Alumni spotlight: Building on the early years at Capgemini

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Dan Grace worked at Capgemini Government Solutions (CGS) from June 2012 to August 2018. Starting as a consultant fresh out of the University of Georgia, Dan delivered analytics and business intelligence services to clients. He now resides in Seattle and works as a Senior Product Manager at Amazon. We caught up with Dan to learn more about his experience at CGS and how it prepared him for his current role.

Tell us a little bit about your current role at Amazon. What skills and knowledge from your time at Capgemini Government Solutions do you lean on at your current job?

Dan Grace I work for an Amazon team that recruits and launches third-party U.S. sellers into European marketplaces. Most recently, I’ve been putting together strategies and tactics to help our business and sellers navigate Brexit. I’m also leading up a few projects to help our team take an increasingly data-driven approach to helping sellers expand.

I draw from my experiences at Capgemini Government Solutions daily, especially around problem solving. When diagnosing various business problems,

it all starts with working backward from the customer or the business’s pain points: you generate hypotheses, dive deep into data to isolate the problem’s root cause, evaluate and refine your hypotheses, and iterate. Capgemini Government Solutions gave me incredible foundations in all components: how to frame and break down problem sets, how to work with multiple stakeholders (coworkers and clients), and how to comfortably use data tools and techniques to triangulate on the deeper issue and solution.

I’m also continually bouncing ideas around and problem solving with various stakeholders and customers – and my early years with Capgemini helped me develop comfort with these activities. One of the cool things about CGS is that it’s willing to double down on its new consultants and put many of them in front of clients from the get-go. Within a few weeks of starting at CGS, I already owned small deliverables at client briefs – which, at the time, was not the norm for my friends working at other consultancies. Those early days gave me a base that I continue to build on top of today.

After CGS, you attended graduate school. How did you make that decision?

There were a few things at play. One was the age-old “the more you learn, the less you know.” As I expanded deeper into the world of analytics, leading teams, and generating sales, I realized that there were many fundamentals I didn’t have a comfortable grasp on. No amount of bestsellers were going to help me build the fluency I found sufficient.

For instance, anyone can build a somewhat sophisticated (and maybe even useful) statistical model with a few lines of code. But the axioms, math, and pros/cons that underlie just a mere line of code can be surprisingly involved. Doing and understanding aren’t always the same.

Like most consultants, I’m obsessed with understanding. So, it always felt inevitable that I’d take time off to look under the hood – not only with analytics but also the other interweaving topics that construct what we think of as business: economics, accounting, psychology, marketing, game theory, statistics, etc.

More practically, I looked around at a lot of leadership at CGS and noticed that many of them had pursued graduate school. Almost everyone in my leadership chain had gone to business school or had gotten a graduate degree in STEM. And they had fantastic careers. So, it was hard to ignore the prospect that grad school might be in my future.

I’ll always remember something funny: I was out with Dan Ford at an after-work event when I mentioned I was thinking about applying to business school. He told me to look into Chicago Booth’s program, which wasn’t on my radar at the time. I told him if I went off to get my MBA, I’d love to consider coming back to CGS at some point down on the road. His response was something to the effect of “We’d love to have you; go to somewhere like Amazon first, learn from them, and then come back to us.” It turns out Chicago Booth and Amazon were both in my cards. So, Dan’s two-for-two!

What differences have you experienced between being a consultant and working in-house for a company?

There are few differences. It’s common for Amazonians to take different roles with different teams over the years, which mimics the project-driven nature of consulting. The customer is still the center of your professional universe. You perform root-cause analysis to get to the core of problems. You’re often working with data. You put forward proposals to secure resources for projects, which mirrors writing proposals and selling your ideas and services to prospective clients. The many commonalities are why it’s so typical for folks to move from consulting roles to industry roles.

What are you reading right now?

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. It’s a great window into the friendship between Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman – two giants in the field of behavioral economics who conducted pioneering research into the various cognitive fallacies that complicate decision making. They torpedoed the idea of homo economicus. The book also highlights many fields (such as medicine and basketball) that were upended when conventional wisdom/export opinion collided with data-driven decision making.

I’m also working my way through Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Hobbies and weekend activities?

I’m a lifelong guitar player. Anyone at Capgemini who has spoken with me for more than a few minutes knows that most of my conversations end up revolving around music. I even played a few after-hours events in my CGS days. I remember once I was playing a Beatles tune and flubbed the intro in front of all my coworkers. (Pro tip: when you have to perform for a wide range of people, no one will ever fault you for picking a Beatles tune.) Magically, they kept inviting me back for a few more gigs and still gave me more responsibilities around the office. The show must go on. tennis court
Photo caption: Dan Grace and CGS’s Dan Ford take to the tennis court.

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