Managing Partner | Bain & Company
HARVARD UNIVERSITY, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, CORNELL UNIVERSITY
In 1988, armed with two old Samsonite bags, Hernan Saenz boarded a flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, destined for Boston. Born in Switzerland but raised in Costa Rica, Saenz listened when his parents hammered home the message that education was the springboard to opportunity. After years of hard work, he earned a scholarship to Harvard University.
When he moved to the United States, Saenz was immediately struck by the pride his fellow students took in their work and how “quality of thinking” and accomplishments held more weight than last name or wealth. “The amount of social mobility you can have [in America] was amazing to me,” Saenz says. One of his roommates came from a very poor Asian-American family, but through effort and a good education, he was able to fundamentally change his life. “This was a place where it didn’t matter where you came from; it was merit that mattered,” Saenz says. “The United States was a land of opportunity beyond anything I had ever seen. So I decided to stay.”
Saenz studied economics at Harvard and went on to earn three graduate degrees at Stanford and Cornell. Today, he is a managing partner at Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, and oversees Bain’s Dallas, Houston, and Mexico offices. He has also served in leadership roles in the firm’s transformation, strategy, and performance-improvement practices, specializing in corporate transformations, full-potential programs, operational turnarounds, and large-scale change efforts.
As the founder of Latinos@Bain, an in-firm recruiting and mentoring organization, Saenz works to attract and retain qualified Latin American and Hispanic talent. That means hiring exceptional Latino employees and matching new hires with mentoring opportunities. Through the program, senior employees (managers and partners) are paired with new hires to “take them under their wing.” He explains, “We wanted to create amazing role models and sponsors who help with professional development. By pairing great minds with great mentors, we can help them develop skills to become great consultants, general managers, and business executives.”
Saenz himself had two mentors during his earlier years at Bain—both were partners who helped him understand the consultant role and develop his career. Through these mentors, he learned a very important lesson in strategy consulting. “A lot of people think that what we do is a lot of analytics and that the analytic information will speak for itself, so our clients can make better decisions,” he explains. “What I learned is that, in our business, understanding people—not only the executives individually but the executives as a group, and their concerns and aspirations—is a very important part of what we do, because the way that our clients will read and internalize the information we provide is very much informed by those elements.” He goes on to say that this client understanding and empathy is so important that it composes 50 percent or more of a consultant’s role, differentiating the “superstars” in the business from the rest. “Learning [this lesson] early on from my mentors has helped power my career in a tremendous way, and I try to do the same with my mentees.”
While it is the responsibility of enrichment groups like Latinos@Bain to help young Latinos make the most of their education and get to where they want to be, Saenz says, “Ultimately, the thirst for success needs to come from the Latino community itself. We need Latinos in the United States to dream big and understand the role of education. Education has been an exceptional enabler for social and economic mobility in the United States,” but the Latino community is running far behind in terms of high school and college graduation rates.
“If we don’t have the individual and collective aspiration, nothing will happen,” he asserts. “We need more Latinos who are dreaming big and preparing for a college education and beyond. That is where it all starts.”
When that ambition is present and a young mind demonstrates a hunger to excel, Saenz adds, the ladder to success is gratifying for everyone involved.
Words by Kristen Bahler // Photography by Sheila Barabad