Meet McKinsey’s MBA Class Of 2021

Some people are just wired different. They don’t sit back and wait. And they’re not content doing the same things in the same way, either. No, some people are always seeking that little edge. They dig into the details to make something just a little better. They aren’t afraid to start from scratch when they’re wrong — or advocate for what seems unpopular or counterintuitive.  When situations grow complex or ambiguous, there isn’t a barrier they can’t break down, a gap they can’t bridge, or a puzzle they can’t unravel.

In consulting, there is a word for these people: McKinseyite.

Yes, McKinsey & Company consultants stand out.  Call them a study in contrasts. They can dissect reams of data without losing sight of the big picture. They can plot out futuristic models while staying tethered to client service and satisfaction. Despite being leaders and gurus in their pre-McKinsey roles, they operate in teams of equals where merit trumps tenure every time. You’ll find the latest McKinsey MBA hires are wired very similar. In fact, many chose McKinsey to spend time around the people who share these same drivers and values. That includes Maria Castex, a Cornell MBA who started working out of McKinsey’s Denver office in 2021.

“I chose McKinsey because I wanted to do challenging and impactful work,” Castex tells Poets&Quants. “Through the recruiting process I spoke to folks from lots of different firm. I felt that at McKinsey I’d be surrounded by extremely bright and passionate people who were equally motivated by the desire to solve problems and create positive change. I also knew that, outside of client work, McKinsey would help me to grow as a professional – there is such intentional focus placed on development, apprenticeship, and training.”

McKinsey invests more than $600 million annually in building resources and training staff

“IMPACT AT SCALE”

In 2021, Mariel Nakashima earned her MBA from IESE Business School before returning to Peru to work in the Lima office. She picked McKinsey so she could tap into the best of everything. “After the MBA, I wanted to work in a place that would put me out of my comfort zone, challenge me to grow and learn something new every day,” she writes. “McKinsey was the right choice because of its position at the forefront of consulting, global expertise, and a collaborative, inclusive environment.”

Indeed, McKinsey boasts a range of advantages that few companies can match. You could start with scale: a firm with 30,000 employees in 133 locations across 67 countries. That doesn’t count a diverse set of practice areas: Energy, Healthcare, Sustainability, Technology — you name it and McKinsey covers it.  The firm also offers c-suite access early on to the most acclaimed companies in the firm. In fact, industry experts believe that McKinsey is partnering with 75-90 Fortune 100 firms at any given time.  As a result, MBA hires are exposed to cutting edge innovation and given a platform to do impactful work when they start.

“I chose McKinsey for the opportunity to create impact at scale,” explains Kara Limchiu, a 2021 INSEAD grad operating out of the London office. “I wanted to help solve the most pressing global issues that our generation is facing while learning from some of the most brilliant people working to solve these problems. Since joining the firm I’ve worked on launching a non-profit centered on diversity, climate change strategy, and green business building – guess I got my wish!”

DO ANYTHING AND BE ANYTHING

It is a different type of access, however. Think of McKinsey like a good spy thriller: You won’t find individual consultants named in the Wall Street Journal, but their fingerprints are found everywhere inside its pages. This stealth approach gives McKinsey a certain mystique. That said, McKinsey was intimately involved in the launch of NASA and the creation of the Universal Product Code. The firm even developed an artificial intelligence bot that enabled a New Zealand sailing team to win the America’s Cup. Along with scale, impact, access, innovation, and prestige, McKinsey provides a win-win proposition for MBAs. Perform at a high level and move into partner level with seven figures to match — or take an exit ramp and land a c-suite role thanks to their expertise, versatility, and connections. After all, McKinsey alumni’s roll doubles as a who’s-who of business: Sundar Pichai (Alphabet CEO), James Gorman (Morgan Stanley CEO), Jane Fraser (Citigroup CEO), Erik Engström (RELX CEO), Jørgen Vig Knudstorp  (Lego Executive Chairman), and Tony Xu (DoorDash CEO). That doesn’t count the sheer volume of McKinsey alumni, which includes 34,000 members working at over 15,000 organizations in 120 countries.

Bottom line: McKinsey provides unmatched diversity, be it people or projects, that enable MBAs to learn and do something new every day. “I was drawn in by the opportunity to explore pretty much any industry and to help clients deal with their toughest challenges,” adds Erison Hurtault, a Stern MBA who chose to remain in the New York City office. “My history as an athlete and a coach taught me that I do really enjoy working with other great people who are passionate about making a positive impact. Also, throughout recruitment, I spoke to a few McKinsey employees who joined the firm after great careers in athletics, the military, and in music. They all spoke about how the firm was an ideal place for someone with drive and that your professional growth was only limited by the effort that you put into it.”

Effort won’t be an issue for Hurtault. Before business school, he was a professional runner. Not only did he compete in 25 countries, but also qualified for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Indeed, the Class of 2021 hires may not be who you expect. Before earning a Darden MBA, Tre Tennyson studied religion as an undergrad and added a master’s degree in education policy. In his spare time, he is busy composing and writing a play. Nanditha Chandrashekar, a London Business School MBA who works in Abu Dhabi, started out as a zookeeper. However, Deb Xavier-Grondin may be the most unexpected McKinseyite of all — at least on the surface. As a teenager in military school, she became pregnant with her daughter, which required her to balance school, motherhood, and work at an early age.  She earned a degree in international relations, before embarking on a career than ran the gamut from entrepreneur to business analyst to Michigan Ross MBA. Xavier-Grondin’s journey is a testament to how perseverance and support can enable people to beat the odds and reach the highest levels of business.

“I was able to achieve relative success professionally despite becoming pregnant at the age of 15. Not only I was accepted to a top MBA program, but I also got an offer from McKinsey. Before the MBA I had my own company and worked with Google, Facebook, Dell, and others before selling the brand. My daughter is an amazing young woman who speaks four languages, scored top 1% on her SAT, and got a full ride scholarship to Smith College. This didn’t happen overnight, it happened in the past 10-15 years, and it started with a supportive family that encouraged me to continue studying.”

McKinsey MBAs taking a short break

‘SKILLS, IMPACT, AND PEOPLE’

Xavier-Grondin was alone in pursuing the startup bug among the McKinsey Class of 2021. Kara Limchiu did the same, building an e-commerce business after working as a Shell engineer. In contrast, Sofía Araya, a Chicago Booth MBA from Chile, spent two years as a teacher — a role she attributes to her ability to communicate effectively and adapt quickly. By the same token, INSEAD MBA Alicia Ibaibarriaga volunteered in Gambia, where her role ran from teaching to distributing resources to families. This impulse to give back also guided Raunak Mukherjee during his pre-McKinsey career in investment banking.

“I worked on a pioneering project to introduce affordable mortgage solutions for millions of homeless Bangladeshis,” writes the London Business School grad. “While working at the World Bank, I spent months in Bangladesh studying the housing finance sector: meeting regulators, real estate developers, and financiers to diagnose the root cause for homelessness in the country and ultimately figuring out a solution for the same. It was a large team represented by a diverse group of both internal and external stakeholders. It was extra special for me as I’m ethnically Bengali and my mother’s side of the family immigrated from Bangladesh to India before the partition of the Indian subcontinent.”

What brought the Class of 2021 to McKinsey after business school? Ask 12 different graduates and you’ll get 12 different answers. However, in the words of Booth MBA Moyosoreoluwa Orekoya, the motivations often revolve around skills, impact, and people — usually in combination. For Nanditha Chandrashekar, that intersection involved people and skills.

“The scale of McKinsey and its expertise inspired me,” she asserts. “Think of any area as niche as it can be, and there is someone at McKinsey who is an expert in it. The firm is truly global, everyone is willing to help and responsive. The best expertise in the world is just a phone call or an email away, which is a motivational boost for me on every problem-solving exercise.”

McKinsey Black Network celebration

“MAKE YOUR OWN MCKINSEY”

You can subtract skills and insert impact for Raunak Mukherjee’s sweet spot. “I was drawn to the plethora of opportunities in almost every sector that McKinsey offered. Be it financial services, healthcare or technology, McKinsey has teams working on solving the toughest problems in these sectors. Irrespective of what you’re good at – and where you want to end up – the firm will provide great growth prospects. But what drew me the most to McKinsey was the people. I have not just met the sharpest but also the warmest colleagues here. I never knew I would make such close friends at the workplace.”

There is a popular phrase among McKinsey MBAs: “Make your own McKinsey.” By that, they mean that consultants enjoy the flexibility to move around, be it practice area, region, or role, to find a fit or simply expand their toolkit. Growing up in Morocco, Ikrame Bahhar’s passion to make a difference was only matched by her love for Africa. At McKinsey, there are plenty of avenues to pursue both in tandem.

“I was impressed by the impact the firm has in the region and I wanted to be part of such an honorable mission,” writes the INSEAD grad. “During my recruiting process, we’ve been told how the firm supported eradicating polio or increased electrification access in Africa. These examples spoke volumes. McKinsey also invests in pro-bono projects and keeps the social impact at the center of its priorities (e.g., the firm has helped a social school become more financially sustainable to give access to people who come from unprivileged backgrounds).”

Page 2: The McKinsey Problem-Solving Process

Page 3: Profiles of 14 McKinsey MBA Hires

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