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Karen Harris

Director, Macro Trends Group

New York, NY

It’s hard to be a pioneer. But you can’t expect universal approval when you’re doing something completely different.

In 2008, I had been working at Bain & Company as a practice area manager for three years, helping our consultants best serve clients in the financial services sector. Around that time, my colleague and I began a side project: studying how macroeconomic trends affect our clients. It was a great fit for my interests and experience in government, nonprofits and economic development. Soon I knew I wanted it to be my full-time job. I began reaching out to leaders at Bain to get their support to start a new initiative.

Forecasting economic trends wasn’t in the core DNA of Bain, a business consulting firm. While we knew our initiative could be met with skepticism, the firm has always been open to new ideas and innovative ways to solve problems. To make the group a success, we knew we had to show we could create a product that was better than what was out on the market, and one that would enable us to serve our clients in a more powerful way.

As we were starting up the Macro Trends Group, I was also working on Bain’s financial services projects. I also had two young children. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. I had moments of self-doubt, but once I discovered that this kind of work was what I wanted to do, I knew that I would make it happen. And I really believed it would be incredibly valuable to my company.

I think we often wait for someone we perceive to be important and officially “in charge” to make the decision about investing in something ground-breaking. It’s hard to be a pioneer. But you can’t expect universal approval when you’re doing something completely different. I knew I had to prove the concept rather than hope to convince people with words.

One of the biggest hurdles for me was learning to feel comfortable asking for guidance and input. But you need to create a team of supporters. It started with people willing to put me in front of clients to talk about our view of what was happening with the economy. Others told me how the Macro Trends Group could potentially contribute to their client conversations, or helped me connect with decision makers.

Today my colleague and I, with a rotating team of consultants and the support of a steering committee of firm leaders, work full time on the Macro Trends Group, which develops Bain’s insights about global macroeconomics, social trends, demographics, and geopolitics, and how they impact our clients.

To do work that I love with people who challenge and inspire me is fantastic. The Macro Trends Group has also been a game-changer within Bain and has enabled us to drive more valuable strategic conversations with our clients and help them achieve even better results. I’m proud of the difference I’ve been able to make by leveraging my natural talents and learning how to thrive outside my comfort zone.