I became a scientist for all the wrong reasons. I was very young when I finished my undergraduate degree, and somebody said, “We’d love you to do a PhD.” I was very interested in business and the biotech industry, and upon finishing my PhD joined a human embryonic stem cell company based in Melbourne. I was involved in commercial discussions I never would have been involved in as an academic: negotiating with partner companies, helping draft agreements about patent transactions. The company gave me an opportunity to do a post-doc at Harvard. It was an amazing environment, but it also really showed me that science was not my true calling. I was still more passionate about business and commerce.
At Harvard I met a bunch of people who were at McKinsey. I was really excited about all of the people I met at the firm. I felt like they opened their arms to me in a way that no one at the other firms had.
At McKinsey it was about the impact you had on clients, and about making them successful. It was never about making money or getting the next study or anything like that. I could see it was a great source of pride for the people that I met, and I found that inspiring and distinctive.
Business School in 3 Weeks
I’ve never had an educational experience like the Mini-MBA program that McKinsey sends all new non-MBA associates to. We spent three weeks in a beautiful place in Austria, learning business concepts from some of the best professors in the world. I was in a group of 35 people who’d come from medical degrees, law degrees, or were scientists, historians, things like that; all of these people who had been inspired to join McKinsey. There is a certain kind of excitement you get when you’re changing careers, and it was great to share that—it was like we all went through a life stage together. My wife was at business school at the time that I did mini-MBA, and when I came home after the three weeks, she joked that I’d learned more than she did in her first 6 months at business school.
My first study was a due diligence study in medical devices – our clients were considering a multi-billion dollar acquisition. I got to understand aspects of how the industry worked that most other people familiar with the industry would never get. It was just an awesome team, people who really embraced me and helped me learn the ropes. My next study turned out to be one of the biggest acquisitions in the pharma industry over the past 5 years. I loved working in pharma, but when I got to my one year point at the firm, I sat down with my professional development manager and said to her, “I’ve been really excited to do just healthcare but I really want to try something else.” So I did something as different as I could possibly get: a cost cutting study at an investment bank.
My first Engagement Manager had a wonderful knack for making me feel welcome on the team and comfortable to speak up and voice my opinion even with senior people at the firm, and within just a few weeks, with clients. He’s the kind of person you would find yourself in very deep debates with, who helps you understand topics at a much greater level of detail just after discussing it with him. He was great at really pushing my thinking without me feeling threatened at all. And he’s someone who has, since I’ve been at the firm, been absolutely interested in helping me to be successful without any self-interest on his part.
We talk to each other a lot here and tell each other things that we do very well and things that we can do better. We’re really open about that. One of the things that I was surprised about was just how important being told about the things that you do well is. That’s helped me understand that I don’t have to be that domineering command and control person in order to be an effective leader. I’m never going to be a person who dictates, “Here’s what you do, here’s how you do it and here’s when you need to do it”. I can actually adapt my style to my own strengths, and see myself first and foremost as somebody who is a counselor and thought partner to people.
||PhD, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology
||BSc, Anatomy, Cellular Biology