Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

This Poland-Based Consultant Stepped Up to Help Ukrainian Refugees

Maciej Gerhardt, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group.
Maciej Gerhardt, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group.

“I have an idea.” That was the subject of a calendar invite Maciej Gerhardt received from a member of Boston Consulting Group’s global communications team in March of 2022. As a Warsaw-based principal at the consulting firm, Gerhardt had already been helping the team speak about sensitive topics around the war in Ukraine—but this mysterious meeting would change the course of his work on the humanitarian crisis across the border.

“The call was to discuss our first reactions to the concept of creating the Ukrainian Virtual Hub (UVH),” Gerhardt says. “Being based in Poland, the war felt relevant to me and all my colleagues. It was a natural decision to get involved, and extremely rewarding to work on something that could really help Ukrainians at such a difficult time.”

UVH, part of BCG’s online career site, makes it easy for Ukrainians who have been displaced or already live abroad to apply for positions at the company. “We also waive the local language requirements whenever feasible, and provide webinars to candidates so they can learn about BCG, the initiative, and how to go through the application process successfully,” Gerhardt says. Once at BCG, new hires receive additional benefits such as sponsored local language lessons.

BCG’s rapid response to the crisis did not come as a surprise to Gerhardt. “When BCG commits to something, it truly is full speed ahead,” he says. “The strong support for Ukraine—via the UVH and a multitude of other local and regional initiatives—exemplifies this.”

Here, he shares what he learned while opening up his home to a Ukrainian family, how BCG helps employees maintain work-life balance, and why the opportunities for growth are endless at the large, global company.

What inspired you to pursue a career in consulting?

There was a consulting club at my undergraduate university, and I learned about the industry at one of their events during my first year. I immediately thought that being able to work with top executives at such an early age was an immense opportunity.

I did a few internships at various corporations to strengthen my CV prior to consulting—which I highly advise to those looking to build real business acumen—before ending up at a graduate scheme in London. I stayed there for a year, before joining my true dream job at BCG.

How did you know BCG would be a good fit?

From the moment I joined, I knew BCG was the place for me. I enjoy all of it—from the intellectual challenge and extremely smart colleagues to the high-profile clients and having the opportunity to solve their most pressing issues. I’ve been here for 11 years, rising to the rank of principal, and the entire journey has been incredibly interesting. I’ve had the chance to work across industries such as finance, insurance, mining, and consumer products and retail.

How did BCG support you in the decision to leave the company to achieve your MBA?

At BCG, an MBA is one of the potential paths you can take in your learning and development journey. Since BCG sponsors the entire MBA, I felt like it was an opportunity not to be missed. After my MBA, I came back to BCG with a stronger academic background in certain areas (such as finance), a broader worldview thanks to the international focus of the program, and an even firmer commitment that this is the career for me.

What are you responsible for in your current role?

As a principal, I deliver projects within the correct time frame, scope, and budget while also aiding in developing the business and seeking new value-generating ideas. In addition, I manage individual projects, especially the bigger or more strategic ones. I also act as the right-hand to the partner in my office responsible for consumer/retail in developing our client portfolio and preparing proposals to bring in new business.

When the humanitarian crisis caused by the war started, you opened up your home to a Ukrainian family. What did you and your family learn from this experience?

We hosted a mother and her three children, ages two, seven, and 11. Their father stayed behind to defend his country from the Russian invaders, which in itself was unimaginably stressful for the family.

The experience taught us two valuable lessons. First, it reminded us how lucky we are to live in a country that follows democratic standards, allows for freedom of speech, and is protected by its NATO allies. Until the war started, this freedom felt like a given, but Poland’s history (the country was under communist rule just over 30 years ago) and current events across the border in Ukraine show that these freedoms are in fact very fragile and must be consciously defended every day.

Second, in parallel with the pandemic, the experience of hosting refugees helped us gain a greater perspective on our problems. Prior to both of these events, the world felt like a more stable and peaceful place, and thus small issues such as a delayed promotion often got blown out of proportion. I believe we became humbler and learned to celebrate the “here and now” much more.

On a positive note, the family we hosted, despite all they had gone through, was still filled with optimism about their future and the future of their country, so how can we justify being any less optimistic than them?

What kinds of programs are in place that help current employees maintain work-life balance?

There is a common belief that work-life balance is tough to find in consulting. BCG has developed a broad spectrum of tools to alleviate the issue including Next Generation Ways of Working (NGWoW), a program dedicated to monitoring teams’ performance on work-life balance, learning and development, and client value-add criteria. We also have Cool Down Days, when consultants receive protected time to recharge, learn, and develop after a project comes to an end. Finally, there are Nomad Weeks, which give us the flexibility to work remotely from anywhere for a specific period each year. These tools and a strong commitment from our partners has yielded real results.

What do you like most about working for a large, global company like BCG?

There are three things I value most. With more than 27,000 colleagues around the world and growth rates in the double-digits, there are bound to be amazing opportunities for development. In my case, I had the chance to switch specializations from financial to consumer/retail, which was experiencing significant growth in my region. Also, the opportunity to develop the UVH would not have been possible at a smaller company since the initiative required a substantial resource commitment.

Another positive is the promise of stability in the face of a turbulent and challenging macroeconomic environment. BCG allows me to feel real job security. Plus, this stability means I can fully focus on what I enjoy most, which is solving my clients’ problems.

What’s your go-to activity to unwind after work these days?

To clear my head, I enjoy fitness and strength training classes, both of which allow me to be active and spend quality time with my fiancée. I also like to cycle and jog in the warmer months and go speed skating in the colder months.

If I have limited time between work and sleep, I try to read a few pages of a book or watch half an episode of a series. I highly recommend it before bed because it improves my sleep quality significantly. You’ll thank yourself for it the next day! I know I do.

What is your favorite place to travel in Europe and why?

The most common answer among Europeans is usually Italy, and I agree. From spring to fall, Italy has fantastic warm temperatures and lots of sunshine, so you can spend time in the countless beautiful seaside resorts and at stunning beaches. You can also visit historic towns, all lined with fantastic restaurants and cafés. For some adventure in the summer, you can hike or cycle on endless routes in the mountains, while in the winter you can experience the most picturesque and sunny ski pistes in Europe. Even writing about it puts a huge smile on my face, and actually reminds me of the time I proposed to my girlfriend in the Italian Alps. Luckily she said yes!

Updated 1/24/2023