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Real Humans of Bain & Co.: Drew Ness, Texas McCombs MBA ’22, Consultant

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Translating military skills and experience into the corporate world is difficult, but the core curriculum and leadership development opportunities at Texas McCombs helped Drew Ness realize his full potential as a consultant at Bain after a decade in Army Intelligence. In this installment of our Real Humans: Alumni series, Ness tells his story of falling in love with Austin, Texas, finding himself and his family at home in the McCombs community, and channeling his military instincts into success in the MBA program and beyond.

Drew Ness, Texas McCombs MBA ’22, Consultant at Bain & Company

Age: 36
Hometown: Bismarck, ND 
Undergraduate Institution and Major: United States Military Academy at West Point, Economics
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year: UT McCombs, 2022
Pre-MBA Work Experience: Army Officer (Armor and Military Intelligence), 10 years (2010-2020)
Post-MBA Work Experience: Consultant, Bain & Company, ~2 years

Why did you choose to attend business school? 
I chose to attend business school for a few reasons. The first is that I had no idea how to translate the skills I had developed in the military to the corporate world. Second, in a lot of ways, I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. As I was transitioning out of the military, I was largely unaware of the different types of careers that exist and hadn’t yet found something that I was truly passionate about. Business school seemed like a great way to not only learn business acumen but understand how to best leverage my military experience and skill set in a post-MBA career. Also, between the networking and recruiting events and the ability to learn from the experiences of my classmates, I felt business school would be a great opportunity to explore different careers and really dig into what types of roles I was most excited about. 

Why Texas McCombs? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Family played a significant role in my decision-making process when evaluating various programs. Coincidentally, my wife and I both had interviews in Austin on the same weekend, which gave us the opportunity to explore the city together. We were captivated by everything Austin had to offer – from the vibrant campus and friendly atmosphere to the scenic beauty of Lady Bird Lake and Barton (and Barking!) Springs, not to mention the enticing food trucks and renowned barbecue. Despite the virtual format due to COVID, attending the preview weekend allowed me to witness the strong sense of community at McCombs, particularly in how families were embraced. Each class is divided into four cohorts, and families are affectionately referred to as “cohort 5.” This emphasis on family integration within the McCombs experience resonated deeply with me, and I knew it would be an environment where both my wife and I could thrive together.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career as a consultant at Bain?
While the core curriculum taught at McCombs during the initial semesters has been instrumental in my consulting work, the most impactful aspect of the program has been the connections forged with classmates. Participating in Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead” course provided a transformative experience where small group interactions encouraged vulnerability and openness. Through these exercises, we cultivated empathy and gained insights into each other’s perspectives. Embracing vulnerability fostered a remarkable sense of confidence as we navigated being exposed and, ultimately, accepted and supported by our peers. This has proven invaluable in my consulting role, as effective problem-solving hinges on a profound understanding of the client’s experience and the ability to empathize. The shared experiences with my McCombs classmates have significantly strengthened this capability.

What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice of becoming a consultant at Bain?
I spent my summer as a Summer Associate Consultant at Deloitte. Prior to this, I had a strong inclination toward pursuing a career in consulting, and my internship experience solidified this aspiration. As a veteran, I particularly valued the consulting field for its opportunity to gain exposure across diverse functions and industries, without needing specialized technical expertise in one area. Many of the consulting firms have strong veteran cohorts, which made it clear how much they each valued and recognized the talent veterans offer. At Deloitte, I contributed to a human capital project within the healthcare sector. Drawing from my military background and insights gleaned from business school, I seamlessly integrated into the team, conducting analyses, offering recommendations, leading client interactions, and driving tangible outcomes. I found that my time at McCombs had prepared me exceptionally well for this internship, and overall, it was a highly rewarding experience that affirmed my career trajectory.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
My summer with Deloitte validated my desire to pursue a consulting career post-MBA, with Bain & Company standing out as my top choice. During the recruitment process, I found a strong resonance with the culture of Bain, particularly through my interactions with fellow McCombs students who were part of Bain’s team. What attracted me most was Bain’s home-office staffing approach, which fosters a close-knit community by enabling direct collaboration on cases with colleagues from the same office. This model creates a sense of camaraderie and mutual support, reminiscent of the culture I cherished at McCombs. The alignment between Bain’s culture and my values made it an obvious choice for my transition from the military to the corporate world.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
I would absolutely emphasize the importance of leaning on your classmates. Instead of viewing them as competitors for roles or positions, I found immense value in sharing my networking progress, strategies, case preparation, and both successes and failures with my closest classmates. Our consulting recruitment class at McCombs was exceptionally successful, largely due to the support and encouragement we received from our classmates and second-year students who pushed each other to excel. Collaborating with classmates provides a safe space to make mistakes and learn from them, and I would highly recommend taking full advantage.

 –One thing you would change or do differently as part of the job search?
I would advise having a clear office location preference and focusing your efforts on that location, especially if you are recruiting for consulting. When it comes to interview invitations, you will only interview for one office and if the recruiting teams aren’t sure what your location preference is they may be uncertain as to how winnable you will be if given an offer. Additionally, targeting a single location reduces the strain of networking efforts and makes the process much more manageable and effective.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
I thought the Graduate Consulting Group (GCG) and McCombs Career Coaches did an excellent job preparing us for the interview process. I engaged in multiple mock Bain interviews and case sessions with second-year students and former McCombs alumni which gave me valuable insights into what to expect. For most firms and especially in consulting, there will be a strong McCombs presence. All of them went through the same process you went through and genuinely want to see you succeed. My advice would be to lean on their support and expertise whenever possible.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
One crucial piece of advice I wish I had received is to start networking with firms early in the summer and fall semesters. As time progresses, scheduling coffee chats and making meaningful connections becomes increasingly challenging due to the high volume of classmates and other MBAs vying for the same opportunities. By starting early, you can position yourself well to make a strong and lasting impression on the recruiting teams, giving you a significant advantage in the process. 

Another piece of advice I’d wish I knew is that summer internships are paid. I didn’t realize this, and I think it is an important point to consider, especially for those evaluating the financial aspects of pursuing an MBA.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.