– Hi everyone,
Greetings from Washington, DC! It's been a whirlwind since I last wrote. I'm getting married in June to my fiancee Emily, who just joined McKinsey! Plus, I've already wrapped up two client engagements, and am now starting my third of the year.
The Polar Vortex was in full force all over the east coast, where I've been working the past few months. One day, the impending snow was so bad that the CEO's assistant went door to door telling everyone to go home at 2:00 p.m. Our usual 20 minute drive turned into an hour-long crawl through blowing snow. The client's office was closed the next day, so we planned to work in the hotel lobby, which didn't turn out well: apparently the thing to do when snowbound in a hotel is to drink and get rowdy in the hotel lobby. Who knew?
After being offered shots at 11:00 a.m. from some red faced tourists, Helen (the business analyst on my team) and I did the only reasonable thing we could do. We bundled up, walked to the Off Track Betting parlor next door, and set up shop. You'd think this might be a disaster, but it was actually a great place to work: it was quieter than the hotel, they served a hot lunch, and there were plenty of tables, lamps and plugs all around. Plus, we enjoyed the soothing background noises of cheering and bells. (I like to pretend they're cheering for us and our amazing analytics!) I even put down a little of my own money and made $2 on a pretty grey horse in the 8th race.
By the next day, the weather had cleared up enough that we could get back to cozy confines of our client office, but spending a day with the ponies will be one of those things I'll always remember about my McKinsey career.
Being small, pale and weak
One of my favorite clients is a sports nutrition company with whom I've worked closely over the past two years. This year, they invited me to join them at The Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH. The Arnold (named after Arnold Schwarzenegger) is one of the premier sports events in the world, including strongman, fitness and bodybuilding competitions. I felt like such a tourist there—so small, pale and weak compared to all the women who looked like there were chiseled from marble. I even got chased out of a quiet room upstairs (where I was taking a conference call) so a group of bodybuilders could come in and spray tan.
The Arnold was also a big make or break day—based on our collaboration over the past year, the client had fundamentally shifted the brand positioning of one of their hero brands. New consumer segment and need state, new event sponsorships, new benefit communication and imagery. I was a little nervous since this was the big unveil. Fortunately, early reviews from The Arnold were all positive. It was exciting to see all of our work on the brand's possibilities come to life and actually build some buzz.
Retail study based in NYC
Right after wrapping up with my sports nutrition client, I moved on to a new top secret project for a retail client. I was fortunate enough to keep the team together: Helen and Putney (the associate principal). We also added Brian, a retail expert and associate principal from the Dallas office. We were asked a pretty tough question: How do we double in size (both stores and revenue), and double in profitability in the next four years? Now, I know from my sports nutrition work that when you're bodybuilding, you can get big or you can get lean. You can't do both at the same time. The same generally holds for businesses. Companies in a growth phase usually require significant investment, but that investment tends to drag down profitability, since it hits the bottom line.
Getting the answer was especially tough since the client was in a unique space—a rare combination of product and retail channel. While this made it tough, it was why they needed an outside perspective. If the question was easy to answer, they would have answered it themselves already. What was fun about this problem was the need to build everything from scratch. In four weeks, we conducted lots of fun, new research: expert interviews, national store visits, and P&L analysis.
Though this wasn't a true "due diligence," it had that kind of feel. Essentially, we were doing a scan of the market and competitors to understand what else they could be doing. I can't get into too many details, but I'm very excited to say that we found some pretty inspiring ideas for getting new customers, while leaning out their real estate and operational costs. After the meeting, the CEO sent a really nice e-mail where he told me that we "crushed it", and instructed me to "spike my iPhone" in the end zone. It was probably my best post-study note from a client ever!
New client engagement in DC, first public sector client
I'm starting a new engagement today, my fourth since I've come back to the firm after my walk across the U.S. This is a new client for me, and my first public sector client, but focusing on marketing and sales, which I know well.
I'm excited to be working with a terrific team—I've heard raves about every single member. Plus, it's exciting to be close to home—I grew up in the Virginia suburbs (Vienna stop on the Orange Line). As a native, I know that end of March / early April is peak cherry blossom season. I scheduled our first internal team learning on a paddle boat in the Tidal Basin, before we head to the office.
This will be my last client engagement before our wedding in June. I have a really good feeling about this one. Happy spring to everyone, and I'll check back soon!