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McKinsey Q&A: Sha Sha

Sha Sha has blazed many trails en route to becoming the first woman director in our Greater China office. She’s grown the Automotive & Assembly practice in China (now one of our largest in the country), co-anchored a CNBC business talk show, coached entrepreneurs, and pioneered advocating the power of big data. Perhaps her proudest accomplishment is finding a way to combine her career with her family to live what she calls “a full-hearted life.”

Interviewer: Tell us about your McKinsey journey.

Sha Sha

Sha Sha: I joined in 1996 as the first locally recruited business analyst in the new Beijing office. I went to McKinsey’s presentation at Beijing University by luck. I was so thrilled and intrigued hearing how McKinsey solves problems and creates impact that I literally heard my heart beating faster and decided to apply.

I worked on retail and consumer goods studies my first year; then went to Perth for a mining project. During my third year, I was working on corporate finance in Seoul when the Asian Crisis hit. It was valuable for me to observe how McK added value to clients in recession as well as times of growth.

In my BA days, I begged to see the world. I’ve worked in Kuala Lampur, Singapore, Perth, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and New York. While doing an engagement in Shanghai, I reconnected with one of my pals from Harvard, who later became my husband. We moved back to Shanghai and I decided to work on any project as long as it was local. I worked in many sectors, from public to energy to telecom to pharma until I helped an automotive client develop its first Chinese model in late 2006. We completely exceed expectations, taking the project from five months behind schedule to selling two million vehicles since launch. I got hooked.

Interviewer: You have been very entrepreneurial in your career. Why has that been important to you?

Sha Sha: When I came back from my first maternity leave, I was seriously questioning whether I wanted to become a partner. I wanted to have a strong family life and I realized the way to combine the two was to be entrepreneurial – to have a vision, make deliberate bets and inspire a team to help me.

I’ve led many entrepreneurial efforts at McK, establishing the Women Support and Flexibility Policy for the office to innovating digitization for clients. For the past five years, I’ve also coached young women in the business plan competition for the Cartier Women’s Initiatives Award. One entrepreneur mentee became the first Chinese female to win the global award in 2011.

Interviewer: You’re something of a TV celebrity in Shanghai. Tell us more.

Sha Sha: I’ve long been passionate about media. Since 2004, I’ve been a co-anchor on a CNBC business talk show and have interviewed more than 100 executives. Some of them have been celebrities (Richard Branson, Lei Jun). It’s been a fascinating opportunity to meet Chinese business leaders and hear about their challenges. I was an engagement manager when I began hosting the show, and it helped prepare me to walk into any chairman’s office and ask the right questions.

Interviewer: What advice would you share with others?

Sha Sha: When I was younger, I always wanted to be the best at everything. I’ve realized over the years that it is not critical to be perfect. Don’t be afraid to embrace your vulnerability. Your family, colleagues and clients should see you as a real person. The most important thing is to live a full‐hearted life.