Prashant Sarin, 37, Partner, Bain & Co. India Photo: Aditya Kapoor/www.indiatodayimages.com
Prashant Sarin is one of the most sought-after people in the consulting space. At 37, he is the youngest partner in the India office of the global management consulting firm Bain & Company. Sarin gets about one job offer every two weeks -- either from a client firm or other consulting firms -- with at least one (offer) in six months that would make him think (about it) seriously. But that does not excite him as much as the diversity of work that he does at Bain.
As a young student, Sarin wanted to be a journalist, but later found out that his ultimate interest lay somewhere else. After finishing his post graduation from IIM Calcutta, he was chosen for the prestigious Rhodes scholarship and studied at Oxford University. In June 2006, when Bain was setting up shop in India, Sarin was recruited as its first consultant. He declined the post of a product manager at Google to join Bain. "At that point, I was attracted to the fact that this is a consulting firm with a difference. We were working with change-oriented executives who shared a passion to build and create something new,"
So, what exactly does Sarin do at Bain India? He leads the organisation's practice vertical - i.e., putting in place the right organisational structure, right resources and right culture so that a company can execute its strategies properly -- besides doing some work in industrial goods and infrastructure sectors.
"There is a long-term real estate client that I am working with at the moment. One of the biggest challenges in real estate business is getting approvals. In Delhi, for instance, you need 60 to 70 approvals to start a project. When we were working with this company, we found out a time lag between when they planned to execute a project and when they actually executed the project. A big reason was the delay in getting approvals," explains Sarin.
He said that his team mapped the entire approval process and he built an organisation structure that helped the company in reducing the overall time of approvals. "We worked on things like how a building structure can be modified to avoid delays, making people (within the client organisation) responsible to track approvals at each stage and instituted monitoring processes in order to get early warning signs."
Sarin says he has handled more than 25 clients at Bain so far, including some of the largest domestic companies. "We have deep relationships with some of the largest family conglomerates. I have personally worked with three out of top five family conglomerates in the country."
India as a consulting market is still nascent. But the growth is inevitable. Since it has started its India operations, Bain has seen a complete overhaul of its portfolio of clients. Earlier, it used to be largely multinationals and private equity firms seeking its services. Today, over 60 per cent of Bain's client base is domestic Indian companies. "At a time when the economy is not doing well, companies have turned their focus on performance improvement, operational excellence, and driving a financial turnaround. There are many clients that we work with who have never worked with a consulting firm before," says Sarin, who also heads the alumni initiatives at Bain.
The competition is rising, but Sarin remains unperturbed. He says in the last three years, the space between premium firms such as Bain, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey and the rest of the pack has widened considerably. "A lot of second-tier strategy consulting firms (Monitor and Booz & Co) have found it difficult to sustain."
In most cases, client engagement (at Bain) does not last long. Most assignments have a time frame of three to 12 months. Teams are built for each assignment and then dismantled. Every six months or so, Sarin has to work with a new set of people and that's where his people management skills come into play. "One of the fortunate things about Bain is that we recruit from the best institutes (like IITs and IIMs). These recruits are already incredibly competent. But it is just not enough to be competent; they need to be 100 per cent motivated. For that, we try to understand their aspirations and personally invest in each team member."
Over the past seven years at Bain, Sarin's learning curve has been immense. From doing just data crunching and analysis, he is now looking at issues from the prism of his clients. "Clients don't hire us to find a magical answer. There are no magical answers. They hire us to come up with sensible answers and to help them move in the correct direction. I spend 60 to 70 per cent of my time thinking about these issues."