Meet McKinsey’s MBA Class of 2020: Ayesha Ahmed

Ayesha Ahmed

McKinsey Office: London

Hometown: Islamabad, Pakistan

MBA Program, Concentration: INSEAD, 20J

Undergraduate School, Major: Army Medical College, Pakistan (Medicine)

Focus of Current Engagement: Public Sector, COVID- related

Why did you choose McKinsey? Consulting was an entirely new world to me and I didn’t know a single consultant when I started my recruitment journey. So I reached out to people on LinkedIn, all cold messaging. What stood out for me was how responsive and generous with their time and energy people at McKinsey were. One person took my call from his hospital bed, pre-surgery, because my application deadline was in a day or so and I needed clarity on a few things. They were genuinely caring and gave me help at various points during recruitment, not just on a one-off call. The first person I had a call with about McKinsey is still my go-to person whenever I need a bit of advice navigating the firm. So while I applied to a lot of firms, I really hoped I would get into McKinsey.

What did you love about the business school you attended? INSEAD is a very international school, in the true sense of the word. It was the first place where my background of moving home every two years and growing up in multiple countries fit in seamlessly. A global student body meant we got to experience different cultures, which INSEAD actively promotes through its national weeks. As a third culture kid myself, INSEAD felt like a place of belonging, and that was a very welcome change for me.

What lesson or skill did you learn from training (formal or informal) at McKinsey and how has it helped in your role? During our onboarding, there was a lot of emphasis on connecting with people on a personal level, and not just professionally. Everyone has had a somewhat rough year and the firm heavily emphasized being open, honest, and flexible in teams. I think that went quite opposite to the rumors I had heard about how strictly professional and formal McKinsey would be. It set a great example of what the culture is, that team bonding and ensuring everyone is having a great time while working is as important as the work itself. It was a pleasant surprise and a massive relief, and something I consciously make an effort on at work and outside of it.

Tell us about an “only at McKinsey” moment you’ve had so far. Everything at the firm is very structured, and we apply that structure to the work we do as well as the way we work. Teams discuss and iron out tough issues through what we call problem solving sessions. Toward the end of my first engagement, there was a lot of time pressure, and I felt we were spending a lot of time on full team problem solving sessions. So I asked my engagement manager if we could cut down the number of sessions. His response was, ‘good idea’ and then we quickly set about problem solving how we could reduce the number of sessions and still deliver for the client.

Tell us something you’ve learned about yourself or something that brought you closer to teammates or clients during the COVID-19 pandemic?  I come from a military background and moving around every two years can make it difficult to have long-term friends. At INSEAD, I was lucky to have made very long lasting friendships. Having friends who were here to stay was somewhat new to me. As COVID unfolded, it became apparent how important they had become, where they took on the roles of support bubble, recruitment buddies and much more. Seeing how enriching it can be when you have people to share your highs and lows has shifted my perspective on an area of my life that, by circumstance and logistics, previously had not gotten the attention it deserved.

What advice would you give someone interviewing at McKinsey? During recruitment, there is a lot of emphasis on the ‘I’ as in ‘I’ve done this and achieved this and now want this.’ My advice is it is not just about you. The contribution you make to the team and people around you is just as important as the work you do. The firm is very collaborative, and you need to bring that mindset in all your interactions during recruitment. If you have a mindset of ensuring the whole team grows and moves forward, as opposed to just yourself, you will likely be a great fit at McKinsey.

Who has had the biggest impact on you at McKinsey and how has she/he helped you? My first engagement was a large scale public sector engagement, which was fast-paced. I ended up in a workstream led by a junior engagement manager, Poppy Simister. She was an amazing coach, very understanding, and provided a great balance of allowing me to take on a workstream independently but also being present for support whenever needed.  She never got annoyed at my naïve questions or mistakes. But what stood out most for me was that despite a very busy schedule, she made time to provide feedback so I could improve. That investment in helping others grow was something I very much needed in my initial months and it helped me settle in much better.

My most meaningful achievement (professional or personal) and how it made a difference is…I left medicine because I wanted to have a bigger impact, and I felt doctors were at the bottom of a waterfall, dealing with a cascade of issues that can only be solved upstream. My first engagement was with a public sector COVID client. And the impact my team had was just monumental. It was a very fulfilling achievement for me, to be able to move the needle on the impact I always wanted to create. It felt like having come full circle with my reasons for leaving medicine, getting my MBA, coming into consulting at a time of a global pandemic and being able to contribute on fighting the pandemic. It made the whole journey all the more worthwhile.

A fun fact about me is… I was naturally left handed as a child. My mom made me write with my right hand, because she worried I would always need the special writing/student chair if I was a leftie. So I ended up being ambidextrous. I write with my right hand, but can do almost everything else equally well with both hands. This is fun when playing racquet sports because I never use a back hand; I just switch the racquet between right and left.




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