Meet McKinsey’s MBA Class of 2021: Tre Tennyson

Tre Tennyson     

McKinsey Office: Washington, D.C.

Hometown: Richmond, Virginia

MBA Program, Concentration: University of Virginia, Darden Graduate School of Business; Harvard University (Master’s in Education Policy and Management)

Undergraduate School, Major: University of Virginia (English, Religious Studies)

Why did you choose McKinsey? I chose McKinsey because I was excited about working on a dynamic range of problems with people with various expertise. I have always been drawn to environments where I can be pushed to learn more and be stretched beyond my current capabilities. During recruiting, I was also inspired by the breadth of colleagues reaching out to support me, share their experience, and help me think through my decision. Further, in addition to our client work, I knew that McKinsey was uniquely intentional about providing a platform for entrepreneurship at the firm – meaning that if you want to build something here at McKinsey, whether a practice or field of research, those things were not only possible but openly encouraged and supported.

What did you love about the business school you attended? Darden did a fantastic job not only preparing us academically but also in pushing us to realize the full value of our most important and most limited resource – time. The nature of the program is such that you must prioritize where to balance schoolwork, networking, and recruiting to do all of them successfully. As any leader can attest, learning where and when to say no – where and when to confirm your priorities – is a crucial skill. Darden facilitates learning that skill in a way that has prepared me to successfully set priorities in my own life now beyond school. Additionally, Darden’s focus on conscientious leadership is, in my opinion, such a critical feature of the curriculum, as the world’s problems have become increasingly complex with implications for human lives at the end of every decision.

What lesson or skill did you learn from training (formal or informal) at McKinsey and how has it helped in your role? I have had the benefit of learning from every person I’ve worked with while at the firm. In particular, the engagement managers on my projects – Cindy Xue and Brian Tanner – have gone above and beyond in making sure that I am not only well-apprenticed but that I have had ample opportunities for impact on our team. However, if I had to identify one skill in particular that I’ve felt really drawn to since joining, it would be the way in which we tell stories via our pages and client presentations. As someone who has always been drawn to storytelling, I’ve come to enjoy how we think about a blank page as real estate, upon which the right structure can communicate the right idea.

Tell us about an “only at McKinsey” moment you’ve had so far. In my first engagement at McKinsey, my team designed and ran a workshop for our client, a Fortune 100 company. I was asked to co-lead one of our small groups, which included our client’s global leadership team as well as the partner and senior partner from our McKinsey team. Despite having only been at the firm for less than a month at that point, I was trusted to be a full participant in our discussion, sharing my own insights and building towards a solution alongside our clients and leadership. It was during that moment that it really hit me – I’ve been afforded the opportunity to do extremely meaningful work in support of our clients and their objectives. And this, too, alongside enjoying consistent learning and development.

Tell us something you’ve learned about yourself or something that brought you closer to teammates or clients during the COVID-19 pandemic? I have historically been quite extroverted. Though I believe the pandemic has engendered in me a deeper appreciation for solitude, as it allows time for clearer thinking and enjoyment of self. Though it has also made those moments when we gathered or connected virtually with colleagues and clients all the more enjoyable.

What advice would you give someone interviewing at McKinsey? Consider the wholeness of your experience. Your life is full of moments that have offered you opportunities for insight, and it’s this — the ability to draw insights — that powers so much of our work. As you discuss your experiences during the PEI portion of the interview, spend time discussing the insights and learnings you’ve encountered in each situation. Demonstrate that you can evaluate life inputs and situations and discern connections between moments in your life and the work you’re being asked to engage. A big part of our work involves pattern recognition, so practicing that skill in evaluating the patterns that exist within your own life can be helpful as you build towards the interview.

Who has had the biggest impact on you at McKinsey and how has she/he helped you? This is a really difficult question because I’ve been inspired by every colleague I’ve worked with. Tara Azimi has had the biggest impact on me during my time at McKinsey so far. She was the partner who led my first engagement. I was very inspired not just by the depth of her expertise, her relationship-building with clients and colleagues, and her deeply people-centric leadership of our team, but also by her commitment to leading by example. She was with us every step of the way: building slides in PowerPoint and synthesizing analyses in Excel. Tara modeled at all turns what excellence at any given point in our project could look like. With the apprenticeship model being so core to people development at McKinsey, this has been such a major contribution to my time here. Additionally, my colleagues in the McKinsey Black Network have been such a joyous part of my life, and their friendship and support have made McKinsey quickly feel like home.

My most meaningful achievement (professional or personal) and how it made a difference is…I was the first African American hired by the company of schools I worked for in China. There was some initial concern over how the parents and community might respond to a Black teacher, as most community members had had no prior experiences with Black people. That could’ve represented a barrier to my enjoyment and willingness to drive connections, but I took it as an opportunity to build bridges across lines of seeming difference. I understood that, whether I liked it or not, my actions would have downstream impact for all other African-Americans or people of color who might seek employment within our company. Years later, when I had transitioned to leadership in our company’s corporate office, I discovered that many of our franchise partners across China were reluctant to hire Black teachers due to concerns similar to when I’d first arrived. I then traveled to each of these partners and worked with them to discuss not only how important it was for us to live by our values (one of which was diversity), but also how my own story countered the concerns they may have had about local attitudes. By the time I left the company in 2017, half of all of our teachers in China were African American, and two had been promoted to school director.

A fun fact about me is…I’m a writer and composer. I just recently finished writing a new play and am hoping to bring it to life on a stage very soon!


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