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A day in the McK life: Stephen


– Stephen, an associate in our Silicon Valley office, describes one of his typical days supporting an energy company as it improves its engineering operations. Stephen holds a PhD in mechanical engineering and came to McKinsey by way of the Insight Engineering & Science program, which is accepting applications through April 14.

6:45am: my wife and I wake up to the sounds of our five-month old son Ethan who is clearly ready to eat. I get ready for work and make breakfast for my wife and I, while she feeds Ethan and gets him ready to go for the day.

7:30am: play time! My favorite part of the day. Ethan and I play peek-a-boo for a bit, then I play the guitar and sing Dave Matthews songs to him. Occasionally play time results in the need for a clean shirt, but today I’m good to go.

8:00am: despite my best intentions, I inevitably lose track of time playing with the kiddo so I race outside to grab my daily cab to my client’s office. I use the 45 minute commute to prepare for my day; I check email, plan my schedule, sometimes take a few phone calls, etc.

9:00am: If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know most McKinsey teams start their days with short check-in meetings. Our team is no different. My engagement manager, fellow associate team mates and I go through the day’s schedule and items we need to complete. Today we are preparing for an important client meeting this afternoon.

The three of us are supporting a group of clients who are responsible for improving operations across their organization. This client group was only recently formed; its members are still defining their working style as they meet with other groups across the company to review their processes and suggest improvements.

My role is to help them translate best practices in Lean engineering into adjustments to their operations. This includes meeting with multiple clients to understand their current processes and procedures, identifying ways to improve work flow, tracking success, and communicating progress throughout the organization.

9:30am: our core clients join us to discuss our content and messaging for the afternoon meeting. We’re a little apprehensive because we’re not sure how well this group will receive our suggestions. We talk through some of the participants’ backgrounds and explore ways they might respond to our proposal. I remind my main client that the people we’ll meet this afternoon have a different perspective from the other groups with which we’ve talked, and suggest some specific changes to his message to help him convey that he is collaborative and build trust. We agree this will help us to build a better partnership and hope the afternoon meeting goes smoothly.

11:00am: my team breaks and I spend some time developing a portion of our curriculum for the Insight Engineering and Science event we’ll be hosting in Washington, D.C. in June. I participated in the program a few years ago – that’s how I ended up at McKinsey.

I was nearly finished with my PhD in mechanical engineering at Duke and was thinking about careers outside of academia. The Insight program introduced me to other amazing people who had similar aspirations and concerns about leaving academia. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only person facing feeling the way I did. I remember coming home from the program and telling my wife, Katie, “wow – it would be awesome to work with those people every day!” Now, I’m excited to pay that experience forward to other students.

12:00 noon: we grab a quick lunch at the cafeteria and eat outside. The weather has been awesome this week.

12:30pm: I go through my emails again, print out our documents for the meeting, etc.

1:00pm: meeting time. I listen as the client team presents (just as we practiced). The meeting goes really smoothly, mostly because we were well prepared. The audience ends up being pretty open to our feedback and suggestions for improvement and seems ready to collaborate to make change happen. I’m proud of my core client – he did really well delivering the key messages.

2:00pm: coffee break. I spend 5 minutes marking all of my incorrect picks in this year’s NCAA bracket (we have it displayed on the wall in our team room). I’m in third place out of six, but Duke is still in it, so I’m a happy man.

2:15pm: our core McKinsey-client team reconvenes to debrief on the meeting outcomes and next steps. We divvy up the action items that came out of the meeting, like scheduling weekly check-ins and adjusting some pieces of our work-flow analysis. We also step back to assess our approach to working with this group. We have several more meetings like this one with other parts of the organization. We will continue to tweak our strategy and synthesize our findings for each group before sharing it all with the client’s leadership.

3:00pm: I switch gears to complete my personal impact assessment for my semi-annual review. Basically, I describe the contributions I’ve made to my client teams, my office, and the firm (e.g., a client training session I developed to teach our problem solving techniques). It’s a good excuse to reflect on the last six months which included three client engagements and two months away from work for Ethan’s birth. I’m also excited for this review because I have a new development group leader. This person fills a role similar to my adviser in grad school – he watches out for me and guides me as I grow and develop here.

4:00pm: head into the McKinsey office in San Francisco for a working dinner with my McKinsey teammates and our leadership. About once a week, we meet as a full group to discuss our progress. Tonight I picked the place and ordered – Indian food, my favorite.

5:30pm: problem solving time. Tonight we redefine our scope after serving this client for three weeks. We select a handful of groups within the organization to focus on, since they have the most room for improvement, rather than attempting to drive change across every part of the organization. We also discuss how we will communicate our findings and impact to the executive team at the end of the engagement. We agree on a few metrics which have the appropriate altitude for an executive level steering committee and the details necessary to reveal the nuances of the challenge the client is facing. It was a productive session and worth the somewhat late evening.

8:00pm: I head home to catch up with my wife and try to beat her at Mario Cart.

10:30pm: Night.