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How Curiosity and a Passion For People Have Fortified Jalen’s Career

Meet Jalen, a Solution Delivery Manager whose journey at McKinsey has embodied the power of renewal, self-awareness and curiosity.

What do an NFL player, an NBA player, a pilot and a New York Times journalist have in common? Almost nothing – except for the fact that at one point in his life, Jalen wanted to be all of them.

“I think something I’ve realized about my childhood dreams is the fact that I’ve always been interested in different things and falling down the rabbit hole of something new,” he said. “That’s something you’ll see throughout my career journey – including my time at McKinsey.”

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Jalen got his career start while finishing his B.A. in marketing from the University of Indiana, Bloomington. At the time, he wanted to get himself on track to land an internship with the Indiana Pacers – however, his advisors and friends envisioned him on a much different path.

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He noticed that many of these people were suggesting that his skills would suit him well in consulting roles – and once Jalen realized how many brilliant, amazing leaders in his circle were heading down the consulting track as well, he couldn’t help but look into it. That’s how he found McKinsey, where he landed his first internship during his sophomore year in 2014.

That internship set him up to get hired at the firm in 2016, where he found fulfillment working on consumer retail projects before exploring new opportunities in 2020 – though he ended up serendipitously returning just over two years later after running into a former colleague in his neighborhood, who recommended he return to explore a new path. 

“I left because I just wanted to experience a different type of work versus consulting, but I was excited to come back for the people,” he said. “And then for me it was a real passion and mission alignment, so I could marry my work in consumer products with a community that I was really involved in here, which is supporting Black founders and Black leaders.”

A return to McKinsey excellence

Jalen was incredibly excited to return to the community he had found at McKinsey – especially the connections he had made through McKinsey Black Network (MBN), which he credits for its power to “make a big company feel small.” He has a deeper appreciation for the MBN community considering the fact that when he first joined McKinsey, he was the only Black consultant in his class. 

Years later, he’s now in a position to uplift fellow and incoming Black talent in MBN and beyond. Currently, he’s working on a new initiative called the Next 1B program, which supports Black-founded consumer product brands by helping them build connections and capabilities through a 10-12 week accelerator program. Next 1B has already welcomed its first two cohorts – now, Jalen says the team will spend the rest of the year gearing up for a broader launch in 2023, where their goal is to engage 300 Black founders through various programming. 

“You quickly see how much impact can happen when there are people who look like us and are in the community and engaged in the community in positions of leadership and power,” he said. “We’re able to drive so much more influence and impact as a community.”

In addition to Next 1B – which he’s been organizing in collaboration with Ashley– Jalen is also deeply involved with other initiatives set forth by McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility. He’s passionate about supporting McKinsey in their mission to be a premier place for Black talent and a leading voice when it comes to Black Economic Mobility in the U.S. and beyond.  

Ushering in the new generation of Black talent

As someone who got his start in leadership at a young age (Jalen became an Engagement Manager at age 25), he is intimately familiar with the kind of support incoming talent needs to succeed – and that makes him even more passionate about setting the next generation of Black talent at McKinsey up for success.

“I specifically want to help the next classes of younger consultants, analysts and associates,” he said. “I hope that I'm a person who can help get their path at McKinsey off to a really strong start and help them navigate the firm and make it their own.”

The concept of “making McKinsey your own” is something Jalen has fully embraced.

“It’s cool that somebody like me can come back after spending some time away and say, ‘Hey, there are different paths that are just as impactful and still allow me to work with teams and solve problems for clients,’” he said. “I’ve been able to unlock opportunities and connections that make the value of being here so much more impactful.”

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He couldn’t have explored those different opportunities for himself, though, had he not overcome his own personal challenges. For instance, it took Jalen a while to find a balance between leading and delegating, especially since he took on positions of leadership at such a young age.

“The biggest challenge for me has been striking a balance between when to step back and lead, support, delegate, and coach versus when to lean in on execution,” he elaborated. “How much should I lean in and how much should I step back and let my team grow and learn themselves?”

This level of self-awareness is exactly what has gotten Jalen so far – and it’s what will continue guiding him as he faces his future, one step at a time.

“When I first returned to the firm, I talked to some mentors who asked me what my long-term goals were in coming back,” he said. “I told them, ‘I don’t have one. I’m just excited about this work.’ A lot of people told me I should have a set plan, but the truth is my goal is simply to support Black entrepreneurs and see how things evolve from there.”

As Jalen continues to pursue his calling, he’s also a firm believer in establishing a work-life balance that prioritizes his family and his own well-being.

“My value doesn't all have to be around work,” he said. “It can be around family and connections and friends as well – just the experience of living life. What grounds me is the knowledge that my identity doesn't have to be wrapped up in the work I do. Giving back to my community is what it’s all about.”

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