Managing Director and Senior Partner – Boston Consulting Group
Brad Loftus is a Managing Director and Senior Partner at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) where he leads some of BCG’s largest client relationships. He is part of the Global Retail Leadership team and has held several leadership roles including BCG’s North American Retail Sector Lead, global topic lead for Omnichannel Retail and Future of Retail. Brad’s has worked with BCG across six continents. He founded BCG’s AccessAbility Network which has grown to over 800 members globally. Currently he resides in Denver, Colorado (USA) with his wife and son.
Brad’s career journey
I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. First with newspaper routes and mowing lawns for my neighbors; then at 14-years old, I moved on to ‘official’ jobs at a supermarket, an ice cream store, and a car dealership while I was at high school.
My real career began in college with internships and then on the IT consulting side. I didn’t come from an IT background, but I found the problem-solving aspect of it quite fun. I ended up in an intense environment where I was working 70-80 hours a week. I soon discovered many of the issues our clients were facing were broader business issues well beyond our IT remit, which interested me. So I took the opportunity to go to business school, which gave me a much broader education, even beyond what I learned in class to what the wider world of business genuinely looks like.
As a self-professed “variety junkie”, I knew I wanted to deal with those big questions that are facing businesses, but I wanted to work on a diverse range of issues. I was fortunate to receive a number of job offers, but I saw Boston Consulting Group (BCG) as the most creative of the group and the organization that had the most impact. 24 years later, I feel the same: I like the creativity, I like having an impact, I like working with smart people. I’ve never come across another organization that ticks all those boxes for me like BCG.
On their Role Models
For many of us, our first roles models are our parents. My mom, in particular, was incredibly hard working. She came from an era where, at least in her family, it wasn’t assumed or even believed that women should go to college. Yet she was number one in her class in high school and number one in her nursing class. I think she always felt that she should have been a doctor, but she ended up running the heart surgery unit as a nurse in our local hospital for over 20 years. My mom always instilled a strong work ethic in us. I think, in some ways, she wanted us to achieve what she wasn’t allowed. At a young age, of course you don’t appreciate those lessons as much as you should, but later, I certainly came to appreciate that you can achieve your goals if you are willing to put in the hard work.
In the professional world, when I arrived at BCG as a new consultant, I worked for Sharon Marcil. She was a relatively junior partner at the time and is now our North America Chairperson. Sharon is another role model of mine. She taught me from the earliest days that our job is about creating impact for clients and the people on our teams. She showed me that individual success is ultimately the result of empowering others to be successful first.
The other area where Sharon has been a role model is in her leadership and building of Women@BCG. If I think back to when I started in late 1990s, BCG was fairly dominated by men, with a lot of women leaving after two to four years in the business. A huge amount of work was done to think about how we retained our female talent and make our workplace work for them. When I started working on disability, I incorporated learnings from our Women@BCG network and our Pride@BCG network. Across all of this, the common theme I’ve seen from Sharon is her laser focus on value creation and on others’ success that has ultimately driven her own success.
“I certainly came to appreciate that you can achieve your goals if you are willing to put in the hard work.”
Risks and achievements
The biggest risk I’ve taken in my career was when I was a relatively junior partner. Typically, at BCG, you grow and develop under other more senior partners; it’s very much a team sport. At the time, I was working with strong partners on a long-term client relationship that was relatively “safe” work for me. I was then given an opportunity with a new client where BCG had not done any work. It was with one of the top companies in the world on a CEO priority. Rather than split time with my previous client, where we had other BCGers who could cover, I went 100% in on the new client. I was burning my boat on the beach, as they say, and there was no way back. I was genuinely betting my career on making this new client work. 15 years later, it’s still my largest client and one that has served as a reference to help me build other wonderful relationships.
Had I not gone all in, we wouldn’t have done this good work, wouldn’t have had the same impact, and wouldn’t have built the same level of trust that we have. We’re always told not to put all our eggs in one basket, but if you’re spreading your eggs across 50 baskets, how much impact are you really going to have? If you want to make a serious impact, then go all in and commit.
Advice to their 18-year-old self
At 18, I remember my dad giving me a hard truth: that as the kid who was just paralyzed, whether fair or unfair, life was going to be harder for me than others and I was going to face discrimination, so I needed to be better than everybody else just to prove I could do the job. I’d probably tell myself that same thing he did: be better than the next person that people can’t afford to discriminate against you, even if that is their bias. It’s unfair, but it’s how the world works. I think embracing that reality helps you, even while you work to affect change so that reality is not the same for the next generation.
Navigating their career
The conversations with my father about clearly demonstrating the value we bring have certainly helped shape the way I work. Consulting is competitive. We only deserve to serve our clients if we can clearly demonstrate more vaIue than our competition.
It’s also a tough job, but I’ve learned it’s important to embrace the difficult while keeping perspective. In the end, nothing I do at work is as hard as breaking my neck, becoming paralyzed, and learning to function again. There will always be hard times, but there’s a certain confidence that comes from knowing I’ve been through worse.
The benefits of connecting globally
I’ve had a global-first outlook since very early in my career. Harvard Business School was over 35% international and BCG has been global since the 1966. This means that when I think about driving inclusion, it’s automatically with a global mindset.
In many parts of the world – Western Europe, the US, Australia, for example – the culture and the legal framework around disability inclusion is more advanced than in others. There are certain rights that have been enshrined. In some other geographies, however, you quickly realize that we haven’t come as far. Where we might be ahead, we have a responsibility to be a force to drive progress in other parts of the world.
On one hand, it’s of course about encouraging acceptance of disabilities at work, but there is another point: countries and organizations need to understand that by excluding individuals with disabilities, they are losing out on an immense pool of talent and capabilities. Beyond the moral argument and doing the ‘right thing’, being forward leaning provides a competitive advantage of attracting talent others have overlooked.
On debunking myths and misconceptions
Something that people often misunderstand about disability, whether consciously or unconsciously, is that just because we are “less able” in one aspect of our lives, it doesn’t apply to every aspect of life. People might talk louder to me when in a wheelchair, even though I’m not hard of hearing. Especially in my line of work, where it’s not about physical capability, my brain works as well as it ever did. There does seem to be this unconscious assumption sometimes that we are less able in areas unrelated to our disability.
On a similar note, and this could be well-meaning, but people tend to make assumptions about what we might want to do based on the fact that we have a disability. When I was in business school, a number of classmates cautioned me not to pursue consulting because they assumed I couldn’t manage the travel. Early in consulting, some colleagues assumed I’d prefer to work on local projects. Of course, traveling for me is more complex, but I want to be the one making those tradeoffs for myself, and I’ve consistently chosen the clients and work that most interested me over what was most convenient. I’ve also tried to become aware of my own blind spots and avoid “helpfully assuming” what tradeoffs are best for others.
“There does seem to be this unconscious assumption sometimes that we are less able in areas unrelated to our disability.”
Unique challenges and opportunities of driving inclusion
We’re fortunate to have a reasonably good legal construct in the US: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We do a lot more beyond the law, but it provides a good base framework to start from.
Within BCG, we work on internally funded research, currently we are conducting a global study of 28,000 people across roughly 16 countries on their experiences at work, barriers to their job, how disclosing their disability helps or hinders, whether they’ve received support with reasonable accommodations, etc. We will shortly publish this research alongside best practices for how companies can better attract, retain, and get the most from their employees with disabilities. I think BCG can be a force for good in this space beyond our own employees.
Practical advice for business leaders and allies
My first piece of advice for business leaders looking to drive disability inclusion would be to focus first on people’s abilities, not their disabilities. What do they have to offer and what is the inherent ability you want to draw out from them? It’s important to think about where you potentially need to help and support people with their disability. Then, look into the work conditions they need to be successful, so that you can make sure barriers don’t get in the way of unlocking their ability. It doesn’t have to be a ‘disability conversation’ – we all have different needs.
Linked to that point, a large part of setting the right conditions for people to succeed is providing the accommodations they need. “Accommodations” can seem like a grand term, but in reality it may be as simple as someone needing to take a walk after a certain period of time sitting, or not working well into the evenings, or needing to take an hour a week to go to therapy. The small cost – whether in terms of budget or time – will be counterbalanced by an employee who is happier, more comfortable, and more productive.