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How Tragedy Brought Clarity and Newfound Purpose to Help Ashley Evolve at McKinsey

Meet Ashley, a client delivery director whose passion for people inspires others to live a purposeful life.

Playing pretend is a magical moment in any child’s playtime as they immerse themselves into make believe scenarios and storylines to entertain themselves. When Ashley, a client delivery director, participated in this “make-believe” in her youth with her siblings, she spent her time playing teacher.

“I just really enjoyed the opportunity to teach others,” she said. “And I would say it's definitely translated into my adult life, just with an eagerness for learning and appetite for continuous improvement and capability-building.”

Ashley has carried her passion for learning with her throughout her schooling and career. From participating in team sports to navigating a large family, she knows how to balance different needs, experiences and learning styles to keep everyone connected and inspired. Hard work and teamwork are two values that were instilled in her from a very early age, and they have translated beautifully into her professional life.

“I grew up in a home where we valued education and the opportunity to really work hard and to create opportunities and take advantage of them,” she said. “Most of my life lessons, I learned from working and competing in team environments.”

One of the things that inspires Ashley most is, in her own words, “the power of helping people see and expand their potential.” It makes sense, then, that her professional journey would lead her into consulting, a platform where she can support people and organizations in growing their potential on a regular basis.

But before that, she graduated from Georgia Tech, where she kickstarted her career in management consulting and nurtured her passions for operations, strategy, and frontline capability building. She did so by engaging in various leadership roles – including a role with the Atlanta mayor’s office – before getting her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

A step back in the right direction

How A Redemption Journey Forged Through Newfound Purpose Helped Ashley Evolve At McKinsey
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In 2014, Ashley found herself accepting a position with McKinsey’s Chicago office and finally finding the happy medium between creating connections and being regularly challenged in her role as a service operations consultant within the insurance industry.

“My supportive colleagues at McKinsey made consulting feel like something that was actually sustainable for me,” she said. “It felt like a longer-term career path for me and an opportunity to expand my skill sets in a way that was energizing and impactful for people, which is why I was excited to stay.”

Her decision to join McKinsey was also largely influenced by the McKinsey Black Network.

“I could look to my right and see associates that were Black,” she said. “There were managers and partners that were Black. I could see myself in different folks in the office and I had the opportunity to grow alongside them with their mentorship and support. It's been a very important community that I have turned to for friendship, for mentorship, for sponsorship and for guidance at every turn in my McKinsey journey. And it was definitely a part of my decision to come to the firm even before I knew anyone.”

A passion put to the test

How A Redemption Journey Forged Through Newfound Purpose Helped Ashley Evolve At McKinsey
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After being with the firm for 5 years, Ashley decided it was time for a change. Three weeks after she left the firm, her brother passed away in a tragic accident. Ashley’s world turned upside down as she grappled with grief and tried to put the pieces of her life back together.

“One of the things that was so important to my grief journey was finding purpose and meaning in everything that I was doing – not just in my family and life outside of work, but in my work professionally as well,” she said. “The decision to come back to the firm was an intentional decision to do work that felt purposeful and meaningful. It has honestly been the joy of my professional career and has been a really important part of my ability to put my life back together.”

Ashley says coming back to the firm, after her short-time away, felt like “coming home” – especially considering the fact that she returned to her MBN community to support the launch of the Black Leadership Academy and McKinsey’s 10 Actions after the murder of George Floyd.

Showing up for her community at this time also better enabled her to show up for herself and acknowledge the things she needed to prioritize her health, success and stability as a working mother.

“It's really important for me – and I preach this to my teams – to show up and support a whole person,” she says. “I'm a whole person, not just a professional. And so I try to model that for myself and support the leaders that I work alongside in finding that balance as well.”

The significance of this effort is especially important for Ashley as a wife and mother. Being able to balance the demands of her role with the needs of her household has always mattered greatly to her, and she cares deeply about showing up for herself as much as she shows up for her kids, husband and work at the firm.

“I think the biggest challenge for me has been navigating being a working mom on top of being a black woman in an industry where black people are underrepresented,” she said. “There are challenges doing that in a dual income household, as a working mom and trying to find and define what balance means for me and how to show up as not only a distinctive McKinsey professional, but also as the distinctive wife and mom that I want to be based on my definition – not the definition of the person sitting across from me.”

A beacon of hope for incoming talent

When it comes to setting the stage for incoming McKinsey talent to thrive and succeed, Ashley has a plethora of knowledge to offer.

“People really are the lifeblood of this place,” she says. “I've been successful at McKinsey because of the people that have been in my corner and that have taken a vested interest in my success. Find your people in your tribe and be willing to follow them and to ask them the tough questions to help challenge you in the right ways.”

Ashley also strongly encourages new McKinsey leaders to ask questions and take full advantage of the resources available to them – resources that will help them grow, learn and find the stability they need to succeed.

Ashley is intimately aware of (and grateful for) these services, having relied extensively on them during her two pregnancies, both of which were highly physically demanding for her. She was able to take advantage of the firm’s short-term disability benefits both times, which helped support her health and her family.

“I can think of countless situations where people at the firm have shown up for me – not just for medical reasons, but in all ways,” she says. “They’ve been present and available as a sounding board or a resource to help folks navigate difficult situations for them or their family. Take advantage of the firm at its full potential because you never know the types of things that life will throw at you.”

The last piece of advice Ashley has for new talent is simple: explore the myriad of paths McKinsey has to offer. Ashley learned very early on in her McKinsey journey that she can always find the support, inspiration, and guidance she needs — all she needs to do is ask.

How A Redemption Journey Forged Through Newfound Purpose Helped Ashley Evolve At McKinsey
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To McKinsey and beyond

As a devoted mother, wife, and professional leader, Ashley is constantly tuned into herself and what she needs in order to level up. She credits her faith as a cornerstone that fuels her passion and drive to continue to impact people and help those around her live purposeful lives. She is hopeful that her continued impact will lead her into a partner role at the firm soon – but for now, she’s focused on pouring into herself, her family, and her community in the best way she can.

“I’m constantly evolving and changing,” she says. And I believe in giving myself grace to define and redefine what matters to me, starting over with what "good" looks like as often as I need to. But one thing I have learned is the importance of facing everything with a smile as much as I possibly can.

Find a role like Ashley’s