Multi-cultural life informs managing director’s approach
When she was 7, Yogesh Bahl’s daughter refused to talk to him when he called home during another long work trip. She told him that if he wanted to talk to her, he’d have to come home and do so in person. “I don’t fault her for it at all,” Bahl said. “It was a good reminder that phone calls and texts can’t replace live family interaction.”
Bahl’s work as an operations, investigations, and litigation consulting expert still sees him travel extensively, but the managing director has a rule that enables him to be a more attentive parent when he is at home with his daughter, now 12, and 15-year-old son. “I keep my phone away as much as possible over the weekend and just be there for the family,” he said.
Parenting with mindfulness has been a hallmark of Bahl’s life. “My mom had a huge influence on me growing up,” Bahl said. “She is very independent and was instrumental in guiding me and my brother through school and onward.” Bahl’s blood technologist parents moved him and his younger brother to The Bronx from India when he was 7. The family stayed with relatives when they first arrived.
“We came here with nothing,” he said. “It was difficult, but to the credit of my parents, they didn’t make it seem as difficult as it was.”
Growing up in The Bronx in the 1980s, Bahl said violence around the neighborhood was common. “I remember shootings growing up,” he said. “You had to be careful when, where, and who you walked with.”
But the other side of the coin was the ability to grow up in an extremely diverse neighborhood, being exposed to different cultures and histories. Bahl particularly credits his eight-year-long study of Hebrew and the Jewish culture for shaping his multicultural identity. “There are always pluses and minuses – I really enjoyed my childhood,” he said. “I was exposed to a lot of diversity and so many different cultures, and that actually turned out to be a strength for me because now I can have a productive conversation with anyone and I’m very comfortable with it.”
Bahl stayed in New York City for his undergraduate degree in accounting and international business, working almost full-time through the four years. He answered a newspaper advertisement to land his first job after college – as an investigator for a law firm – and after getting his MBA a couple of years later, entered into consulting by leveraging his network. “I just took a chance and now I’ve been in consulting for more than 20 years,” he said.
Early in his professional life, Bahl took another chance that served him well – volunteering to work on projects in Japan for an extended period, without having traveled there prior or knowing a word of Japanese. The client was so impressed with Bahl’s ability to create diverse teams, evaluate operations, and execute investigations successfully, that they not only expanded his role but also recommended him to other corporations and law firms.
“I ended up spending five years doing work in Japan,” Bahl said, eventually becoming almost fluent in Japanese. He then worked in South Korea for three years and Taiwan for another two years. “Traveling and working in different places makes you realize that no matter where you go, people are very similar: They want the same things, they think about the same things. We needlessly allow cultures, languages, and unconscious biases get in the way of properly understanding each other.”
Unconscious bias also gets in the way of finding the right leaders, Bahl said. “A lot of leaders tend to find successors who look like them,” he said. “I think that’s a sub-optimized process. Organizations change; and the leaders of tomorrow don’t necessarily need the same skillsets as leaders of today or yesterday.”
The ability to listen to different points of view and appreciate a broader skillset is a philosophy Bahl carries into his day-to-day work as well, assembling teams that do not look or feel homogeneous. “It took me time to understand that I may not have the best idea and may not have the best approach – diverse perspectives are helpful,” he said. “For example, as far back as I can remember, the majority of my teams have consisted primarily of women, who brought vantage points I could not have brought on my own. This variety in thinking helps us connect better with each other and with our clients. From diversity stems creativity because any really good executable idea or approach comes from a pool of creative, differing thoughts.”
Bahl says he’s the same at home – being open to all options and ideas from his kids, especially as they get closer to college. “I teach them the process of figuring out the solution, rather than teaching them what the right answer should be.”