Expanding the McKinsey Black Network in the UK

Dara Expanding the McKinsey Black Network in the UK
Dara Expanding the McKinsey Black Network in the UK

Tennis is a game of endurance, concentration, and hyper-awareness. In many ways, it’s a test of mental and physical stamina – two things associate partner Dara practices on and off the court.

Born in Nigeria and raised there and in the UK, Dara became aware of the importance of energy from an early age – not just his own, internal energy bank, but also the actual energy industry, which creates some of the most lucrative careers in Nigeria. Working in that space became his end goal, and he set himself on the track to achieve it right away.

A well-worn path to McKinsey

After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering from Cambridge University (where he also played tennis), Dara pursued his career first at a small oil and gas company, then at an energy consulting and engineering company. He always felt he was where he wanted to be in his career, and when he discovered McKinsey, that feeling took on new life.

While consulting was a slightly different path than his chemical engineering experience, McKinsey gave Dara the opportunity to focus on his passion for the oil and gas industry. Though knowing people at McKinsey helped him adjust to his new role, he credits the well-rounded training and coaching programs with helping him quickly acclimate to McKinsey’s way of working and problem-solving methods.

The missing piece

However, Dara felt there was something missing. As a Black man in the UK, Dara didn’t have a large black community to lean on in his early days at the firm. The McKinsey Black Network has grown substantially since then, in many geographies including London.

“It's helpful to know there are people with similar backgrounds who have been successful at the firm ahead of you, but there weren’t many Black colleagues in London at the time,” he said. “There was a handful [of us]. So I didn’t get plugged into the McKinsey Black Network straight away; it took a few years.”

When Dara moved to Houston, Texas to step into a managerial role, he realized the power and reach of the McKinsey Black Network. It became invaluable to him.

A burgeoning network across continents

“[Being in Houston] made me realize how important the community is in sustaining the progression of Black people at McKinsey,” Dara said. “Having a network of people who know what you're going through, have faced similar challenges, and can share learnings and experiences with you to help you along your path is really powerful.”

After 18 months, Dara decided to return to the London office. His first order of business was to lean in heavily to the McKinsey Black community across the UK and Europe. Within a few months, Dara stepped into a leadership position and has seen the network grow tremendously.

Dara Expanding the McKinsey Black Network in the UK
Dara Expanding the McKinsey Black Network in the UK

Dara explains that the McKinsey Black Network operates on four primary pillars: recruiting (finding the best Black talent), retention (helping people progress at the firm), reach/relevance (knowledge radiation outside of the firm), and community (making sure people feel genuinely connected to each other). After George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests in the summer of 2020, the network established a fifth pillar: partnerships. Under this pillar, McKinsey provides pro-bono work and financial support to non-profits fighting for racial equity and equality.

In addition to leading MBN and his own client service teams, Dara mentors several junior associates and managers in the Black Network who come to him for advice on progressing at McKinsey and making the most of their roles. It’s his way of paying the support he received forward.

Lessons learned for future leaders

Though Dara has always been headstrong in pursuing his goals, he considers himself relatively soft-spoken. In an industry in which speaking up and being assertive is a must-have character trait, he has learned to turn his quietness into something powerful.

“When I moved to the US, I happened to work with a few partners who I felt were even quieter and more reserved than me,” Dara said. “I thought it was really interesting that there was a different mold of partner. They inspired me and showed me it's okay not to be the loudest person in the room. People still appreciate the value you bring. There are other skills such as listening and influencing that you can bring, and clients really appreciate them. Learning that was a huge step in feeling as if I belonged.”

When asked what other advice he’d give to incoming McKinsey associates, Dara shared:

“Don’t be overly focused on when you make the promotion cycles. Enjoy the journey and experience. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, it probably will the next cycle. I wish I had that mindset so I could have focused more on having fun and enjoying the job.”

He learned this lesson after his first time being nominated for promotion into a managerial role. At the time, he was, in his words, “gutted” to not receive the promotion – mainly because of a “self-imposed pressure to accelerate through the different cycles as quickly as possible.”

“I became manager the next cycle, which was only six months later, and I was very happy about it,” he said. “I had this urge and ambition to succeed and achieve something impressive; it spurred me to work hard to make sure my promotion was a slam dunk the next time.”

Dara Expanding the McKinsey Black Network in the UK
Dara Expanding the McKinsey Black Network in the UK

A steady foundation for a shining future

Dara is always looking ahead to his next big step. While he’s not sure what it will be yet, he knows he’ll feel confident and prepared to take the leap. And at a time like this, when the energy industry is rapidly evolving and transitioning into a more sustainable future, Dara is one of many McKinsey colleagues leading the charge.

“My goal is to continue to develop as a consultant and as a leader, while building an independent, entrepreneurial mindset so I’m initiating things rather than relying on others to do that and following. As a leader at the firm, I want to generate new ideas and projects.”

The leadership tools Dara gained from McKinsey have been invaluable, and he is supported and uplifted by McKinsey’s exceptional community as he forges his path forward in the firm.

Until that next step presents itself, he’s keeping himself grounded by making time for tennis – a pastime that helps him to be fully present and mindful. Just as he makes time to grow as a player on the court, growth as a professional will remain one of his top priorities.

“Over the past seven years, I've had great McKinsey training. I feel I'm now capable enough to be independent, do what I want to do and bring about some change I want in the world, even though I don't know exactly what all that is yet,” he said. “I've developed a lot over the last seven years. And that's what's kept me here – the fact that I keep improving.”

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