The McKinsey name evokes prestige and prowess. Exposed to a sweeping range of industries, functions, and models, MBA hires tackle the issues that baffle CEOs and chiefs of state alike. That requires unraveling what is most complex, enigmatic, and essential. Such challenges attract the top minds: virtuosos with the courage to shoulder big responsibilities, the humility to listen and learn, the versatility to create and collaborate, and the audacity to make a difference.
That’s why McKinsey & Company remains the blue chip standard. It is a dynamic training ground for catalysts, a home for the ambitious and inventive along with the dreamers and doers. Here, the biggest threat is the question not asked or the insight not shared. That has been one of the biggest takeaways for the full-time MBA graduates hired during the 2018 cycle.
“OBLIGATION TO DISSENT”
Just ask Jane Chun, an INSEAD grad who joined McKinsey’s London office. At orientation, she disputed the notion that consultants should mold themselves into CEOs, noting that “there are more CEOs named John than there are women on the Fortune 500 list.” In most firms, speaking up would be a career ender for Chun. Instead, the office leadership applauded her for “firing the first shot.” At that moment, Chun experienced one of McKinsey’s foundational values: the obligation to dissent.
“McKinsey is most often brought in when things are either unclear or not going very well,” Chun admits. “These situations are not easy to navigate, so it is critical to be skilled at having difficult, but necessary, conversations. These can manifest in a few different ways: perhaps it’s delivering constructive feedback to your manager, disagreeing with a client’s current strategy, or questioning the approach of senior leadership. We are encouraged to be diplomatic, but ultimately, we are expected to tell the truth.”
In other words, the McKinsey culture centers on ‘truth to power,’ where seniority takes a backseat to merit and openness sparks curiosity and candor. However, Harvard Business School’s Tabitha Strobel has a different word for it: authenticity. A member of the New York office, Strobel describes herself as a “huge people person” in a March interview with Poets&Quants. For her, the most striking aspect of McKinsey has been how her peers – managers and new hires alike – are encouraged to dive in and dig out the best possible solutions for clients.
NOT JUST A COLLECTION OF “COOL” RESUMES
“Not only are people coming in with different skills and experiences,” she says, “they are also encouraged to bring that to problem-solving every day. It’s not just that you come with an interesting resume, but you are also encouraged to bring your full self to work every day. “We’re not just bringing in a collection of cool resumes.”
Make no mistake: the Class of 2018 brings some added “cool” to McKinsey. Strobel herself was a submarine officer, who considers her signature accomplishment to be “navigating my submarine through congested waters” – a perfect metaphor for consulting. Before business school, Jane Chun’s team was tapped to turn around the Old Navy Brand – quickly posting double-digit group thanks to “teamwork, creativity, and perseverance.” Wharton’s Yuja Chang has touched thousands of blind people through his startup, which combines remote assistance with wearable devices and live-streaming. When projects get complicated, McKinseyites can always sit down with the Toronto office’s Daphne Hemily. A Rotman grad and Doctors Without Borders alum, she once had to hand over an international NGO hospital in South Sudan.
“The process included negotiations with four United Nations organizations, nine NGOs, national, state and municipal government officials, community leaders, rebel militia and the national army,” she explains. “Understandably, many thought a successful transition was impossible. I had an extremely committed team whose hard work allowed the 49,000+ annual patients to receive quality care throughout the handover. Beyond defying expectations, what I am most proud of is ensuring all the 264 local and international staff had professional training to support their desired next steps; 70% of staff secured a job before the end of their contract.”
NEARLY HALF OF EMPLOYMENT OFFERS GO TO WOMEN
This “cool” factor extends into their personal lives too. As a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, Strobel met her future husband playing opposite each other in Guys and Dolls. Chun was a Junior Olympic Fencer, while Andrew Tingley – who works out of the Pittsburgh office – has camped out in sites from Florida to Washington. Tom Wichman embraces his inner child; the Booth grad and U.S. Army combat engineer plays in kickball and dodgeball leagues. If you’re seeking someone who isn’t afraid to say yes, head to the Paris office and introduce yourself to Lorelei Gertz.
“During my years in China, I had a short-lived violinist career,” writes the 2018 INSEAD grad. “A friend of mine convinced me to accept a weekend job for an F&B advertising company touring the country to promote a product. I ended up playing violin in nightclubs in more than 30 cities, together with four Russian dancers and a South American saxophone player.”
Warren Teichner can relate to the fresh ideas and enthusiasm that these MBA hires bring to McKinsey. In 2001, he was one of them. Now a senior partner in the New Jersey office, Warren began his career in the firm’s Johannesburg office after earning his MBA at Columbia Business School. Most recently, he was named the senior partner sponsor to McKinsey’s recruiting and talent acquisition arm. Thus far, he has been struck by the 2018 class’ diversity, which includes a surge in military hires. What’s more, Teichner points out, nearly half of all offers now going to women. While the class is distinct, he adds that they also embody the best virtues of the McKinsey culture.
“They are rooted in several similarities such as their problem solving, communication skills, focus on values, and analytical abilities as well as their desire to do meaningful work and create the best solutions with our clients.”
PRACTICING CONSULTING THROUGH THE CASE METHOD
Some of this, of course, stems from the class’ business school training. That starts with a client-driven mentality. At HBS, Andrew Tingley learned to focus on the big picture, but never forget to celebrate the small triumphs – always asking himself, “How can I improve the lives of my clients today?” One way to do that says Paul Gabriel is to be self-aware, discerning enough to acknowledge your gaps and humble enough to bring others into the mix.
“At INSEAD, I was often thrown out of my comfort zone, and I quickly realized it was OK not to always have the answer as long as you admit it and ask for help,” explains the Dubai-based consultant. “At McKinsey, you’re constantly challenged by new and exciting problems. Sometimes you solve them easily, and sometimes you find difficulties and feel you’re stuck. In these situations, I’ve noticed that the sooner you reach out for help, the easier it is to get unstuck and the more successful you’ll be.”
The case method also closely simulated the structured rhythms of consulting. That starts with the preparation process. Hundreds of times, MBA students will place themselves in a protagonist’s shoes, framing problems, analyzing data, posing questions, exploring avenues, weighing alternatives and trade-offs, and devising action plans. These activities set the stage, says Tabitha Strobel, for the high stakes work to come.
“Problem-solving sessions where we tackle a client’s messiest problems are a lot like the 90-person discussions in the [case] classroom. In both, you have to listen carefully and digest what is being said, develop and support your own hypothesis, and not be afraid to disagree. The energy from these classroom discussions is just as vibrant as the energy in the smaller setting of a team room.”
FIRM EARMARKS $200 MILLION A YEAR TO TRAINING
Business school is just the beginning of the learning curve for McKinsey new hires. According to Warren Teichner, the firm invests more than $200 million dollars a year in training. This process begins with Embark, the firm’s week-long new joiner orientation program. Think of it as a 30,000-foot overview, with Teichner using his Embark time to urge joiners to think about what they want to learn and where they want to work. Beyond this “Make Your Own McKinsey” reflection, Embark is a time for MBAs to grow their network and develop friendships in their office – and beyond.
“You’re joining a cohort of people who are starting,” says Tabitha Strobel. “It is just a fun experience to start your journey, building relationships and bouncing ideas off of people you’ll be working with throughout this process. It tactically sets you up with the things you need to be successful.”
Go to Page 3 for In-Depth Profiles of 14 McKinsey Hires
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.