Planting Seeds For Success With Sandra

Sandra, a Paris-based senior partner, understands this concept all too well.

Sandra Sancier Sultan
Sandra Sancier Sultan

“I’ve always loved flowers and seeing things grow,” she said. “But I never wanted to be a florist. When I was six or seven, a friend brought me seeds for blue pine trees. That’s something that’s hard to grow in Gabon. And I was very proud because I managed to get that small tree to survive and actually thrive. I'm not a big fan of trees anymore, but I do like seeing things grow.”

Born in Gabon, a state on the western coast of Africa, Sandra completed her pre-collegiate schooling in a system that mimicked that of France. After passing a competitive exam at the end of her high school career, Sandra was accepted into a French preparatory school, where she studied business.

But Sandra’s story is a bit different than many of her peers – while some others have various positions before coming to McKinsey, Sandra has been here from the beginning.

“McKinsey was my first job!” she says. “And it’s funny because one of the key reasons I chose to come to McKinsey right away was because the people who interviewed me were very diverse. I remember one was Cambodian, the other Vietnamese, and another was Spanish. And I just thought, ‘Wow, this is great. I'm going to feel really good in this place.’”

Her McKinsey journey began in Paris, where she became a business analyst after completing a training program and internship. Two years into her role, she enrolled at INSEAD to secure her MBA before rejoining the firm as an associate. She was promoted to an engagement manager and temporarily relocated to San Francisco.

Through all of her early roles at McKinsey, Sandra connected with her passion for advancing women’s rights and diversity within the corporate landscape and beyond.

The Power of Togetherness

On September 15, Sandra spoke at the McKinsey Power of Togetherness event in Paris, where she shared her work and aspirations with Women Matter , as well as insights on workplace diversity – something she has gained intensive perspective on throughout her career.

“In the culture I grew up in, we had this deep belief that color should not be a difference, so we don't talk much about color,” she explained. “So it took me a lot of time to find the right language. The issues are clear – I see it a lot in my family. One of my cousins even changed their name to get a job in France. So I'm not naïve nor ignorant of what's happening.”

Two years ago, Sandra got involved with a French think tank called The 21st Century Club, where she helped create a “diversity of origin” index for the largest companies in France to determine nationalities and countries of origin for people of color. This effort also influenced her discussion at the Power of Togetherness event, which intends to create space for leaders to gain skills and make connections to lead more inclusive companies.

“The diversity of origin index was an amazing bridge for all of us because we had facts,” she explained. “The data gathered can help inform the gaps and tell you the moments in the pipeline where actions are necessary to create an inclusive environment without trying to segment into different groups based on color.”

But Sandra’s journey to helping initiate more diversity and community is not limited to her McKinsey experience.

Connecting to Community and Self in Africa

Sandra says her experience with the McKinsey Black Network (MBN) began shortly after becoming a senior partner and relocating back to Paris. At that point, she realized that she wanted to contribute to Africa and began splitting her work between there and France.

“It felt, at the moment, like a professional decision because I had just been appointed leader of the financial institution practice in France, which was a huge deal,” she said. “It was one of those things that [brought forth] a powerful urge from my core [to serve].”

During this time, she served banks across Africa where she “derived huge energy from working with Africans.” In fact, she experienced joys and synchronicities that she will never forget.

Planting Seeds For Success With Sandra
Planting Seeds For Success With Sandra

“You wouldn’t imagine the first client I had out there,” she recalled. “It was a Pan-African bank, and we had a big, three-day meeting with their management team. On the first day, we were in a garden, and a member of management came to me and said, ‘I heard you’re from Gabon. Are you related to Gabriel?’ Come to find out, my great Uncle Gabriel gave this man his vaccinations in school. He told me what an impact my uncle made in his life, and it made me so grateful for the ways MBN connected me to Africa and where I come from.”

When it comes to MBN in France, Sandra says the group is still small, and she would love to support their expansion by helping recruit new Black talent. However, this is a challenge in France, as national laws prohibit companies from explicitly identifying a specific racial group.

Sandra says this global experience is a huge reason she has stayed at McKinsey since the beginning of her career. In her current role, Sandra spends about 80 percent of her time leading client initiatives and 20 percent doing non-client work, such as working on women’s diversity initiatives and helping grow the France MBN network. Within the scope of her career, she has faced and overcome a few unique challenges that have helped her develop into the powerhouse she is today.

“The reason I feel strong and happy today is because I have grown closer to who I truly am,” she said. “What I love about my professional life is that it has allowed me to become much more myself and much less concerned about fitting in. That makes me much stronger,.”

On that same note, her advice to incoming McKinsey consultants is an adage as old as time:

“Open up to McKinsey culture, because it's fabulous, and it will bring you a lot. But do not try to blend in. Let the journey empower you to strengthen who you are at your core.”

So what’s on the horizon for this innovative mother of five? Naturally, she spends time with her kids and family as much as possible, though she is also involved with several impactful initiatives that she plans to continue to invest in.

One of these initiatives is ALIMA, a medical humanitarian aid organization in Africa that Sandra is excited to become more involved with. Aside from these philanthropic and professional efforts, she is looking forward to devoting more time to supporting Africa and bonding with her family.

“Family is the number one way I create work-life balance for myself,” she said. “And outside of that, my priority in life is simply to build. I want to add as much impact as I can on Africa. That’s my place.”

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