Veterans at McKinsey: Meet Liz McNally

After serving in the U.S. Army as a military police platoon leader, company commander, and speechwriter for General David Petraeus, Liz now helps companies build and deploy their capabilities at McKinsey Academy.
Liz McNally
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In her junior year of high school, partner Liz McNally received an unexpected postcard asking if she would want to attend a summer experience at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, America's training ground for Army officers.

She didn’t know much about the military at the time—“I went to an all-girls high school in Connecticut in the early 1990s and our country wasn’t involved in war the way it was a decade later,” she says. “I went because I thought it would be an interesting and eye-opening way to spend a week before my senior year of high school. Little did I realize I would end up attending!”

Liz went on to graduate from West Point, before attending Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. She then served across the U.S., Germany, and Iraq in the U.S. Army as a military police platoon leader, company commander, and as a speechwriter for General David Petraeus, before landing at our firm, where she leads McKinsey Academy. Looking back, that week in the summer would ultimately have an outsized influence on her life.

“Attending West Point may have been the most non-traditional, unexpected thing I have ever done. There was certainly the element of serving that inspired me, but I also went to West Point because I wanted to develop my whole self,” Liz says. “The experience went far beyond academics, to being pushed physically and developing as a leader of character. It's also safe to say I didn't appreciate, as a 17-year-old, that 10 years later I'd be serving in a war zone.”

Those lessons continue to inform her journey today, particularly this year, when the COVID-19 crisis brought unprecedented uncertainty and change to every corner of our lives. “My military experience has given me a real ability to connect with people—I always see the world through people and how we take care of them,” she says. “It also taught me grit and the ability to weather tough situations. And during COVID-19, I’ve leaned on my military experience a lot. Just as we don’t know when the pandemic will be over, there were experiences during my service that ultimately lasted much longer or were much, much harder than we expected. My time in the Army taught me how to navigate those situations with resilience, courage, and ultimately, optimism.”

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Partner Liz McNally pictured near the Iraq border on her 26th birthday.

Liz brings those traits to her client work, too. At McKinsey Academy, Liz focuses on helping organizations build—and then deploy—the capabilities, from culture change to agile ways of working, required to sustain large-scale transformations. When the COVID-19 crisis caused global lockdowns and a transition to remote ways of working, Liz and the McKinsey Academy team worked to quickly digitize all their offerings to ensure organizations could leverage them virtually. “Like many organizations we support, we as a McKinsey Academy team went through what feels like five years of innovation in five months,” she says. “It has been an intensive, massive jolt to the way we work, and it has been incredibly inspiring to watch our team rise to the challenge, keep pace with that change we were all experiencing, and help our clients navigate this crisis.”

Beyond her client work, Liz is deeply engaged with the Veterans@McKinsey group, which she credits with helping her find a sense of community and home at McKinsey. When she first joined the firm more than a decade ago, she expected to face a sharp learning curve when it came to understanding what drives global businesses, but building her network and community was an unexpected challenge. “I left a relatively comfortable position at the Army—I understood the organization and had a network there, and being dropped into a whole new culture was very disorienting at first,” she says. 

Liz credits mentors like senior partner Fritz Nauck, a fellow veteran and service academy graduate, for helping her navigate the firm on her own terms. She recalls returning to the firm as a new engagement manager on a new client service team after her first maternity leave. “I didn’t know how I would make it work,” she says. “I wanted to give my team and our clients my best—and I also wanted to go home and see my son before he went to sleep every night. How was I going to combine McKinsey and motherhood?”

One evening Fritz interrupted her work in the team room to remind her it was 6 p.m.—and that she needed to go home. “He told me he would help the team finish whatever we were working on, and that I could log back on later,” Liz says. “It’s a really special person who would do something like that and support me in a new way of learning. And if it weren’t for people like Fritz doing that 10 years ago, when I was a brand new mom, I know I wouldn’t be here today.”

Read more profiles of our veteran colleagues here.