David Young is a former senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group. He worked at the firm from 1988 to 2005; his many roles and positions included serving as the managing partner of the Seoul office; the managing partner of the Boston office; a member of BCG’s global executive committee, global leader of the firm’s Industrial Goods practice; and a consultant, manager, and partner in the Chicago office. Prior to joining BCG, he worked for The Timken Company, a global manufacturer of bearings, alloy steels, and related components, where he held roles in research and development, strategic management, and North American operations.
In 2006, Young joined World Vision International, a relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. He currently serves as its global chief operating officer.
In an interview with BCG’s Tom Lewis, Young shared his reflections on his career and the value of private-sector skills in the social sector.
You moved into the social sector after a long and successful career in the corporate sector and in the consulting industry. What motivated you to make the move from BCG into the social sector?
I think it is important to go through constant self-reflection. We should all be asking ourselves, “Are my skills and talents being applied to the best and highest use?” I think there is no better profession than consulting to constantly build skills and talents that enable us to work with organizations, to create large-scale change, to think creatively, and as importantly, to enter into organizations and into relationships that can be productive and healthy and provide good outcomes. Consulting is a constant reflection about how to add value.
In any career, you get to the point where you need to say, “What does the world around me need? Given those needs, am I using my gifts, skills, experience, and education to their highest potential?” That’s a very rational way of looking at it.
And there’s another way, one that says you need to be led by your passions. And I think one of the gifts in consulting is that it is a good place for people who have deep passion and want to effect change. Consulting allows you to position yourself—and also provides you the opportunity—to look more deeply into issues. Also, the experience and travel allow you to become more and more aware of the world. It prepares you to confront some of the real problems that are out there, outside the walls of a single corporation.
For me, it was a combination of the constant search for solutions through clients, the constant search to learn what was going on in the world, and the constant search to learn who I am and where my career was heading that led me to the recognition that I simply had to do something about the pace at which the world was engaging on issues of poverty affecting children. In my mind, the problem was not an issue of making more money available. I felt it was an issue of the kind of smart thinking and good, productive change that we have seen in commercial clients that could be brought into the NGO sector. I saw an opportunity to get a much higher multiplier on those skills and those activities in that sector than I’d had to date in the corporate sector.
I should point out that we already had windows to this in our work at BCG—we could see the huge impact we could have with the World Food Programme, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. But is achieving these outcomes possible without the “special sauce” that a BCG upbringing can deliver? Probably not.
So I said to myself, “I could have a big impact with those skills, with that experience, with that perspective in a sector that ultimately could have a big impact on the lives of many, many people.”
As with any other decision, choosing to move to the social sector is not always the perfect choice. It can be pretty painful to make these kinds of moves because you tend to love what you are doing in the corporate sector. But you also find yourself confronting the bigger reality about the condition of things and your own ability to create change. And that is what led me to do it.
I'm a person of very deep faith, and I always have been, and I do believe that I am also called to express my faith in the way I live and the choices that I make. Sometimes that choice requires you to do something that doesn't pay as well and doesn’t have as many benefits attached to it as your other options do. Ultimately, that choice delivers on the values and principles that are part of your wiring. So for me, it was a bit of a complex undertaking. It was all of those things coming together that caused me to make this decision.