Meet McKinsey’s MBA Class Of 2020

McKinsey Black Network celebration


This shared commitment attracts top talent to the firm, along with deepening the bonds connecting McKinseyites. For Aston Hamilton, the people were the biggest reason why he joined McKinsey. In fact, Hamilton’s recruiting process actually began long before he even realized.

“At McKinsey, I‘ve found people who help me to discover the things I didn’t even know I didn’t know. [Before business school], I was a client of McKinsey. I was impressed by the people who worked here.  Since coming here, I’ve doubled down on that perspective. I know that I am going to get meaningful feedback and conversations that will genuinely challenge my current thought.”

In addition, Hamilton tells P&Q, he receives access at McKinsey. By that, he means that he can engage with senior leaders, even outside the client services team. When he encounters an issue, he can log into the intranet, access the available documentation, and find the internal people who can act as points of contact. An email later, Hamilton adds, he is scheduling a 15 minute coffee chat – even with partners. This flat structure and egalitarian culture offer two unique benefits. Not only does it free MBAs to move faster, but also enables them to make more holistic decisions. This creates a virtuous cycle all around, observes Jennifer Solman, a Harvard Business School grad in the Toronto office.

“I’ve been amazed by the breadth and depth of resources available at the firm. If you have a question or need information about a particular topic, someone at McKinsey can help. Everyone is incredibly willing to share their expertise. At first, I was intimidated by the thought of emailing someone I didn’t know to ask them for insight on a particular matter, but I quickly realized people at McKinsey are incredibly responsive and keen to help.”

Colleagues at McKinsey Robot Lab


And accepting too adds Philip Pohlman, a Kellogg grad who remained in Chicago. “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.”

The heart of leadership, of course, is communication. At McKinsey, consultants apply a top-down approach to conveying information. Basically, they start with an answer or recommendation to remove potential distractions. From there, they move into a summary of their findings, ordered by importance and reinforced by data that illustrates all benefits, risks, and unknowns. Bottom line: the delivery is logical, succinct, and clear – which makes it digestible, credible, and compelling.

In other words, an idea is only as effective as how it is framed.  “One of the most essential skills I am learning at McKinsey is the importance of effective communication, explains Jennifer Solman. “Solving complex problems is so much more than just analyzing information – it’s about being able to form insights based on analysis and communicate these insights effectively and concisely. Effective communication is in everything we do – whether it be a problem-solving session with teammates, an email updating the partner on the status of a workstream, or a PowerPoint presentation for the client. Clear communication is at the forefront of every aspect of the job.”

This top-down approach, required quite a different approach from business school according to Aaron Wilson. “Before my training at McKinsey, I thought good work was all about coming up with structured ideas with supporting data. However, now in my approach to building documents and leading meetings, my thought process has changed to the following: 1) What do I want my stakeholder to know?; 2) What do I want my stakeholder to feel?; 3) What do I want my stakeholders to do? This makes a difference when it comes to driving fast-moving impact.”

Aston Hamilton


One of the hallmarks of McKinsey is “Obligation to Dissent.” It is a commitment that everyone – even newcomers – is duty-bound to share their disagreement if they believe a strategy is ineffective for a client. In some companies, speaking up can be a career-ender. At McKinsey, in the words of Aston Hamilton, “Feedback is more than an opportunity, it is a responsibility.” It is one, adds Karina Gerstenschlager, that’s taken seriously top-to-bottom at the firm.

“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.”

Feedback isn’t the only formal means of supporting new consultants. In her first year, Kaleigh Killoran has leaned heavily on the firm’s learning platform to fill knowledge gaps. “[I have] completed courses in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and medical devise industries. This included a technical mini-MD course that had modules on regenerative medicine, oncology, the central nervous system, surgery and orthopedics, and the cardiovascular system. I really enjoyed going deeper than just the business model.  Informally, I feel as though I have truly improved by communication and synthesizing skills.”

Despite the success of 2020 MBA hires, the first year contains plenty of pitfalls for cub consultants. Looking over her career, Danielle Bozarth identifies one constant for MBA grads: it is the adjustment to a faster speed and a greater degree of ambiguity.

“Sometimes, it takes people a little bit of time to adapt from moving from a school environment, which is quite structured, to working in an environment with team and a client – and adapting to how a problem progresses over time. We’re expecting you to be a great contributor from day one and helping to problem solve and pushing the problem into the details. I think all of those are things new consultants love. They love that they are hitting the ground running and learning from day one.”

McKinsey colleagues in Prague


This process is accelerated by McKinsey’s coaching culture, where leaders are expected to personify the firm’s values and expectations. For some MBAs, this process starts before they even receive an offer. Karina Gerstenschlager points to Aniket Joglekar, a 2017 Kellogg MBA and McKinsey engagement manager in the Chicago office. On weekends, Joglekar would drive up to Evanston to help MBA students practice cases and prepare for the personal experience interview (PEI). In the Atlanta office, Darius Bates – a partner and Fuqua MBA – takes deep interest in associates like Aaron Wilson, regularly offering “tactical advice” to speed up his growth. For Philip Pohlman, his first engagement manager left an impression that will stick for his career.

“[Stu Barnes-Israel] 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.”

As the Class of 2020 makes the final turn to their one-year anniversary at McKinsey, many have already experienced what is known as “Only At McKinsey” moments. For Aston Hamilton, that meant interviewing past CEOs and industry experts as part of due diligence for a client. In Chicago, Philip Pohlman joined McKinsey’s annual Day of Service, where he participated in events around racial and social justice. Karina Gerstenschlager’s operations practice held its annual Oktoberfest-themed meeting on Zoom, replete with a Stein-holding competition. Not to be outdone, the year-end meeting went all out according to Mariana Pareja, a London Business School MBA who operates out of Peru.

“The social team organized a Zoom event with different breakout rooms; each room had at the same time wine tasting classes, sushi classes, AND beer tasting classes. It was really fun and it was a great spin off of the real event.”

McKinseyites at the 2019 SXSW booth


These “Only at McKinsey” moments don’t just revolve around fun-and-games.  Looking back, Kevin Lubega is stunned by just how far he has come. “In just six months, moving from helping a payments company build and scale a new product across the world to working on massive M&A engagements, feels like an “Only at McKinsey” moment.”

For Aaron Wilson, that moment came when he could see the fruits of his labor outside the office. “In my first project with McKinsey, I worked alongside executive leadership for a well-known consumer client,” he writes. “As I drove by one of my client’s retail stores with a friend, a sense of pride came over me for the positive impact we were driving for both the employees and customers for that company. However, I had to keep those details confidential but it became an “Only at McKinsey” moment for me all the same.”

Turns out, first-year MBAs also experienced a defining moment for McKinsey during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic. MBAs went home and simply adapted, with Zoom tools easily replacing meeting rooms and whiteboards. Danielle Bozarth, for one, jokes that it has become “pretty rare” that she conducts voice calls anymore. What’s more, the transition to Zoom didn’t just alter McKinsey’s daily operations.

“What I’ve been surprised about is how many of my clients are actually planning to never go back into the office regardless of when this is quote-unquote over,” Bozarth asserts. “Many of my clients have decided that they will only be in the office 25%-50% of the time. I can’t think of any of my clients who’ll be going back to how the world worked before.”

Page 3: In-Depth Profiles of 2020 McKinsey MBA Hires

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