From US Air Force Academy to a Silver Star Medal
I graduated from the US Air Force Academy in aeronautical engineering and commissioned as an officer and pilot. I spent the majority of my time in this role as an F-15E pilot taking part in warfighting commands. In 2002, right after the September 11 attacks, I flew to Afghanistan to help its National Army push back the Taliban. One year later, I went back to the Middle East and flew in the war against Iraq. We launched Operation Enduring Freedom during which I earned a Silver Star Medal for support I gave the Army during their invasion of the Shah-i-Kot Valley in Afghanistan. An Army helicopter crashed on a mountain; its crew was trapped and attacked by a large Taliban force. We rolled in and provided close-air support for about four hours. We saved about 17 crew members, although unfortunately several others died during the crash.
Exploring careers outside of the military
After ending my career in the military, I wanted to explore different paths. I heard about McKinsey from some of my Harvard peers and decided to give it a try. I also applied to other places, but my aspiration was to join the best organization out there and, based on what I learned from my friends, that was McKinsey. I made it through interviews and got an offer.
Something that surprised me about McKinsey, was how I serve clients. I thought I’d gain expertise and leverage it as I advised clients. While that is true to some extent, I’ve learned it is less about the specific information I bring to my clients, because that changes over time, and more about how I help them to understand and solve problems. I add more value teaching them how to break down, analyze and develop and iterate on solutions that I do by merely sharing my knowledge.
Today, I lead McKinsey’s federal work. It was an incredible honor to take up this position. We’re a group of partners committed to making the US federal government the best government in the world. We serve various agencies, from the Defense Department to Veteran Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency across their broad agendas, ranging from effectiveness to the citizen's experience and risk assessment and protection. Our job is to understand each of the clients we serve and provide sustainable guidance, while ensuring we bring the best experts and resources available at the firm. (Learn more about Kirk through his professional profile here).
When military meets consulting
When I first joined the military, I thought it was about command and control. I thought I’d get my role and do my thing. Eventually, I realized it was all about teams, and that is the same at McKinsey. We can only get things done as a if our team functions well. In the end, it is about inspiring people. It's about working together effectively with your team and clients toward a shared objective.
As a military member considering consulting, it is a role unlike others in that you advise people and coach them to help them improve, but you’re not in the seat. Consulting means influencing others and helping change their mindsets and behaviors.
Part of why I came to McKinsey was I wanted to see the big world out there. I wanted to understand various clients. Because of my background, I was often staffed at public sector projects and I wanted to do that work, but I also knew I needed to push myself to experience other sectors and industries. One piece of advice for veterans considering consulting is to explore a full range of the opportunities, whether they’re tied to your background or not. For me, a lot of the magic was serving diverse clients, building lasting relationships with them, and seeing them come back again and again.
Finding my home at McKinsey
I was initially attracted to McKinsey because of its big name and reputation. I knew great people who joined the firm. What really energizes me and made me stay for 15 years, though, are the people I work with. They are so much fun, and I love working with them! I love where their hearts are. It's amazing what I think we can achieve together.