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Blending and balancing

Jigar has found how to balance his fulfilling career with his family, even during COVID-19.

I joined McKinsey in London as a junior associate in what was called the Business Technology Office (now it’s McKinsey Digital). While there, I worked my way to partner. Then, in 2016, I moved to Riyadh, part of our Middle East office. I focus on digital & analytics work and with clients in marketing & sales, pharmaceuticals, telco, high-tech and the public sector.

Blending and balancing
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What was the London office like when you joined the firm?

I will never forget the first time I came to the London office for my interview. Going up the escalator and looking up to see the atrium that went all the way to the roof, across the seven floors – that's a memory that I'll keep forever, largely because I was so nervous. However, when I met my first interviewer, I somehow felt very calm, like I was at home.

I had a technology engineering background with a PhD in artificial intelligence. For me, everything was around structured thinking and communication. I found the same focus among McKinsey colleagues who also looked at data for answers and valued structured thoughts and communications.

Also, McKinsey’s culture and value system came across in the interviews. By the time I finished, I was convinced I would accept if I got an offer. Luckily, I did receive an offer, and I joined what was a group of about 50 people based in London. It was a diverse group. The London office overall had people from more than 30 countries, and my group in particular worked across many geographies. It was fantastic to learn the new job and about new cultures.

Why did you move from London to Riyadh?

For a couple of reasons. First, although I was based in London, I was working everywhere but London. Also, Riyadh was a growing office with potential for impact in terms of projects and clients, particularly when it comes to technology and digital. I saw an opportunity to do exciting projects without as much travel.

The second reason was it felt like a great cultural fit. I had started serving a telco client in the Middle East, which exposed me to the region and its people. I found Arabs extremely friendly, open, welcoming and ambitious. I love working with people who shoot for the stars.

Lastly, I could reunite with my family as my brother was already in Saudi Arabia with his family. I moved with my wife, my daughters, and my parents, so we are all together now. I think I've achieved a pretty good balance – being close to my family, travelling only a little, and seeing my kids every morning.

What do you like the most about Riyadh?

This is the most amazing part of my McKinsey story. I was 10 years in the big London office. When I arrived in Riyadh, our office was just one floor in a big skyscraper. We had around 15 colleagues. After my 10 years in the London office with 500+ colleagues, it was a cultural shock. Now, four years later, McKinsey has almost 80 people in Riyadh. That level of growth is phenomenal and mirrors what our clients are going through here as the entire country is changing rapidly.

What are some of the pivotal moments in your career that brought you to where you are today?

When I joined as a junior associate, McKinsey provided a three-week mini-MBA training. It was in Tampa Bay, Florida. That’s when I first realized that it's ok to be different; you don't need to come with a MBA from an Ivy League college, Oxford or Cambridge. You can come from University of Warwick like I did, with a PhD from the University of Southampton and still be recognized as somebody who has the right merits to do the job. The firm values your skills, not your certificates.

The second thing is having a mentor. I have known my mentor since 2006 and call him my father at the firm. He's more senior to me and he always finds time for me no matter what he's been doing and whether we have been working on a project together or we haven’t been in touch for a longer time. He is there whenever I need him, which is hugely comforting. He also gives me honest advice because he knows that, ultimately, it will make me stronger.

For example, after I became an engagement manager, I worked on a challenging marketing and sales project for a high-tech company. We prepared well for our steering committee meeting with the client. I thought it went well, and I was proud. Afterward, my mentor asked me to discuss the meeting. He explained how I could have done better and what I needed to consider for the future, especially if I was looking at a path to partner. He shared that the engagement manager role is quite different from my previous associate role and now I couldn’t do everything as told, needed to take more ownership, to lead the team and hold them responsible for delivering. I was shocked at the feedback at first but he reminded me that while feedback is sometimes difficult to accept, it should open my eyes and help me grow. His feedback was direct and specific and, while I wasn’t initially ready for it, it came from a deep sense of care and obligation. I took that feedback into my next engagement and each one that followed.

You have two children. How do you balance work and family responsibilities?

When you’re a partner at McKinsey, your whole family is part of the job, just like when you're a doctor or a firefighter. My family feels my emotional or physical stress, misses me when I do travel, and supports me every step of the way. So once a year, my wife and I sit down and discuss the next year and make some decisions about what that looks like together.

I recall a meeting with one senior partner. I wanted to know how to become a father while making a career as he was a father himself. His answer was that it’s ok to take time to become a partner and find time for other goals like having a family. He encouraged me not to get too competitive or insecure. He said, “If you're happy with the output you're producing and the impact you're having with clients, then you do not need to run faster to make partner one year sooner. It doesn't really mean much in the long run and, instead, it might require you to make sacrifices you regret one day.” It was a really powerful lesson for me.

Because of the pandemic, we're spending a lot of time in front of screens so every weekend we're going out. Last weekend I went camping with my two daughters. Usually it's a bigger crowd and a proper campsite. But we just went and pitched a tent in the desert, which was a lot of fun.

What do you enjoy doing after work to unwind and relax?

For me, the biggest things are cooking for my family, spending time outdoors, and photography. I grew up in the UK where having a barbecue was a special event because the weather was usually not suitable for cooking outside. Here, I can do it every weekend. During the lockdown, I’ve learned to cook properly using a tandoor oven in my garden. It has helped me learn how to cook local meat dishes, which has been fun and tasty.

Is there anything that helps you to get through the current situation?

When working remotely, you can be extremely efficient – switching quickly from one meeting to another. Not having to leave the room, I don’t bump into anybody for social chats. For me, it is important to create those moments of interaction where I'm not focused on the task at hand but on the person in front of me. That's actually my source of energy. Most days, I call a couple of my colleagues to chat about how their day went. That makes it feel a bit more normal because I miss the watercooler chats.

Find a role in Riyadh with Jigar