Meet McKinsey’s MBA Class of 2020: Philip Pohlman

Philip Pohlman

McKinsey Office: Chicago

Hometown: St. Louis, MO

MBA Program, Concentration: Northwestern (Kellogg), Finance

Undergraduate School, Major: Virginia Military Institute, International Studies and Spanish

Focus of Current Engagement: Healthcare (provider focus) growth strategy

Why did you choose McKinsey? I chose McKinsey because it is a strengths-based firm. That resonated with me because, as a non-traditional MBA, I didn’t feel like I was going to come in the door crushing Excel models and PowerPoint pages day one. However, when I spoke with the folks who worked here, all that didn’t seem to matter. McKinsey was more focused on what value I could bring, which in my case was the leadership and project management experience I gained in the Army. That really resonated with me.

What did you love about the business school you attended?
Kellogg is great, and I can’t pick just one thing I love:

1) The Kellogg Board Fellows Program provides Kellogg students the opportunity to serve on a local non-profit board.

2) Class wise, it was probably Dr. Sergio Rebelo’s International Finance class and Leader as Coach with Dr. Brenda Ellington Booth

3) Finally, the Kellogg Veterans Association, and its alumni, helped me get into Kellogg and prepared me to land the job at McKinsey.

What lesson or skill did you learn from training (formal or informal) at McKinsey and how has it helped in your role? From the formal training, I learned to be a more impactful communicator. Specifically, I learned to makes sure to zoom out from just grinding on my work before I begin discussing it. That way, I can make sure I understand what my work will look like to an external party like the client and what context I need to bring to the table to tie it to the study’s larger picture.

Tell us about an “only at McKinsey” moment you’ve had so far. I think this year’s Day of Service was especially impactful. This year, the focus was on racial and social justice. During one of our sessions in Chicago, we heard from Jeffery Beckham Jr., CEO of Chicago Scholars, a local non-profit, who shared a really powerful personal story. We’ve also had a couple updates from our team members working on COVID related projects. It’s always so cool to see how broad of an impact McKinsey is having out there in the world.

Tell us something you’ve learned about yourself or something that brought you closer to teammates or clients during the COVID-19 pandemic? I think something that brought me closer to my team members during the pandemic is the forced reckoning that we’ve had that we are all whole people. What I mean is that typically on a project you only see one another in the context of work. In a work from home world, people’s homes, children, pets, hobbies, and taste in décor unavoidably collide with the workplace. I am the parent of a three-year-old, so I was initially skeptical of how understanding my colleagues and the clients would be of my juggling the little guy and work. I underestimated how gracious and kind our colleagues are.  David, my son, has since become a Zoom favorite in all of my team rooms and it’s been really great. As a result of being forced to share more about ourselves, it’s brought us all closer together.

What advice would you give someone interviewing at McKinsey? The big thing on everyone’s mind heading in to interview season is how to prepare for cases, which is totally understandable. However, I think it is so important to make sure you are also telling compelling stories that help paint a picture of who you are and how you deal with challenges.

The tendency can be to rehash MBA admissions stories, which really lay out a picture of how great of a performer you are, but I think that is the wrong approach. If you’ve made it into an MBA program and through the resume screen for an interview, McKinsey knows you are great and qualified. Instead, I’d encourage candidates to make sure the stories they tell really communicate how they deal with team members, conflict, and being wrong. If it wouldn’t make a compelling short story, then it’s probably not the right one.

Who has had the biggest impact on you at McKinsey and how has she/he helped you? For me, Stu Barnes-Israel who was my first engagement manager has had the biggest impact on me at McKinsey. Stu modeled for me how to balance client impact, development of other colleagues, and having fun. He set me on the right path as a brand new associate, and my goal is to be like him when I grow up and to return the favor to my new joiners when I become an engagement manager.

My most meaningful achievement (professional or personal) and how it made a difference is… This is a tough one. I think my most meaningful professional accomplishments so far are associated with my jobs in the Army. Personally, though, making it into Kellogg is one of my most meaningful achievements. I am not the typical profile for a top business school. I went to a state undergrad, had a less than mediocre GPA, was not a pilot or special operations in the Army,  and had to take the GMAT too many times. I applied to many schools and got waitlisted across the board, except at Kellogg. They took a chance on me, and I am proud I was able to be able to attend, and then use that experience to land at McKinsey. I say all of that so those folks out there who might be working on the process of applying to business school or thinking about working for a firm like McKinsey don’t self-select out. You never know when someone is looking to admit or hire someone with your story and strengths.

A fun fact about me is…Each member of my family was born in a different country and on a different continent (unless you’re from LATAM, in which case, America is a single continent). I was born here in the US,  Amanda, my wife, came from Colombia, and David, my son, was born in Germany.



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