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Beyond borders with McKinsey

Miho describes how she's making her own McKinsey by helping to build an education practice in Japan and spending a year in the US to learn from current leaders in the sector

Read more about: Emerging markets

McKinsey is a global firm, not just because we have 120+ offices across the world, but because we can instantly connect to amazing people anywhere in the world.

Originally, I was not sure how much of a difference I would make as a new member of the firm. I originally joined, thinking I would stay for a few years, then move on to pursue my passion to change the educational system in Japan. My colleagues at McKinsey, made me realize I didn’t need to leave the firm to do that. Let me share my story to explain.

Developing a passion for education

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I was born and raised in Japan, and went to a Japanese-speaking school all my life. When I was 18 years old, I quit the University of Tokyo – the pinnacle of Japanese academia – to attend Williams College, a small, liberal arts school in rural Massachusetts. I was fascinated by the rigorous yet communal educational environment at Williams; by the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to expand liberal arts education in Japan.

The sticking point was I didn’t know how to do that. A couple of former McKinsey consultants I met at education conferences recommended I start in consulting to learn fundamental problem-solving and influencing skills. I joined McKinsey Tokyo to develop the skills necessary to translate my ideas into tangible, impactful actions and start to build a network. There weren’t many education-related engagements in Japan at the time, so I thought I’d get some broad experience and then leave the firm.

Making my McKinsey

From the day I joined, my colleagues encourage me to make my own McKinsey – to craft a career fit to my interests. This approach is encouraged and there is definitely not just one path to success here. About a year after I joined, it finally dawned on me that if there wasn’t an education practice in Japan, I could create one. Yes, me, a business analyst.

I reached out to partners in the Education practice in other parts of the world and shared my excitement for working with them and building out liberal arts education opportunities in my home country. Their responses were overwhelmingly encouraging and inspiring. David, the leader of the global Public and Social Sector practice, set aside 30 minutes to meet with me in-person when he visited Japan. He connected me with other partners, and said “go frustrate people – it’s a good thing.” I’m not I ever managed to frustrate them with my inquiries as they were all willing to help me by jumping on a call to talk through a challenge, sharing insightful articles, or bringing me into client discussions.

Since then, I have been working closely with senior partners in Japan to evolve the educational system. We’ve established a relationship with the Ministry of Education and the Prefectural Educational Boards to discuss how McKinsey can help solve the most important issues in Japan.

Continuing to explore

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This experience taught me I can make a bigger, more meaningful difference leveraging McKinsey, than I can on my own. So, I decided to stay. In my quest to keep learning more about different educational systems, I wanted to experience McKinsey-level work in other geographies and got the chance when I started working with Laura last summer. She was an associate from Silicon Valley who transferred to Japan. She did not speak Japanese, but was able to contribute significantly to our clients by bringing very different perspectives. She made me realize that putting myself into an environment where I could not rely on my background would give me an opportunity to learn what I was truly capable of accomplishing.

During that engagement, I worked with Peter, the head of our New Jersey office and told him I’d like to come to New Jersey to work. Two months after I told him I was interested, I was sitting in New Jersey, wearing a new office badge, and meeting my new team to kick off an Education engagement.

The transfer has been an amazing journey so far, professionally and personally. I have helped bring significant change at the organizational and individual level for my clients who are shifting their operational models and entering new markets. I am working with partners in the Education practice to apply our expertise in business to education. The skills and experience I am building will be crucial as I think about supporting the Japanese education sector going forward.

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As my story hopefully illustrates, McKinsey is a place where you can pursue your goals in the official client setting and beyond it. Doing so is not easy; it requires introspection and effort, but it is extremely fun and fulfilling. The people here, regardless of their tenure, will go out of their way to make your dreams come true. As my mentor puts it, I hope you “come to McKinsey with high expectations, so we can exceed them.”

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