Before McKinsey, I practiced law for a couple of years and went on to do my PhD in law at Oxford. But I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer forever. I enjoyed working on clients’ problems, but what interested me was never the legal dimension. It was the business dimension. McKinsey moved me closer to where the action is. The people impressed me because they’re a bright diverse group who don’t take themselves too seriously. Coupled with the problems that the firm works on, McKinsey seemed to be a good match for me. It’s been a good move.
Embracing non-traditional expertise
Coming from a field that trades on specialist knowledge, it seemed implausible that my non-traditional background would allow me to have something to offer. People told me that it doesn’t matter. We’re looking for intellectual horsepower, teamwork and leadership.
When I first joined the firm, there were moments when I thought I was going to get “found out.” In my experience that has never happened. I’ve worked with a lot of colleagues from non-business backgrounds, and there is no meaningful difference in their ability to contribute. I find it impossible to know whether someone has an MBA or a legal background or a medical background.
An incredible growth trajectory
McKinsey is an amazing place for growth. From day one I was handed a ton of opportunity and a ton of responsibility. I believe the more opportunity we get and the faster we get it, the steeper our growth trajectory. Within months of joining I’d done a project on retirement strategies and products, and demand from the aging baby boomer segment. The firm hosted a conference of senior client leaders on retirement, and I was asked to lead a session with a partner. The partner was tied up somewhere else, and had to cancel. So here I am, standing in front of a presentation I wrote, in a room full of very senior client executives who have worked in this space for a long time, leading them through the firm’s thinking and engaging them on their own ideas. I’ve seen that over and over. This is a place of almost limitless opportunities.
Making a real difference
What I find cool about this job is that my clients have worked in an organization or industry for a long time and have a lot of experience. And they will turn to me as someone who can advise them on what to do. We work collaboratively to solve problems because they bring expertise I don’t bring and I bring knowledge or skills that they don’t have. In combination we come up with an answer that is pivotal and changes the way the organization does business.
Creating the structure
Practicing law, I had a structure—the law—and I operated within that structure to solve problems. When people turned to me as a lawyer, it’s because I had some specialized knowledge they didn’t have. Management consulting has less structure, so the first thing we do is to come up with structure. I have greater freedom to solve problems in the way that I solve problems.
The secret is setting boundaries
We work on big, complex, challenging problems that don’t have natural boundaries. To prevent this affecting my work/life balance, I draw my own boundaries that work for me. Colleagues at the firm are flexible in the way they think and work. If I lay out a constraint, my team will work around it, and I’m flexible in working around the constraints of others. We also try not to work on weekends. That’s a cardinal element of firm culture.
|University of Sydney