Before joining McKinsey, I had my own company in the transformers industry. It was very successful, but after some time, it became repetitive. I wanted to do something more challenging. That’s when I stumbled across McKinsey through the Vault rankings. McKinsey was seen as the most prestigious firm to work for, so I applied.
Exploring to find a new focus
I joined in October 2008 as a business analyst in the Dubai office. My first three years were full of things I’d never seen or done before. I worked in different industries like energy, banking, healthcare. In 2010, I started the first client engagement in Saudi Arabia related to city development which was at the intersection of economic development and infrastructure. I fell in love with the sector and its potential; it was heavily focused on social well-being and corporate responsibility. We were designing a city in the middle of nowhere that was supposed to thrust the country to a completely new age. It was phenomenal.
In 2014, I did my first transportation project. Since then, I’ve done much work in that industry and infrastructure. Now I lead McKinsey’s Transportation practice in the Middle East. It is a fascinating universe, especially at a time when almost every country and city is building up their logistics.
My entrepreneurial mindset
If someone told me when I joined that I’d be a partner at McKinsey someday, I would have been surprised. When I was running my own company, I was on the technical side doing engineering, design and innovation work; becoming a partner at a consulting firm was not in my plans. However, at McKinsey, I’m still innovating; I set up a new practice from scratch.
What helped me get to where I am was continual exercise of my entrepreneurial muscles, learning along the way, and McKinsey’s familial atmosphere. When I joined in 2008, the Dubai office was small – around 100 colleagues – so everybody knew everybody. Today, we have 600 colleagues in the office but it still has the feeling of a family for me as I nurture close relations with my colleagues. It’s fascinating to see the office getting bigger and more structured, to welcome new colleagues who join with their dreams and expectations, and to keep in touch with the colleagues in my starting class of 2008.
Leading during the pandemic
An office manager once likened partners to ER doctors – clients come to us bleeding and we work together to patch them up. I’ve taken that challenge seriously, and during COVID-19, watched it expand from doctor to also ER nurse, practitioner and receptionist. Our clients are having hard times navigating the universe now; there is so much uncertainty. They see us as a fixture in their lives. We have more opportunities to become close friends and the people they call to talk, vent or share their worries. It’s more emotional. For example, I have a very close relationship with one of my clients in the aviation space. It has become a mutual counseling relationship where I go to him for matters on my mind, and I am his go-to for personal and business topics.
Interviewing is one of my favorite things to do at McKinsey. I love it because it gives me a chance to meet the new generation. There are undoubtedly funny moments that make me laugh. It is the life and blood of the firm – bringing in new talent and making sure candidates have a good experience.
Running interviews via Zoom has not been a new experience for me during COVID-19. McKinsey has been doing them for a while, though the frequency has increased. It’s a different feel; I am an extrovert, so I prefer to be in the same room. When candidates get stuck or feel uncomfortable, I am used to adjusting and moderating the discussion in person. However, we all get through it on Zoom together. My best advice for candidates interviewing virtually, is to pretend it is an in-person interview. Don’t get too comfortable or too uncomfortable. Just be yourself and feel free to acknowledge the different space we’re in these days because your interviewer is feeling it too.
Taking care of my own well-being
I have admittedly struggled with finding balance, especially during COVID-19. From March to May, I gave no attention to myself, I was so focused on taking care of my clients, colleagues, family and friends. I took a step back and realized this was not sustainable. Plus, clients pay us for our mental bandwidth; if I wasn’t taking care of myself, I wasn’t at my best and that doesn’t do anyone a favor. I started to pay more attention to my well-being and mental health. Now I swim daily for 45 minutes and meditate. I started playing the piano again and tried a new skill, baking cakes. The first three turned out amazing, but with the fourth cake, my family was like, “Maybe baking should not become your alternative career choice…” so I let it go.
I have also found a new schedule that works for me and my family. I wake up around 7:30am and spend 45-60 minutes with my daughters. My older child plays piano, so I sometimes play with her. The younger one enjoys playing games with me. This time in the morning just for us is sacred. Throughout the day I focus on work but I finish by 6pm. I again play with my daughters, put them to bed, and go swimming. From 8pm onward, I catch up on work, reply to emails, and do the administrative things that do not require calls. I spend time with my wife. It helps me recharge.
To some degree, I am grateful for this time as it has made me reflect on some things I did not focus on before. I know now how important it is to look after my mental and physical health holistically. I don’t take my health, family, and friendships for granted. I try to give them the time and attention they need. I’ve found my balance, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
More about Rachid
Rachid is a partner based in Dubai. Before joining McKinsey, he worked in Saudi Arabia as an operations manager in the transformers industry. He studied electrical engineering at the American University of Beirut and completed his MBA at the University of Warwick in the UK.