P&Q: Give me an example of one of your mentors and how this person helped you, as a woman, to really achieve your goals?
DB: I’ve had so many mentors. I think the best sponsors and mentors I’ve had never treated me differently because I was a woman, but more created the flexibility when I needed it. When I came back, their support for me was unwavering. One of my best sponsors was a gentleman I worked with for many years. His name is Jon Cummings. He actually just retired from the firm. He knew what kind of work I wanted to do at McKinsey. And he would constantly call me into situations and opportunities that allowed me to do that type of work.
For example, I really love corporate M&A and I did many, many years of great corporate M&A work with him in both private equity and strategy to make direction-changing acquisition decisions. He knew that was the type of work I was excited to do and he created many opportunities for me to do that and also introduced me to clients of mine where I had the opportunity to help them on those types of decisions.
Jon is an example of one of many incredibly committed sponsors who created great opportunities for me. They pushed me to do my best work, to continue learning and growing as a consultant. Those are the type of people that I’m surrounded by and I hope that I am that type of mentor and sponsor to the people who are now around me.
P&Q: What are some big developments happening in your firm that would excite MBAs? Why are they important and what will their impact be?
DB: One of the areas where we are really excited is all the work we’re doing around digital. We have significantly invested in our digital and analytics practices and capabilities over the past few years. We’ve hired some incredible leaders into those practices. When I talk to candidates, one of the things they get excited about is that McKinsey is a digital and analytics training ground.
Another thing I would talk a bit about is how we are helping our clients contribute to and shape the new normal that is coming out of the post-COVID era. As consumer behavior is going to change dramatically based on what we’ve been through over the past several months, I think the world will obviously feel different. One of the things MBAs have been very excited about is their ability to contribute – whether it be healthcare, hospitality, retail or financial services – to how these businesses serve their customers in a much better way, using this moment to learn how to shape this new offering.
I think a lot of the things we’ve always done well around – providing folks with a diversity of experiences and flexibility when they need it and continuing to make sure they are learning, growing, and working with a broad set of mentors and leaders – all of those things have been attractive to MBAs for a long time. It’s still a core part of our model and will continue to be.
P&Q: You were promoted to partner in 2010 and senior partner in 2017. What are the skills you need to possess to reach the partner level? What do you need to demonstrate so you could set yourself apart and become a senior partner at McKinsey?
DB: When I think about what our great partners look like, we’re actually quite clear. I sit on our partner review committee globally. I actually evaluate our partners in Casablanca and Lagos, Nigeria. The great partners are people who are admirable leaders. They work with values and we care very deeply about our values. They treat people with respect, help people grow, and provide great client impact. That’s really important to us. We also expect our partners to be contributing something from a knowledge perspective. For example, I know a fair bit about retail. We expect our partners to know something deeply and have significant impact with our clients as a result of that.
We also expect them to be great people leaders. Upward feedback is a really important part of what we do. We expect our partners to become great leaders over time. With that, we also want great talent developers. We really focus on those elements of our profiles where they have great client impact, they’re admirable leaders, they’re great people leaders, and they know something.
[In terms of senior partner], I think of myself as a partner too, to be honest. We all talk about ourselves as partners. When I introduce myself to clients, I introduce myself as a partner at McKinsey. We’re a partnership – and we’re very proud that we’re a partnership. It allows us to act in ways that is very partner-like. So I think all of the things that I just talked about, I’ve had to continue to demonstrate that I meet the bar on all of those dimensions. [In doing so], the firm will continue to look to me to be an admirable leader, a great client leader, and a great people leader. So it is not significantly different.
P&Q: You earned your MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. How did an MBA prepare you for a long and successful career at McKinsey?
DB: I was a one-year student at Kellogg, which is a four-quarter program they have there. I was a Northwestern undergrad as well. Kellogg was invaluable. There were a few things about it. It certainly greatly broadened my knowledge. As an undergrad, I was an Economics and Math major. So I did not have the skills I wanted in areas like marketing and corporate finance specifically, so I spent a lot of time on those topics when I was getting my MBA to really increase my depth in those knowledge areas. It provided an invaluable foundation for me for a lot of the work I do now.
I also think there is something great about the network that you build while you’re at business school. I know that has been invaluable to me since I graduated from Kellogg, not only for business reasons but for personal reasons. I have great friends from my MBA program.
Another thing I did when I was at Kellogg was a fair amount of international travel. I participated in Kellogg’s post-graduation program where I spent a month living and doing service work in Ghana for a microfinance organization. That really increased my love for international work. I also spent time in Southeast Asia when I was at Kellogg. Since I’ve joined McKinsey, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time working internationally – though less now that I have three little kids. The last time I looked over my time at McKinsey, I’ve done work in about 50 countries. It helped me get more excited about international work and the impact I could have with clients internationally in addition to just being in the U.S.
McKinsey is really a unique place to be able to live in the United States and still have a tremendous amount of international exposure. For me, that’s one of the things I love about McKinsey.
P&Q: You’ve been at McKinsey for nearly 20 years. What do you love about the organization and culture? What makes it so attractive to MBA candidates?
DB: I’m still at McKinsey for a few reasons. I deeply enjoy working with the clients I work with and helping them on their most challenging problems. I feel very privileged to work with world-class leaders every day on some of the most pivotal topics in their business. It is incredibly inspiring to be able to do work like that.
I’m also still here because I think the people who are around me are inspiring, engaged, smart, and also really good people. It’s fun to spend time with the colleagues I have. They make the job really fun every day and make me proud to work at McKinsey. One of the things we talked about earlier was that we expect everyone within our organization to have knowledge. Some of my colleagues are amazingly impressive people on a whole variety of topics. It’s fun for me to be part of an organization that attracts that type of talent.
Finally, I am able to continue to learn and grow constantly here. Every day is totally different from the previous day. For me, that means constantly growing and learning about new parts of the world.
P&Q: You’ve talked about people who are incredibly inspiring to work with at McKinsey. Who is someone at McKinsey who inspires the best in others?
DB: A great thing about McKinsey is that I get to constantly work with people who would not be in my normal orbit. One gentleman I frequently work with is Brandon Parry. He is a partner in DC and he has been helping me by speaking with several of my clients’ Boards of Directors about what’s going on with COVID. Most of the time, Brandon spends his time in pharmaceuticals and public health. He works with a wide variety of organizations that try to improve the health of America and the world. I have brought him to several of my clients over the past three months to talk about COVID and talk about it with a basis in truth and a basis in science.
It has been incredible. What I’ve really enjoyed as I’ve brought him and been able to spend more time with him over this time period is listening to how he thinks about public health and the crisis we are in. He advises my clients to think about their businesses going forward to try to dispel all of the half-truths and rumors that have been accompanying COVID. It has been incredibly inspiring listening to him help my client leaders navigate this incredibly complex time we’re in with truth and science – and helping them make choices and decisions that make them more resilient on the back end.
P&Q: Anything you’d like to add?
DB: In my North American recruiting role, what I’d like to convey is our excitement going into the fall season. We will continue to recruit at the levels that we have recruited at in the past. As we’re ramping up for fall recruiting, we’re really excited to get back to campus to leverage these new digital tools, to better get to know the candidates and provide candidates with better experiences on campus. We’re excited to see who’s out there and who’ll be our future associates and partners at McKinsey. We hope people will consider us and take the time to get to know us in the fall as they are thinking about what their future options are.