BCG Alumni Continue to Shape the Future

"To be able to see a strategy implemented from end to end and see the results, and to be able to roll up your sleeves and get into the weeds—I think that appeals to a lot of BCGers."—Todd Markson

Knowing how to plug into the power of your network is a smart play for those who seek to advance the world. Beyond the scope of the firm, former BCGers continue to build high-performing teams and support each other in meaningful pursuits.

At Cengage, a global education and technology company that prides itself on being "built for learners," nine BCG alumni have come together to develop a dynamic ecosystem of engaging, flexible, digital educational products. The transformation of Cengage from a print publisher to a rising leader in learning experiences was led by CEO Michael Hansen (BCG New York, 1989–2000). He leads a team whose rallying cry is finding new and better ways to engage students of every kind. In the depths of a comprehensive and complex transformation to drive the company from print to digital, Cengage has naturally drawn in a diverse group of BCGers.

In the health care sector, another BCGer-led revolution is changing the way primary care is being delivered. Oak Street Health, founded by CEO Mike Pykosz (BCG Chicago, 2007–2013) and fellow alumni Geoff Price (BCG Chicago, 2010–2013) and Griffin Myers (BCG Chicago, 2007–2010), is a network of primary care centers for adults on Medicare in medically underserved communities. To eliminate runaway costs associated with the traditional fee-for-service system, Oak Street employs an alternative payer model focusing on quality of care. In four years, the firm has already reduced hospital admissions in patients overall by more than 40% while growing to 20 centers across six markets.

The Oak Street founding team shares both a friendship from their BCG days and a zeal for "rebuilding health care as it should be." Now with seven alumni at the helm, Oak Street creates a "differentially strong" patient experience at low cost by reinvesting shared savings back into a wealth of specialized services. Each clinic operates with a holistic view of patient needs, combining in-depth and frequent doctor consultations with additional eldercare programming. Seniors have access to a community rich in both medical and social support as a result.

The brain trust behind Oak Street shares an inclination to go deeper than the tactical details—their potential effect on the world is what drives the team to be relentless. This ambition is also present at Cengage, crystallizing in a company culture that inspires tireless passion for learning and endless drive to transform through data and insight. "Most BCGers don't want to take their foot off the pedal," says Todd Markson, senior vice president of strategy and operations (BCG Boston, 2011–2014). That sort of environment also exists here. The BCG culture of data and insight has started to permeate throughout Cengage."

The Cengage team finds motivation beyond just the bottom line, with their "maniacal" focus on student access, affordability, outcomes, and employability. Cengage approached this goal through vigorous analytics and insight—a clear result of having a strong concentration of alumni at senior levels. According to Markson, Cengage is becoming the most data-driven education and technology provider publishing company in the US. The firm keenly studies how customers interact with learning material, feeding insight back into their digital products and go-to-market and commercial strategies.

With success, new competitors have emerged. Instead of avoiding the headwinds, however, Cengage embraces them. In answer to the "free" content touted by open educational resource (OER) providers, Cengage is rolling out its own platform, which incorporates OER alongside Cengage content, offering the added value of superior course design and services. Continuous challenge has boosted the alumni lineup, with the latest hired just last month: "To be able to see a strategy implemented from end to end and see the results, and to be able to roll up your sleeves and get into the weeds—I think that appeals to a lot of BCGers," says Markson. In turn, the ideals of this team have shaped a firm-wide compulsion to dig deep for the vital pieces of data and truth crucial to Cengage's pivoting ability.

Oak Street takes an equally ambitious approach to data and results, measuring everything from health care effectiveness to customer happiness. The clinics hold a net-promoter score of 92 compared to the US primary care industry average of three, reflecting exceptional customer feedback. Pykosz attributes the firm's measurable success and robust patient follow-through to a care formula that is personal, equitable, and accountable. These tenets have garnered high praise, pushing growth and securing major partnerships for Oak Street. Looking forward, Pykosz says, "We want to be part of the primary care solution on a much broader level. The future of Oak Street is where all patients have access to the quality of care they need."

Whether the goal is to bring to life a game-changing idea or continuously transform an established company, BCGers at Oak Street Health and Cengage leverage strong existing relationships to find the right people to join their missions and collectively propel their teams to success. Pykosz and Markson both tapped into their peer networks to find team members with closely aligned values and a proven caliber of experience. By welcoming former colleagues and other familiar faces into the fold, they found the old solidarity easily rekindled.

As you consider the future, don't underestimate the power of the BCG community to pay dividends for life. Even if you don't know it yet, the team of your exciting next venture may be waiting to connect.