Photographing and Working to Protect Wildlife in Peril

In high school, I interned for a month with a film team in India and Nepal who were making a documentary called, “The Hidden Tiger” which revealed the link between captive tigers and the wild tigers’ possible extinction. The internship turned into a four-year position that provided me invaluable experience in the field.

The documentary attracted the attention of power players in the big cat media world and led me to the opportunity of a lifetime—as an assistant for National Geographic photographer Steve Winter. He introduced me to the world of Nat Geo, which has been an amazing experience.

Turning my passion for conservation into a career in business

While continuing to work in wildlife media, I attended Dartmouth College, where I studied economics and environmental studies. During my time there I realized the many ways I could combine economics and business concepts with ecological research, and I knew after graduating, I wanted to continue to follow my interests in this area.

McKinsey’s focus on sustainability really drew me to apply. It was exciting to potentially do work that falls at the intersection of economic growth and conservation.

For many years, people looked at conservation and protecting the natural world as an adversary to economic gain. What I hope to highlight, both in my professional and personal efforts, is that is no longer the case. Responsible land management and conservation are complementary to sustainable economic growth. If you don’t have one, you can’t really have the other—at least over the long term.

My role at the firm

At McKinsey, I am a business analyst, and my role is to help our clients solve their most pressing challenges through the lens of sustainability. I work closely with clients and conduct research and analysis to understand their challenges. Then, I collaborate with McKinsey stakeholders, from colleagues to partners, to present long-term solutions and help clients meet their goals, grow, improve performance, and protect profitability—while taking strategic action to help combat the climate crisis and conserve our natural resources.

It’s becoming clearer that even if companies are driving profits, it’s not going to be sustainable unless what you’re doing is good for the environment and the community around it. It’s been encouraging to see organizations, from the largest industrial players to nonprofit wildlife organizations, take on this green perspective. Our global economy is collectively realizing we must adjust our business models and strategies to preserve our natural world.

Connecting my two worlds

With the firm’s approval, I am continuing to film wildlife documentaries which can focus on the connection between economics and sustainability. Right now, I am doing a story about the Pantanal in Brazil, which is the largest wetland in the world, and how the area is rebounding after devastating fires in 2020. The people of the Pantanal are leveraging conservation and wildlife education to drive sustainable growth in a part of Brazil that hasn’t had that kind of economic opportunity.

My work within the firm is also enabling me to bridge the two worlds. For example, I was staffed on Enduring Earth, a major conservation initiative the firm is supporting. The project is a collaboration between four large nonprofits to drive conservation while also sustainably growing the local communities in different regions in a way that will last for generations.

As a wildlife photographer, I had traveled to many of the places the project was focusing on, including several in Central and South America as well as in the Arctic. It was rewarding to provide insight to the team, as someone who has seen the impact of these conservation issues firsthand.

Looking to the future

In 2023, I am doing a Sustainability Fellowship, a 12-month program for colleagues who have been with our firm at least one year. It will provide opportunities to work on a wide range of sustainability projects alongside McKinsey leaders.

Going forward, I want to take every opportunity to focus on wildlife conservation, which I believe is extremely pressing. Unlike many other issues, there is often no going back. If you lose a species, it’s gone forever. One of the things I hope to accomplish in my time at McKinsey, as well as in my lifetime, is to create positive environmental change. I’m excited about the chance to do that here.

More about me

I continue to work on media projects with the wildlife photojournalism community. Last summer, I was able to invite three other business analysts to accompany me to the Pantanal for the first week of a shoot for one of these stories.

Find a role like Michael’s

Check out some of Michael's work in the gallery below and on his Instagram profile

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