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September 18, 2012

MC@Work: Getting to Know Orit Gadiesh

orit gadiesh

Photo Credit: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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During this period, you delivered a stirring speech to the demoralized Bain staff, which earned you a standing ovation. When giving a speech, how do you win over your audience?
First, I write my own speeches. I don't read anything anybody else has written for me. I work hard on them because I think a lot of speeches are actually boring — and I have listened to many speeches. So I try to make it relevant to the audience in front of me. I don't use fancy phrases, and I think that makes a difference.

As a female head of a major consulting firm, you're a rarity. Why do so few women make it to the top of your profession?
We do have a higher percentage of women working in our company than our competitors. Early on, we started paying attention to that. But this is a tough job, for both men and women. It's time-consuming. There's a lot of travel, and there's a high threshold for success — it's not enough to be smart. You have to have empathy. And yes, you have to spend quite a bit of time away from home. [Gadiesh is married to British writer Grenville Byford. They have no children.]

Do you agree with Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, who, during a speech at Davos, suggested that young women aren't ambitious enough?
There are men who aren't ambitious enough. We've all sat at tables with them. The fact is, flexibility helps — that's how Sheryl Sandberg can leave work at 5:30 every night and then work later. The more flexibility you have, the easier it gets. We built a lot of flexibility into Bain's system. But it's not a debate I choose to get into. I think what Sheryl says makes sense to some people, and some people aren't built like that.

You've sat at countless negotiating tables working through deals with your clients. Have you found that women are as strong at negotiating as men?
Most of my negotiations have been with men. I did what I did, and they did what they did, and then we shook hands after. I don't speak for all women. I like seeing them come up through the ranks, and I'm very supportive and glad when I see another woman succeed. The thing about being a woman doesn't occupy me. I've grown up wanting to be good at what I do. I didn't want to be the best female consultant — I just wanted to be good.

You read 100 books a year. Where do you find the time?
It's a real pleasure for me. Other people watch TV; I read books. I carry a whole library with me on my Kindle. I am curious by nature. And you end up bringing a lot of aspects of what you read about and think about into your work. Last month I was in India, China, the U.S., Russia, and Ireland, and next week I'm going to Turkey. You can't work in those places without understanding the politics, the history, the way people socialize and work. The best book I ever read was The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. It takes place in Vienna in 1913, before World War I. I have occasionally advised CEOs to read it, since I can't think of a better book about bureaucracy.

You were on the road 169 days last year. What's your best packing tip?
I stick to black. The longest I've traveled was for five weeks in several countries. I don't bring a change of shoes, and I can go with two jackets and two pairs of pants, all black. It's very convenient and makes my life simple. I can't imagine trying to pick out a new outfit every day.

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