// . //  The Alumni Network //  Brandon Rennels

Brandon is a mindfulness practitioner, consultant, and teacher. He recently attended the San Francisco Annual Alumni event at Kiva where we were able to learn about his life after Oliver Wyman. He currently holds the position of teacher development manager at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI). SIYLI was born at Google and is now a leading global provider of mindfulness and emotional intelligence training in the workplace.  Brandon has delivered the SIY course to diverse audiences, including global investment firms, manufacturing companies, and university social workers. Before joining SIYLI, Brandon spent several years training at the monasteries of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and renowned Zen Master.

Not knowing is okay. Consulting stretched me far beyond my comfort zone
Brandon Rennels, Oliver Wyman Alumni

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path since you left Oliver Wyman.

After Oliver Wyman, I did something quite unconventional. I went to live at a meditation center with monks and nuns. My family and friends thought I might stay permanently in the woods and become a monk myself. Still, I was always interested in how cultivating familiarity with our inner landscape affects day-to-day life in the "real world." I had taken a meditation class in college, and the seed that was planted then had grown to where I was ready to explore it more. After spending a few years at monasteries and mindfulness training, I was ready to try and integrate what I had learned. Fortunately, an auspicious opportunity arose: Google pioneered a mindfulness program in the workplace, and a start-up began teaching the program to companies around the world. The start-up was looking for people who had a combination of corporate business experience and a consistent mindfulness practice. Bingo.

How is what you're doing now similar or different to what you did at Oliver Wyman? 

The outer form of what I'm doing looks quite similar: frequent travel, client proposals, deadlines, presenting in PowerPoint, and even the occasional Array formula. The work itself, though, is quite different. I teach leadership development programs that are based on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. These programs are a mix of content delivery and experiential exercises. The content covers the neuroscience underlying mindfulness, why it matters in the workplace, and how to develop it. The exercises include sitting meditation, mindful listening, and dealing with conflict. The most rewarding part of the work is to hear how you've impacted people's lives. It's not uncommon to hear from participants say in some form "this program changed my life." Many people find they are better equipped to pause before reacting to a stressful situation, giving them an enhanced likelihood of reaching a positive resolution. One woman recently told me that taking the program equally improved her relationship with her boss, her spouse, and herself. 

What was one of your most important experiences at Oliver Wyman?

A pivotal moment for me happened one evening after work. I was on a project in Qatar, spending six nights a week at the W Doha. I had been there for about six months, so you can do the math and deduce I was SPG Platinum. I also got to know the hotel staff well and was pretty good at talking my way into a weekly suite. There was one room, though, the eWow Suite, that I couldn't crack. There was just one eWow suite in the entire hotel, and I was told it was reserved for royalty. In the entryway, there was a life-size statue of a horse, there was a large fish tank, a pool table, and all the floor-to-ceiling windows one could handle. I tried everything to get in that room: asking nicely, asking the manager, bargaining, hard bargaining, pleading, you name it. I was frustrated over my failure when, one evening, it hit me: most people on this planet will never even walk in the door of a building as nice as the W Doha. And here I am, brooding over the one room in the entire hotel I can't enter. Something seemed wrong with this picture. I realized this tendency of craving for bigger and better was rooted in a fundamental feeling of "what I have is not enough," and looking back, I recognized this feeling didn't seem to go away even when I got what I was striving for. Soon, I noticed this tendency playing out in many areas of my life. Once I began to practice mindfulness more consistently, I realized there were an incredible number of conditions for happiness available right here in the present moment. 

What advice do you have for former and current consultants and staff?

A couple of things come to mind. Not knowing is okay. Consulting stretched me far beyond my comfort zone, and I could have avoided a lot of difficulty by recognizing that not having all the answers was just part of the job. The most effective consultants I knew were the ones who could say, "Wow, a lot is happening right now, and I'm not sure what the end solution looks like, but as a first step, let's try X..."

Trust yourself. The consulting skill set allows you to work in many different jobs. Others may have ideas about what a "good" job looks like, but only you can discover what brings you alive. Finding a job that aligns with what you care about may take a while, but it's worth the wait.

This page was originally published on November 16, 2016.