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From research to consulting: analytics in the agriculture industry

– In June last year, I was contacted by a McKinsey recruiter on LinkedIn. My profile was interesting because of my background in agricultural science and my PhD in digital soil mapping.

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I was very surprised a consulting firm was interested in someone with such a technical profile. During my interviews, I learned my expertise could be quite helpful in solving real industry issues. I was impressed and fascinated by the energy and passion of the people I met along the way, especially those leading McKinsey’s work in agriculture.

I joined McKinsey last November as a senior research analyst in the Brussels Innovation Center. Previously, I worked for four years in research and two years as a scientific advisor in the public sector. As a researcher, I spent years crunching data and debugging my code. Although satisfying when solved, problems in research didn’t feel real to me.

In my role with McKinsey, I help clients understand how powerful data is when it’s applied with strong problem-solving and industry expertise. One of my favorite projects so far has been developing a partially-automated system to determine land suitability for growing certain crops at certain times. To achieve this, I had to:

  1. Acquire knowledge on the growing conditions required by the crops. I did this by reaching out to a network of McKinsey experts who were a wealth of information and always very eager to chat
  2. Gather data layers of the different parameters I wanted to include in my model
  3. Create the model itself. Some serious data crunching here and I confess it was a lot of fun!

What stimulated me the most was a conversation I had with one of my colleagues after I presented my model. He told me that without economic insights attached to it, my suitability model would mean very little to our clients. That’s when I realised what matters to the industry: tools that allow strategic decision-making. Now, I’m working on adding economic aspects of crop growth into the model. I love how constantly I’m challenged at McKinsey. I always have opportunities to learn new things from my colleagues and clients.

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