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Walking in customers’ shoes

As a design researcher, Cathy spends her time getting to know clients across a range of industries so she can play a key role in solving their challenges.

I received a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Sichuan University and two master’s degrees in industrial design and design management from Savannah College of Art & Design in the US.

Cathy Gu
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At the time, my designer friends questioned what being a designer would be like at a management consulting firm. But the diversity of assignments convinced me this was the place for me.

From serving one industry to many

Before McKinsey, I was a design strategist who was focused on refrigeration. At McKinsey, I have rich exposure to various industries, and I meet people with completely different backgrounds. I have experienced projects across petrochemicals, MedTech, consumer, auto, Internet, and non-profit. In the four years since I joined, I have started to focus on transformation and innovation for the global energy and materials and life sciences sectors.

Being able to work closely with so many talented industry experts has enabled me to gain new knowledge and apply my expertise to different client situations.

My role at the firm

As a design researcher, I conduct ethnographic research to understand customers’ unmet needs and pain points. I go into the field and interview, shadow, and observe clients in their daily working environment to collect insights. In a sense, I stand in their shoes. For example, I could be a “doctor” trying to learn diagnosis and consultation techniques during one project. Then in the next, I might be an “operator” trying to understand the entire refining process.

My evolution from newbie to leader

Since joining McKinsey, my role has evolved. At the beginning, I was so green, trying to adapt to a new environment, way of working, even communicating.

Once I adjusted, my role switched from learning to teaching. I started passing my experiences and expertise on to more junior-tenured team members, leaders, and clients. I integrated design methodology with the traditional consulting toolkit to solve clients’ problems from different angles. From there, I started to lead a workstream, a client team, and eventually, a project.

I appreciate that McKinsey has provided me with a platform and environment in which I can explore options and chart my own personal development roadmap. The greatest thing about McKinsey is I’m not limited. I can define my own path.

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