Bain & Company Germany boss Walter Sinn on why he is not afraid of AI

13 July 2018 5 min. read
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Walter Sinn, the boss of Bain & Company in Germany, has outlined a number of reasons to be hopeful about the impact of artificial intelligence. Speaking with the German press, Sinn explained that he is not afraid of AI, as it can change and complement the consulting business, without ultimately replacing it.

In discussion with German newspaper Handelsblatt, Bain’s German leader said that at its essence the firm's core business, namely strategic consulting for international companies, has not changed in principle, in spite of its increased adoption of artificial intelligence (AI). He went on to add that, “the work of management consultants is not replaceable by a machine,” and that, “the work has never been as exciting as it is now.”

Sinn has been at head of Bain in Germany since June 2014. He joined the firm in 2011, having most recently worked with fellow Bostonian rival consultancy The Boston Consulting Group. In the firm’s German wing, he had been tasked with the responsibility for BCG’s banking activities, such as leading the integration of Dresdner Bank into Commerzbank, and advising several German banks on strategic and business model transformations. After three years with Bain, he was elevated to the role of Managing Partner in Germany.

Bain & Company Germany boss Walter Sinn on why he is not afraid of AI

According to Sinn himself, during his 25 years in the business, much has changed. He reflected; “Previously, we had analyses that were drawn in pencil onto slides, and presented using an overhead projector. Then we embraced powerpoint slides. And now we are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence.”

However, while such changes might be extreme, Sinn remains more moderate than those who go so far to say that AI will make the management consultant superfluous. He contended; “I do not share this thought… No question, artificial intelligence will also change our business, but the core of our work can not be replaced by a machine.”

Instead, he said, “In consulting, it's increasingly about deductions from the analysis of huge amounts of data that a robot can deliver better soon. Consultants can then formulate action recommendations for managers. So this technology will help us to be an even better guide to strategy and critical management decisions.”

This echoes a number of experts in the industry, who have each outlined the benefits of AI, while warning not to put the cart before the horse. While businesses would be right to expect their consultants to leverage technology to lighten their workload and concentrate on adding value over menial administrative tasks, such a line of thought suggests, in the end strategic consulting is aimed at helping customers build and sustain sustainable competitive advantages, something which needs experience, intuition, creativity and tact.

Sinn said; “A machine alone cannot do that. But it will be a better help to man. Man has to ask the right questions and deliver the best conclusions. This will not change in the next 50 years. We do not create papers with nice strategy sketches. Our customers expect measurable results from us, we have to bear the change in the company. This is only possible if we take the people with us. No robot can do that.”

Data analysis

Sinn also highlighted how data is becoming the heart of value-added consultancy services. “Our know-how from all our projects is a huge treasure trove of data. We are working intensively on the question of how we can cumulate this proprietary data and make even better use of it anonymously. The gain in knowledge for our customers is great because we know what has worked in other project situations and where the biggest levers are. Raising this treasure will be one of the key competitive factors in our industry.”

Indeed, this is something which AI can help consultants to deliver on, Sinn contended. A rapidly changing business environment requires firms to stay agile, and the fast and accurate examination of large amounts of data by AI can help to boost agility. Sinn added; “It’s no longer only strategy consulting. The strategy consultants are now also pushing into digital domain. In fact, he believes that Bain – which was chosen as the top consulting firm to work for in Germany last year – is well positioned to be a leader in the market. 

“Customers want fast ideas and pragmatic solutions, we develop prototypes with them in a short time. This requires significant investments that can be better handled by the top strategy consultants.”