Meet McKinsey’s MBA Class of 2020: Karina Gerstenschlager

Karina Gerstenschlager

McKinsey Office: Chicago

Hometown: Los Altos, California

MBA Program, Concentration: Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Focus on Finance, Energy & Sustainability

Undergraduate School, Major: Northwestern University, Art History

Focus of Current Engagement: I’m currently working on a procurement study with an automotive company.

Why did you choose McKinsey?  McKinsey’s strength in Sustainability and the opportunity to join the firm’s Operations practice were major factors in my decision to start my post-MBA career here.  I attended business school with a goal of shifting my skills learned in retail management into a career focused on improving environmental sustainability in retail operations.  Coming from one of the world’s largest retailers, I viewed consulting as a path to help not just one retailer or industry, but to help many on their paths to decarbonization and sustainable futures. Most importantly, I was excited to work with and learn from the brilliant people I met throughout the recruiting process – I knew I would find both support and a healthy challenge to grow.

What did you love about the business school you attended? I chose to go to Kellogg because I was inspired by the students and professors I interacted with during Day At Kellogg, which is Kellogg’s admitted students weekend.  But what I didn’t fully understand until I was on campus was the Kellogg students’ shared sense of adventure.  From attending an orientation retreat (KWEST) with a mystery destination to “mooing” in the halls with my section (Cash Cows), I don’t think I went a single day without a good laugh, even after Kellogg went virtual due to COVID-19. I love learning, so I appreciated going deep on topics such as Energy & Sustainability and Economics.  I continued to meet people and develop new friendships throughout every quarter.  During our virtual Spring quarter, I grew quite close with my randomly-assigned Game Theory group, which – as luck would have it – included one of my future McKinsey Chicago peers.

What lesson or skill did you learn from training (formal or informal) at McKinsey and how has it helped in your role? I enjoy learning from each of my leaders and peers because everyone brings a different perspective and background.  My current team at McKinsey is incredibly diverse; we represent seven countries and collectively speak even more languages.  I’ve learned the value of seeking out feedback from a variety of members of the team, because each individual, regardless of title, has different advice that has helped me solve problems and push my work to the next level.

Tell us about an “only at McKinsey” moment you’ve had so far. My first week at McKinsey coincided with Opstoberfest, the Operations Practice’s annual Oktoberfest-themed meeting.  I had heard the Ops community was close but underestimated how much fun I would have with the group, even as a new joiner.  Everyone from business analysts to senior partners had Zoom backgrounds from various Oktoberfest tents, and the meeting concluded with a traditional Stein-holding competition.

Tell us something you’ve learned about yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic? I’ve always considered myself an extrovert and tend to pack my calendar with meetings and social events, but COVID-19 has forced me to spend more time alone. I’ve channeled my extra time into gardening, cooking, and reading. These hobbies are incredibly rejuvenating. They allow me to reflect, which has resulted in finding a deeper focus for my personal and career goals. This has been a silver lining to a tumultuous year.

What advice would you give someone interviewing at McKinsey? You landed an interview – you probably have a stellar background.  Be confident. Think about the stories behind the bullet points on your resume – why are you proud of that accomplishment? Next, what are the qualities that define you that aren’t on your resume?  Consider how you can make sure these become evident when you are telling your stories – these could be the qualities that help you stand out.

Who has had the biggest impact on you at McKinsey and how has she/he helped you? Aniket Joglekar has been an incredible mentor to me.  When I was a student at Kellogg going through the consulting recruiting process, Aniket helped me prepare for my interviews. Even though he was staffed to a demanding engagement during the week, he came to campus in Evanston on weekends to help me and other students practice casing and prepare for the McKinsey PEI interview. After I received my offer, he helped connect me with people at McKinsey who share my passions for retail and sustainability. Now that I’ve joined full time, he has continued to be an incredible resource. Knowing I can count on support from people like Aniket was a huge reason I chose to join McKinsey.

My most meaningful achievement (professional or personal) and how it made a difference is…Before I attended Kellogg, I was responsible for Bedding & Bath businesses at Walmart eCommerce.  I was proud of not only growing sales each year, but of also reducing the carbon footprint by an estimated 35 tons of carbon dioxide annually per product through packaging innovations. I had a great team behind my efforts, and witnessing how their learning and growth at Walmart has led them to fulfilling next steps makes me incredibly proud.  I am honored to have had the chance to be a part of their early careers and can’t wait to see what they accomplish next.

A fun fact about me is…I spent a month volunteering for Cheetah Conservation Botswana in 2012. I was living in the Kalahari Desert and tracking cheetahs with a team of scientists and local wildlife trackers by day, and learning the constellations of the southern hemisphere by night.  My daily run included company from the camp dog, an Anatolian named Murphy, and the locals: a family of warthogs he would chase across the trail.



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