddy-like at all. Among my complaints:
- He keeps introducing himself to me, giving me cards. I now have 30 of them
- He claimed we didn't get a lunch budget, then spent it on himself
- When going for coffees he always gets me a babycino with hazelnut syrup
- He sends out group email lunch invites and puts me on 'optional'
- He replies to my emails with "unsubscribe"
- He waved to me at a cafe, but when I went over he ordered a sandwich
- He submitted a deck to the Knowledge Centre called "101 Boring Conversation Topics" with my name as the author
- For my birthday he bought me a copy of "Life after Consulting". Also, it wasn't my birthday
- Get me a new office buddy!
- Change the official relationship name to "enemy"
- I find a real friend
(From memory, I don't think I actually had an assigned buddy)
Topic: Minus 10%
(For context, additional activities that juniors did for the team/office on top of work were called "extra 10%" or "extra tens".)
Issue: We have trouble managing an accelerated career path, a higher-than-average workload, and managers expecting 110% in everything. And then "extra tens" on top.
Sure, someone needs to organise team events, plan sporting events ,and display interest in the environment/charities/social welfare in a sanitised, corporate kind of way. But can we have some "Minus tens" as well to balance it out?
- Get wax models of all staff for recruiting events
- Schedule meetings where all attendees are optional
- Assistants for the EAs/MAs
- Create a project code for hiding in the bathroom playing on our phones/weeping
Topic: More porcelain, less talkin'
Issue: We have only two urinals in the men's room and they're in very close proximity. This means it's unlikely either will go used.
If one is being used, it's out of the question to go stand at the free one. And if both are free, you run the risk of someone using the one next to you. Sometimes they look at you or say 'hey', which is particularly awkward when they're really senior, because all I can do is silently stare at their shoes.
- More urinals
- Fewer males
- Paper bag dispenser to preserve our identity
- Stop saying "hey". Nobody may say "hey"!
- Please wear less unusual shoes
Topic: So much electricity
Issue: Staff are complaining about constant shocks in the office. It happens every time we get up, giving us an irrational fear of doorknobs, teapots, and senior partners who like to give jovial handshakes.
- Tear up all the carpet. Replace the floor with an ice skating surface. Imagine the productivity improvements!
- Give us all a wire to dangle off our belts or earrings and drag along the ground, to dissipate the electricity. Slightly unstylish, but no more so than I already am
- Have someone come around with snacks, so we never have to get up
- Pay a small bonus for leather shoes
- "No shoes Friday" (at least)
Topic: Sandwich bonus
Issue: There used to be at least one large client meeting or internal event (and often several) a week which would be catered, the sandwiches from which would afterwards feed hungry juniors.
Unfortunately, this hasn't happened lately because of the [2007-08] financial crisis, and juniors associates are dying of malnutrition by trying to survive on cookies and mints.
- More random catered lunches, or at least invite all the associates to the few remaining catered lunches
- Relocate offices near other fatcat firms that still have catered lunches
- Get the cafe downstairs as a client
- Bring in a barbecue and your pet, who looks increasingly delicious
Topic: Insecure Friday
Context: Australia has very formal suit culture — button-down shirts, ties, and pointy leather shoes. So "casual Friday" is a starker contrast.
Issue: "Casual Friday" is a lose-lose-lose situation. I seem to invariably get one of three responses:
- I wear a suit: "It’s casual Friday, wear some jeans! Come on let’s casual it up" (this jocular banter ignores the fact that I have never looked good in jeans)
- I wear casuals: ‘Hey, nice outfit! I really dig the retro 70s throwback/Miami Vice/Cuban drug lord look you’ve got going there’. (Not sure what is intended here, but the effect is me scurrying to my desk and refusing to leave)
- I go to work at the client office: I’m neither informal enough for the team, nor formal enough for the client.
I give up.
- Naked Friday
- Pyjama Friday at least…?
- Some leadership – why does tucking a business shirt into ill-fitting jeans count as casual?
Topic: Mints in the meeting rooms
Context: We had mints in every meeting room.
Issue: Mints are tasty but they send the wrong signal to our clients ("we have bad breath! also you have bad breath"). Let's get some new snacks.
- Crunchies – The name describes how we work pretty succinctly
- Jaffas – They’re red. And they have a hard shell with a sweet interior, just like Bainies
- Bounty — Brown on the outside, white on the inside, just like me
"Milkround" was what we called the recruiting round to schools. Since writing this, I have since figured out why it was called that.
Issue: Associate recruiting season is here. Why is it called "milkround"? I hate feeling like I was once likened to milk. Or a dairy cow.
Also, where’s my freaking milk?
- Hire more dairy cows
- Call it "Recruiting round"
- More milk for new recruits
Topic: Office supplies in the Melbourne change room
(Context: I used to sometimes cycle to work. I'd change in the office supply room at 7:30 a.m., never expecting anyone to walk in... until the most senior partner in the office one day did, to get a pen. This was my quiet admission of guilt.)
Issue: Having office supplies in the Melbourne change room is highly impractical. People frequently come in seeking a new pen, glue stick, or roll of sticky tape or whatever at highly inopportune moments. It can be quite embarrassing.
- Move office supplies to somewhere practical, like the bathroom
- Put up a "do not disturb" sign
- Get a few pens at a time. One pen daily hardly seems efficient. Optimise!
Topic: "Carrot cake" is an oxymoron for wimps
Context: It seems ridiculous, but every Friday we'd be served two huge cakes for afternoon tea. It was glorious. I noticed some people would complain about some cakes, and decided to add fuel to the fire. (I actually love carrot cake.)
Issue: "Carrot" and ‘cake don’t mix. Same goes for ‘lemon and poppyseed’. Maybe in some distant civilisation, but not today.
There are three kinds of cake: chocolate cake, pies cool enough to be cakes (like lemon meringue) and things that aren’t cakes at all so shouldn’t be in this list, like carrot cake.
Reasons that carrot cakes aren’t acceptable:
- They’re not offensively sweet, like a deliciously sugary slap in the face
- People who are health conscious tend to like them (why are you eating cake??)
- Various people in the crowd probably agree with me
- Cast these aberrations out of society. Force them to coast from town to town, searching for the perfect wave
- Make an "all pies" rule. Most people agree on most pies (even pumpkin pie)
- Always have one cake for each faction
Hope you enjoyed this. If you did, drop me a line to say thanks. I live on compliments and leftover sandwiches.