We spoke with Friederike Grosse-Holz, a former BCG consultant, now Director at Blue Horizon, an impact-oriented biotechnology investor who is working to build a more ethical and sustainable global food system. Friederike shares the most important skill she learned from her time at BCG and gives some advice to help young consultants stay grounded.
Thanks for joining us, Friederike! Can you tell us about how you were introduced to Effective Altruism (EA) and how your thinking about the ideas has evolved?
I first heard of EA in 2013 at a weekend workshop on social entrepreneurship while I was studying for my MSc in biotechnology. I was excited to learn about GiveWell as a “scientific” approach to giving that made intuitive sense to me. I got more involved in the community during my Ph.D. studies at Oxford. I attended EAGlobal Oxford and some 80,000 hours events for my post-PhD career planning.
Longtermist ideas started becoming popular in the EA community around the time I was getting my Ph.D., and I initially found them rather weird. It took me a good couple of months, some reading, reflection, and many conversations with my partner and friends to understand longtermism and develop my own position on it. I now believe that ensuring the long-term future goes well is the most important, tractable, and neglected challenge of our time.
How does your current work reflect your convictions around what important work means?
My current career path – impact investing – has a “triple theory of impact.” I work to finance and accelerate start-ups that take animals out of the food chain (near-term animal welfare), to build an investor community that is excited about investing in technologies for civilizational resilience (long-term biosecurity, social and climate stability) and to earn to give (my compensation in Private Equity, combined with a modest lifestyle, allows me to comfortably donate 5-6 figures annually to longtermist projects).
I now believe that ensuring the long-term future goes well is the most important, tractable, and neglected challenge of our time.
Do any resources stand out as having had an outsized impact on your career trajectory?
80,000 Hours was quite important for me. When I was thinking about post-PhD career options in 2016, management consulting was one of their top recommended career paths. It seemed like a good personal fit, but I’m not sure I would have pursued that path with as much conviction if I hadn’t known the 80,000 Hours reasoning around career capital and earning to give.
When you first joined BCG, what were you hoping to get out of your time there?
I was hoping to learn how to lead teams. In consulting, you’re exposed to many different leadership styles over a short period of time because as you switch projects, you get integrated into new teams. I was also hoping for a better understanding of how the private sector works and what my most impactful medium-term options would be, all while providing me with enough financial flexibility to pursue future options.
How did your time at BCG differ from your expectations?
I expected shorter projects. My second project was a post-merger integration that went on for 2 years, and I stayed on that project for nine months. I then worked on a large account where I contributed to different cases over several months, but all with essentially the same BCG team. Eventually, I found my way into the Principal Investors and Private Equity group, where the projects were much shorter but more intense than before.
In consulting, you’re exposed to many different leadership styles over a short period of time because as you switch projects, you get integrated into new teams.
Post-BCG, you’re helping to lead Blue Horizon! Could you tell us about the company’s mission and theory of change?
Blue Horizon invests at the intersection of biology, technology, and agriculture in building a sustainable food system. As impact investors, we have a dual mandate of financial returns and impact: We measure and manage impact on the planet (climate, animals) and on humans (health) for every investment we make. Blue Horizon thus deploys private markets’ capital into companies that are building a more sustainable, more ethical food system through AgTech, FoodTech, and circular and bioeconomy approaches.
Much of our impact value creation happens after investment. For example, we work with founders to identify products to launch that have the most impact and financial expected value, and we help companies figure out how their products could enable impactful industries like alternative proteins (e.g., animal-free meat substitutes or cultivated meat).
Tell us about your current role at Blue Horizon and the work you’re doing on a day-to-day basis.
I am a Director on the Blue Horizon Growth investment team, together with two other Directors. The Director is the level below the partners (who own the firm) and above the analysts and associates on the investment team.
I spend time sourcing new deals – finding companies we might want to invest in (mostly through networks, but also through desktop research) – then evaluating them to come up with an investment recommendation. After multiple rounds of alignment with the team and the partners, I then bring the investment recommendation to the investment committee (a group of partners) who decide whether to move ahead with the deal. I communicate with the target company throughout the process. If we decide to invest, I work with lawyers and accountants to finalize and execute the investment. This starts the “value creation” part of our work!
When Blue Horizon invests, I work with the companies in our portfolio – sometimes holding a formal board seat, sometimes through informal relationships – to help them grow. The work differs from company to company. With some, I run full-day strategy workshops. With others, I only make introductions. And for some, I act as a sounding board for the CEOs.
How do you think your consulting background helped you in the transition into this role?
At BCG, I learned a lot about stakeholder management: Ensuring people can be productive in groups. This involves understanding people’s needs and plans and ensuring they all do what’s required to make a project succeed. Experience helps a lot – if you can see the patterns, there are a lot of proactive interventions you can take, from helping people understand why something needs doing, to ensuring they are properly incentivized, to helping them remove roadblocks. This skill allows me to leverage my network to bring in deals and to work effectively both within Blue Horizon and with portfolio companies.
In addition to stakeholder management, how else do you think consultants' skill sets can best be leveraged for solving the world's most pressing problems?
Management consultants tend to excel at holding organizations together, both through stakeholder management (as described above) and through staying calm and productive in crises (because we know how to work well in a high-stress, fast-paced environment). When ex-consultants work in other organizations, it helps that they speak the language of the corporate world, especially in the non-profit and academic sectors (where other team members usually don’t), to attract funding, talent, and support.
[Management consultants] know how to work well in a high-stress, fast-paced environment.
What advice would you give to an EA-aligned early career consultant?
First, maintain a network of non-consultant EA-aligned friends to keep yourself grounded. It can be easy to fall into hedonic treadmills if all of your social life happens in fancy bars, fancy cars, and Marriott hotels. For me, it was invaluable to live with EAs during my time at BCG (and it still is 🙂).
Second, be deliberate about what you want to learn from consulting, and take the time to reflect on your learnings! I know this can seem impossible, but it really pays off, both during your consulting tenure and afterwards. If you’re in consulting to learn, you should be at least as serious about learning as you are about your day-to-day work. It’s harder to be serious about learning because it’s not incentivized to the same extent. Be aware of that dynamic and make time and headspace to ensure you build those transferable skills that you came for! Reflect on a weekly or monthly basis, in writing(!), ideally in discussion with a coach or a friend.
Be at least as serious about learning as you are about your day-to-day work.
That’s great advice for all consultants, especially for those just starting out! Is there any advice you would offer consultants who are exploring exiting into an EA-aligned organization?
Don’t underestimate how valuable you are and how much you’ve learned! Soft skills like stakeholder management are sometimes hard to pinpoint, so strive to identify them early to develop a sense of what your comparative advantage may be.
Agreed! Lastly, what excites you most about the EACN, a global network of EA-aligned current and former consultants?
The EACN provides inspirational role models for how someone can work in consulting and care deeply about the world and its future and then transition into impactful next steps outside of consulting!