Business Services Senior Director
Al Chambers grew up in New Jersey, has lived on both coasts, and now calls Atlanta home. As the Business Services Senior Director in one of BCG’s largest—and most diverse—offices, Al gets his energy from the people around him. We met Al in Atlanta where he spoke about his work-life balance, what gives him zen, and what he learned about compassion and a strong ethic from his immigrant parents.
Here’s an excerpt from that conversation, in Al’s words:
I grew up in Northern New Jersey, in South Orange. Both my parents are from Jamaica, and that had a heavy influence on my upbringing. I was one of the first people in my family to graduate college—also one of the first to navigate corporate America. That created a challenge for me in the earlier days because I didn’t have a ton of people at home to ask questions to.
My mom was a social worker for much of her adult life. She’s an incredibly selfless woman who I'd like to think I took a lot from. And my dad had his own carpet and floor covering business, which was super inspiring because being from Jamaica, with a heavy accent, navigating Northern New Jersey while starting a business must have been challenging for him.
I'm still friends with those that I had in middle school. I'm just that type of person. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very diverse town, which has had an impact on my life. My friends, my classmates had all different skin tones. In some ways, I think that was the test run I needed for navigating corporate America, because I feel comfortable communicating with whoever, whenever.
The first three years at BCG were important for me to spend time learning about the organization, and also finding out a lot about myself.
I started in New York as the Admin Services manager, which was heavily people-management focused. I had about 60 direct reports. I didn’t know what I was really good at, but I knew that I liked helping to support people in their careers. I get energy from people. I get energy from learning from people.
The next role was purely project management, which was also gratifying, but in a very different way. It was certainly a shift for me to go from 60 direct reports to zero, and also working with senior directors and MDPs. It taught me the skills that I didn't have. It also put me in rooms that I hadn't been in. It allowed me to develop relationships with mentors that I wouldn't have crossed paths with.
Both of those jobs prepared me for the job I'm in now—leading an office versus leading a team. I'm in some way, shape, or form responsible for the 600-plus people in this office. Not only their careers, but their experience within BCG. It's a big job to have, but I've never been more fulfilled or felt like I was living more of my purpose until now.
Whether it's my colleagues or friends, over the years we've talked quite a bit about code switching, and other things like that that are necessary to comfortably navigate different environments.
Being a Black man who in many instances is one of the few—if not the only one—on a call or in a meeting, or even in the role that I’m in, there is an immense amount of challenges. But I also find quite a bit of solace in that I won't be the last.
In the place that you are working … you don't want to feel like you're a shell of yourself, or you have to completely change who you are to navigate an environment. Personally, especially the last 18 months, but certainly in BCG, I've been able to be who I am comfortably. It was an evolution.
There's not much of a change between the Al who’s here on Thursday at 2:30 and the Al at home on Saturday at 2:30. I try to be my authentic self so the people who are watching me feel comfortable being who they are, too. The best place we can get to is feeling like you are yourself.
I like to go to the gym and work out. It's usually how I start my day. At this point, I don't know if it's for physical health or mental health—hopefully both! Everyone says I'm very zen. I think that's because I do a lot of heavy weight training. By the time I get into work I'm more chill. I attribute that to my success.
I always say you have to focus on the process and not the prize, and I think that goes for all things. I think about my career journey, I think about relationships that are built—you don't focus on the end goal.
Oftentimes you have a bad Tuesday and you let it turn into a bad week, and then you are already thinking about how this has been a bad year when it's only February. You gotta focus on the day by day, trying to get better and trying to improve and trying to be the best version of yourself. At some point you look in the mirror and you become the person you want to be. I do firmly believe that.