Advancing tech across the value chain

Growing up, I was driven by my curiosity; I loved to create new things. I would always take science experiments too far, like when I studied about silk worms in second grade and ended up with a room full of moths—my mother was, of course, not entertained.

I pursued an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the California Institute of Technology, where I focused on studying how tiny building blocks as small as 1/100 of a single strand of human hair can form unique structures that increase their strength and resilience by 10-100 times, for applications in extreme conditions such as on a spaceship or inside the human body.

Jane Zhang
Jane Zhang

While research gave me the opportunity to live and breathe fundamental science, I wanted to see how applications affected people’s daily lives. This eventually led me to McKinsey. As an associate, my work focuses on pharmaceuticals, medical products, and advanced industries. I am continuing to quench my thirst for learning new tech from serving innovation-driven clients. Equally important, I see and experience every point on the value chain, from discovery and research to marketing and sales. For the first time, I can “hold hands” with scientists and their end-customers to solve difficult problems together.

Impacting the entire chain of innovation

I felt the powerful outcome of our integrative approach during a recent project with a Chinese innovation-driven start-up. The company wanted to grow from its original research team into a fully functioning business and was still establishing some of its core functions. Our team was brought on to help them shape their product portfolio for initial customer outreach and build capabilities so they were ready for the next phase.

The work was challenging, and we encountered multiple hurdles, including misalignment between leadership members and communication gaps between the scientists and the businesspeople.

After a couple rounds of trial and error, we established a fast-paced way of working, where in the morning, we’d meet with the core science team to discuss the fundamental points of innovation their product offers. At lunch, we’d catch up with leadership for prioritization and iterations, and then immediately call external experts for insights into customer preferences. Then we’d repeat the process to further optimize our offering.

It was meaningful because it was my first experience working with clients and across departments — from “fresh out of the lab” to “right into customers hands,” all in one day!

Additionally, as we brought external feedback into the conversation, the client’s core science team became more proactive. By the end of the seventh week, they were leading some of the conversations, and they continued to grow more mature throughout the project. It was gratifying for my team to witness.

Jane Zhang
Jane Zhang

Looking forward to more co-creation with clients

McKinsey enables me to look at and help clients in a way I wouldn’t have been able to elsewhere. As I approach my one-year anniversary at the firm, I am increasingly enjoying the collaborative experience with clients, and I look forward to exploring other projects and topics.

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