Teresa Abecasis (Partner, Lisbon) joined BCG as an associate in 1999, departed in 2007, and returned in 2017. She sat down with BCG’s Alumni team to discuss her professional journey and the road that led her back to BCG.
I started BCG just after business school and at the time did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I was young, but I knew I really wanted to try different things, which is what initially led me away from BCG.
I worked briefly in the Prime Minister’s office, but due to a government change and the birth of my first child, returned to BCG, leaving shortly after with another child on the way. At this point, it became clear that I needed to have a lifestyle-oriented position that would afford me a consistent schedule and the ability to regularly care for my children. This led me to Sanofi, a pharmaceutical company known for being family friendly. There, I traveled very little and was able to leave the office whenever I needed, striking a positive balance between my personal life and desire for professional challenges. I took on projects that required me to think at the intersection of business development, economics, and finance, and I was glad to have that opportunity – though ultimately, I felt like I had become caught in a routine.
During this time, my family continued to grow, and a new ethos emerged across Portugal. Increasingly, the sentiment was that the country should open more to external markets, which compelled me to take on a role where I could make a bigger contribution to the Portuguese economy. This led me to Sovena, a large agribusiness committed to exporting “Olive oil for the world,” where I worked for five years in procurement, strategy, and finally, as Chief Operating Officer of the commodities business unit. Eventually though, I felt the need for a change.
It was time to return to BCG.
When I left BCG, the firm was home to around four thousand people, and today, we’re over twenty thousand. In addition to being much bigger, BCG is now more diverse. When I look around, I see so many career paths, different people profiles and track records that create an incredibly rich environment. We’re now able to deliver much more content and value on a wider variety of offerings. This has come at the cost of complexity of course, since many pieces must now be put together to get any proposal or recommendation out. It is definitely worth it, though!
Furthermore, BCGers today benefit from PTO (Predictability, Teaming, Open Communication)—a program designed and nurtured at the highest levels of the company to ensure work-life balance and development. It has been great to see the firm take these steps towards enabling employees to positively shape their experiences and promote transparency and feedback. It’s clear that when we say we “grow by growing others,” others means clients and employees alike, and we work to make our people better every day.
The quality of the work and people we work with make every second worth it. Transparency, meritocracy, and autonomy make you feel part of the family. Feedback is candid and nobody pretends that you’re doing a perfect job when you’re not, resulting in an open culture that encourages growth and a shared sense of success. At the same time, you are given a unique degree of autonomy and entrepreneurship. You can actually be different from others without judgmental reproach. There’s an openness to experimentation and saying what you think that I haven’t found anywhere else. It’s a safe place to be—a place where you can be yourself.
I spent the first seven years of my career at BCG, getting my MBA and having children in the middle. Most of what I do, I do because I learned it from BCG. The way I think, communicate, manage, and not to mention, my values, all stem from BCG. That’s why I’ve always been drawn to consulting activities. Even when managing people or operations, at the end of the day, I was consulting for my boss or for my team—essentially looking into diagnoses and action plans and telling a story with numbers. That’s what I took from BCG, and I think I’ll be like that forever.
In return, what I bring back to BCG is first-hand line management experiences that mirror my client context, which gives me great self-assurance and confidence on what I say to clients. I’ve been in their shoes. I know how they feel and what they’re worried about, not to mention the intricacies of corporate systems and politics. I know how factories work, I’ve bought things, and I’ve sold them. I get processes and billing. But this knowledge is still less important in my day-to-day than an understanding of how the client is feeling. Sometimes I have to explain to junior consultants that our recommendations may seem obvious rationally, but we have to consider our clients’ concerns. These include their peers’ judgements, their next board room presentation, and the impact of their choices. I’ve been there, and I know that it takes more than just a number to guide decisions. I think clients appreciate this perspective, as do my colleagues.
Don’t be afraid to come back! BCG accepts different ways of leading consulting lives, and if you think that your contribution can actually bring value to BCG, then it’s just a matter of being patient and trying to find a way to make it work. It makes a lot of sense, especially for women who left because of family reasons, to even consider taking on projects at 50% capacity, or intermittently, in a way that benefits everyone. The work is amazing, and the company is wonderful. There aren’t a lot of places like BCG.