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McKinsey Q&A: Kelly

Kelly

– Kelly, a business analyst with our Strategy & Corporate Finance practice, based in New York, was drawn to McKinsey by some “smart, fun, and successful female role models.” When she had the opportunity to pay that mentorship forward by counseling last year’s recipient of the Women’s Impact Award – a like-minded entrepreneur from her alma matter named Julia – Kelly jumped at the chance. In part through Kelly’s advice, Julia grew Tink Knit from a small group into a team of 50 students who helped 30 single mothers in Rhode Island earn more than $10k in a year. Along the way, Kelly and Julia learned a lot from each other and developed a great friendship:

Interviewer: Why did you become a mentor for the Women’s Impact Award program?

Kelly: Several women drew me to McKinsey, and I wanted to pay their mentorship forward. About four years ago, when I was a junior at Brown University, I stumbled upon a McKinsey Women’s pamphlet that described career paths at the firm. I ended up speaking with some of the women featured in that brochure about their journeys. Each one had a different background and role and they all had interesting lives. One was a nuclear Ph.D. who became an energy expert at McKinsey. She traveled extensively in Asia, Europe and the U.S. and eventually joined our knowledge center. Another was a lawyer who started as a generalist consultant, progressed to associate partner, then switched tracks to lead undergraduate recruiting in North America. She shared my passion for Dancing with the Stars and had wonderful advice on how to balance a full life while working.

As a member of the selection committee for the Women’s Impact Award, I got excited when I read Julia’s application. We shared a similar background and interest in entrepreneurship. When she won the award and I was asked to be her mentor, I jumped at the opportunity and was hopeful we would develop a meaningful relationship that would impact both our lives – and it has.

Interviewer: What were your first impressions of Julia?

Kelly: She reminded me of myself in college. She was excited, hopeful, determined, and mature. She had a strong sense of purpose and vision for Tink Knit.

Interviewer: How did you approach advising Julia and developing strategic recommendations for Tink Knit?

Kelly: I tried to understand who she is– her background, her goals, and her motivations for starting Tink Knit. Then I learned more about the start-up – its development in an incubator, its successes and challenges, etc. Through our conversations, Julia and I identified two topics to explore:

  1. Talent management: Julia's co-founder had recently graduated from Brown, leaving a relatively inexperienced and small team behind.
  2. Growth strategy: Julia wanted to think through Tink Knit’s strategy for the coming winter season, including product pricing, product lines, sales channels, potential partnerships and the relationship between the organization and the single moms making the products.

Developing good recommendations and action plans is 80% asking good questions. I strove to understand the situation, Julia’s aspirations and potential solutions by asking as many probing questions as I could. Thinking through their answers helped both of us brainstorm solutions and get to know each other better. On pricing, for example, we had at least five back-and-forth conversations to align on a new strategy. Julia was initially hesitant to raising prices; but together we arrived at a pricing strategy that improved the margin enough on select popular and/or new products to offset any negative sales effects from a price increase.

Interviewer: You spent a weekend with Julia and the Tink Knit women. What was it like?

Kelly: It was very energizing for me. Observing the organization in person was the best way for me to understand it and Julia. I attended a knitting workshop for volunteers and a leadership team kick-off meeting for the fall semester. I was impressed by how well Julia led and energized her team and the volunteers. Her presentation to Tink Knit’s leaders was well-structured and full of inspiring stories from single moms. I was encouraged by the dynamic collaboration I saw taking place between Julia, her vice president, and the other members, which led me to believe the talent issue on Julia’s mind really wouldn’t be too big of a challenge.

After the workshop, I shared a long list of the positive things I’d observed with Julia and Tink Knit’s vice president Robert and a few ways to build upon their strengths. They were very encouraged with the external validation. For example, Robert was naturally good at jumping in with motivational comments and interesting anecdotes; I encouraged them to think more about how to tag-team with each other during the weekly workshops. I coached them to delegate more responsibility to the sophomore on their team, using examples from my experiences at Brown and McKinsey. I’m close to and grateful for some of my managers and mentors at the firm who encouraged my entrepreneurship by giving me meaningful work and responsibilities and helping me rise to the challenge of completing them well.

Interviewer: What have you learned from working with Julia and Tink Knit?

Kelly: I am very proud of Julia's achievement and energized by her determination. Her devotion to Tink has made me ask myself how I can live a more centered and focused life. She inspires me to be more determined and action-oriented. Mentoring has reinforced some of the problem solving and interpersonal skills I’ve learned at McKinsey such as how important it is to observe situations in person and ask the right questions; it’s helping me to be a better consultant.