For Andy Bonney, a craving for curiosity makes for a content life
Andy Bonney is content. He’s nowhere close to being finished with his career, but when he looks back, he says he feels a sense of pleasant surprise at everything that has gone pretty well so far.
“I’m very grateful,” said Bonney, who was a director at AlixPartners for nine years before joining Cerberus Capital Management in 2017. “I’ve had really good fortune. The only thing I would take credit for is that I took the opportunities that came my way. I’m not sure I really created them, but I took them. And they mostly paid off, and I’ve enjoyed the ride and continue to do so.”
And what a ride he’s had. When just a wee 16-year-old, Bonney joined the British Navy out of a “sense of adventure” and a desire to go down a path different from many of his schoolmates. Almost 40 years later, he has had the experience of working on submarines in the Navy, to incredibly hands-on work on the manufacturing and production lines at several automotive companies, to providing consulting advice as an operational improvement expert across a span of industries.
Bonney joined the Royal Navy for a technical apprenticeship, going on to be chosen for a commissioned officer role, and then earning his engineering degree at the Navy college. Keen on getting a start in the industry, Bonney joined Ford Motor in a manufacturing engineering role, moving to Toyota’s production line seven years later, and then onto General Motors’ Vauxhall group four years after that. “The automotive industry always appealed to me because it’s competitive and very fast moving,” Bonney said. “Things don’t stand still for long, and you’ve got to be really good at what you do to survive.”
At this point, with such rich industry experience, Bonney was in high demand in the consulting world. So, he accepted work at McKinsey & Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, and after a short spell as an independent consultant he moved to AlixPartners in late 2007. While at AlixPartners, Bonney enjoyed the creative, hands-on work he was able to accomplish. “I always loved the fact that there wasn’t a prescriptive way of doing things,” Bonney said of his time at the firm. “It was very much about finding the right solution for the particular problem we were working on at the time. I really enjoyed that we didn’t assume there was a copybook way of doing things.”
The move to Cerberus came when Bonney realized he wanted to experience new horizons. “There’s a common feature when I look back on my career,” he said. “I always feel like there’s more to see and more to life than what I’m doing. I’m really interested in seeing how other industries work, how other sectors work. It’s a curiosity, I suppose.”
One learning that Bonney has carried throughout his varied experiences is the idea that there is no substitute for forming good relationships with the key stakeholders on your project and at work in general. “Becoming a trusted advisor is not an entitlement – it’s earned,” he said. “You have to invest time and go above and beyond to show that you are genuinely aligned to the interests of whoever it is, the client, the company, etc. And through that, you’ll earn some respect, and through that you’ll earn trust, and that will allow you to do the task that you’re there to do so much more easily. It doesn’t matter what job title you carry and what business card you hold.”
There is, also, no substitute for human connections and the professional relationships one forms with people. It’s one of the reasons Bonney tries to stay in touch with old colleagues. “Everyone always has a story to tell,” he said. “Everyone is gaining new experiences all the time and there’s always something to be learned. You create and offer opportunities to others through that route. You learn personally, but you could also fulfill some business needs. So, there’s a practical aspect to it as well.”
To tackle facets of his busy life, Bonney has always relied on a few tricks. He is a prolific list-maker, taking the trusty pen-and-paper approach to planning his day. “My wife sometimes mocks me for this because if I end up doing things that weren’t on my list, I write them down and cross them off as well!”
He also doesn’t “fight the time zones,” as he describes it. “If, for example, I’m going to the US for a week’s work, I’ll finish my day at about 9 PM and go to bed,” he said. “And then I’ll get up at 3 AM and do the administrative stuff that I normally would’ve done in the evening. Of course, my standard working day has to adjust, but beyond that I don’t fight it.”
Another thing that keeps Bonney relaxed despite the high-pressure life is living in a relatively small town 50 miles north of London with his wife and two teenage sons who enjoy riding the three horses they own. Bonney also has three older sons from a previous marriage. “I love to go to London for a day’s work, but I also love the contrast that when I get home at night, I can look out my back window and I can’t see another house.”