Relating to others across dimensions

At the intersection of technology and business, you can find one of McKinsey’s newest partners, Jan Shelly Brown, known to many as JSB. With a passion for solving her clients’ business technology needs, JSB has worked on groundbreaking projects that have helped transform her clients’ business and people.

“I tend to build deep, long relationships, and that's how I work with clients – seeing my clients mature in their careers, helping them transform and not just write their strategy on paper, but actually helping them implement it,” she said.

As she helps her clients navigate these projects and significant transformations – often focusing on areas such as tech modernization, Cloud, DevSecOps, risk and security – JSB recognizes that the only constant is change.

Building her skillset from one coast to another

Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, JSB moved to Washington DC to attend Howard University for her undergraduate studies, acquiring a degree in computer science. During her time there, JSB fostered a love for the impact technology could have on businesses.

“I was always that developer that wanted to join organizations not just doing ‘tech for tech,’ but tech for business,” she stated.

She noticed that the finance industry at the time was ahead of the curve in its use of technology. So, after graduating, she made her way to banking on Wall Street, working on trading floors and building out systems operations that helped with large-scale transactions and volumes of trades. Looking to expand on this area, JSB set her sights across the country in Silicon Valley to attend UC Berkeley for her MBA.

“I went to Berkeley deliberately because I wanted to be in the Valley, and that's where I got introduced to McKinsey's technology arm ," she said. “The reason I joined is because it was the only organization that was thinking about technology as a strategic advantage – not just a cost center or implementation arm”

JSB notes that a significant part of what attracted her to the firm was that they always approached technology with a strategic lens, thus aligning with her values. After graduating, she soon made her way back to DC, focused on public sector work for a while, and is now back to her roots working in banking.

On coaching clients and colleagues

Witnessing her clients mature in their careers by helping them transform and implement strategies is an exciting aspect of JSB’s role. She also offers coaching to her clients by role modeling how to implement 80/20 strategies, asking questions and working with leaders to build their capabilities, and helping them execute transformations.

“At the end of the day, people drive change,” she said. “You have to start with coaching to make transformations successful. That's the constant in what I do within the team and with clients.”

She approaches coaching colleagues using the experience she’s gained through informal apprenticeships.

“We do a phenomenal job of giving folks the soft and hard skills needed to do a job, but I would say a lot of our most effective training is informal,” she said.

Through her apprenticeships, she was able to experience various working styles her colleagues used to perform their roles.

She recounts, “I remember being an associate starting to step into an engagement manager role, and the senior engagement manager coach said, ‘Listen, JSB, this page structure is not going to work. Here are the things I would do to make it better.’ He gave me that hard feedback in a very caring, yet direct way. This just-in-time learning is quite effective.”

Being one of the few

JSB is aware that women don’t yet comprise their fair share of technologists, and being a Black woman in the field is even more rare.

That’s why JSB spends additional time leading diversity and inclusion efforts while also focusing on the diversity efforts offered at the firm. An active member of the McKinsey Black Network, she focuses on the retention and recruiting efforts for the senior associate cohort. She notes that what drives this passion is being able to help drive impact for clients, as well as recruit more people that look like her into technology. Because, she admits, being the “only” is exhausting. It's something she is hopeful she can change at the firm and at clients. JSB has published several articles in her areas of expertise in banking and technology, including co-authoring a piece on How to close the Black tech talent gap.

“I've had phenomenal sponsorship from people who value my authenticity, and I've had a very strong MBN community that always looks out for and grounds me. When I go to clients, I'm often the only female and the only Black person. I've learned to embrace it. It still gets lonely, but I've tried to find ways to relate to people in other dimensions.”

Keeping the balance

With so much focus on her new partner role, JSB is also very much aware of the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. She notes that the firm has done a great job of putting structural policies in place to support employees and their personal affairs.

“Being present to drop my kids off in the morning before 9:00 a.m. and get them off to school is non-negotiable for me. Friday is my family fun day, so I try not to take meetings after 5:30 p.m. Do I work hard? Yes, of course, I do. I have long hours, but is it in a way that's sustainable for me? Yes, it is.”

We look forward to seeing how JSB continues her seemingly effortless balancing act of navigating a successful career in business technology for years to come.

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