What drew me to McKinsey was the potential for learning. It's one of my core values, and it's something McKinsey offered from day one. That's why, when I joined the Firm, I requested that I not be staffed on a study in healthcare; I am a molecular biologist by training, and I wanted to do something totally different.
A Different View
I ended up spending my first year in a steel factory; the biologist optimizing steel production was quite interesting. But I was immediately able to make a difference, not so much with specific production expertise: the difference I made was really in convincing clients to change some of their fundamental mindsets.
One example of this was the ovens in the steel plant. When I passed by them, I noted the intense heat and realized that there must be quite a lot of energy loss there. I talked to the client, and he said it wasn’t possible to make them any more efficient. I wasn’t convinced, and researched the formula needed to find out how much energy was actually being used by the steel and how much was being lost. I sat down with the head engineer and asked him what he thought. He said 70 percent of the energy was being used by the steel, while 30 percent was being lost, and that there was no way to fix that. I did the calculation with him, and showed him that it was actually the other way around. He was so surprised that he immediately picked up the phone and called the oven construction company. They installed a new insulation for the oven within 3 months, saving the company about a half million Euros a year.
This was one of the first times I realized I had the potential to have impact by changing how clients see the world. It's all about asking the right questions, not necessarily having all the answers. The starting point of leadership, for me, is asking good, insightful questions. Good leaders are able to ask questions they cannot answer themselves.
I left McKinsey to take a position as Vice President of Management Development for Bertelsmann. I wanted the chance to follow my passion for talent development and leadership development, and working at Bertelsmann gave me the chance to do that in a new environment. I was away from McKinsey for almost five years. After just three months at Bertelsmann, I realized this experience would make me a better consultant: I understood much better the constraints and opportunities of someone who is heading up a department in a business. This experience also gives me instant credibility: when I tell a client that I’ve held a leadership position at a corporation, they understand that I can empathize with a lot of their conflicts and difficulties.
"A lot of what we do seems to be about optimization, but, really, we are helping decision makers come to better decisions. In the long run, that is making the world a better place. I fundamentally believe that, otherwise I would not be here."
I came back to McKinsey as an expert because I knew where my passion was and had the expertise to build upon. I was looking to do some work outside of my home office, and ended up on a large project in a gulf country in the Middle East. We helped build a corporate academy for all of their civil servants. It’s really transformed the way they think about leadership development; they now have a clear framework for decision making and succession planning. Requiring expertise and qualifications from their leaders is actually revolutionary for this region, for a country where, previously, officials were simply appointed. We’ve helped them establish the requirements and standards necessary for certain roles, and ultimately are helping them provide the training needed that will allow people to have those capabilities.
This was a really exciting project, and it’s made me realize that doing this type of leadership development, capability building, and HR work in the Middle East is my next professional horizon. And it’s just one example of what I can accomplish at McKinsey. Not only do I have the freedom to work for the clients I want to work for and to work with the people I want to work with, but I actually do have the chance to help clients and change the world. Much of what we do is about optimizing companies and increasing shareholder values, but we also go beyond that. We are helping decision makers in all sectors make better decisions. In the long run, this is making the world a better place. I fundamentally believe that, otherwise I would not be here.
What I do in my free time / my hobbies
I love reading, especially in my field of expertise; there’s a lot out there that's exciting to me. I’m also a musician; I play alto saxophone and classical guitar. I used to play in the Berlin office band, and hope to form an office band here in the Middle East.
||MPA, Organizational Behavior, Health Care Management
||Dipl Humanbio (Masters), Cellular Biology