A Calling to Community with Thabiso

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to assume everyone’s end goal is the same: rise through the ranks in your company, make a decent living, and do the work you’re good at.

For McKinsey’s Senior Staff Engineer and Platform Engineering Director, Thabiso, success has been a side effect of a simpler end goal: serve and strengthen his communities.

“I knew when I was younger that I wanted to help people,” said Thabiso.

Born in Washington, DC and raised in South Africa by an American-born College Professor mother and Eswatini-born College Professor father, Thabiso was exposed to various cultures and community needs from a very young age.

“My parents were in leadership and economics as I was growing up in Southern Africa. So, I knew there were challenges with social impact [issues] that were going on in the community. I knew I wanted my work to be in relation to some of that.”

Coupled with his family’s commitment to their faith and education, Thabiso learned the importance of an African proverb that states, “The rain does not fall on one roof alone.”

“I think it’s important to understand that you're not alone,” he elaborated. “I guarantee someone else is feeling the same thing.”

That desire to create outlets for people to support themselves and each other led to a career focused on problem-solving. After receiving a degree in information technology, Thabiso found himself able to travel the world working as an international advisor and project manager.

“I became very quick at understanding diverse cultures, solving large-scale technical problems,” he said. “I think the innate challenge of solving cultural problems helped me think through what other people's experiences look like. I think that was super impactful in my career.”

A big step and a serendipitous moment

Armed with a passion for people and a well-stamped passport, Thabiso found himself looking to take the next step in his career. That’s when a close friend handed him the book, “The Will to Lead,” written by visionary McKinsey leader Marvin Bower.

“Stop interviewing anywhere else,” Thabiso’s friend told him. “This is where you want to be.”

When McKinsey offered Thabiso a position to lead the project management organization for internal systems engineering for client-facing solutions, he immediately knew he had made the right decision.

10 years later, Thabiso is still at McKinsey, serving clients and leading platform operations at McKinsey Academy.

“This position has a global footprint,” he said. “It has sustained my passion for solving complex problems, engaging with different cultures and being in a fast-paced environment.”

Cultivating Black community

Actively supporting fellow Black professionals has always been a top priority for Thabiso. His involvement with the social justice fraternal organization, Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship Incorporated, laid the foundation for his current commitment to the McKinsey Black Network (MBN).

“There’s another African proverb that I always refer back to,” he said. “‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I think [this proverb] is largely about having this community that surrounds you to [help you] be successful.”

That need for community was never more necessary than the moments in time following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

“I always wanted to know who was around that looked like me, that was able to work in this type of environment,” he explained. “When [the murder] happened, I got a nudge under the table from two of my colleagues who said, ‘Look, I know how passionate you are about helping our community. I would love for you to get engaged to help.’”

This level of proactive, immersive commitment to advancing opportunities for Black leadership has served him well as he has continued to mentor up-and-coming leaders (20 and counting so far) and support MBN in their growth across the U.S.

“Sharing my experience is important to the generation that follows me,” he said. “I always hear this analogy of ‘sending the elevator back down', but I mean that. People don't need to relive challenges that I've [already] lived.”

His inspiration for mentoring at the Firm can be attributed to the following Black leaders, including Tunde Olanrewaju, Aaron Aboagye, Acha Leke, Sara Prince, Monne Williams, Mitesh Prema, Ntokozo Vilakazi and Peter Okebukola. Thabiso said that whether he was being mentored by them or working with them indirectly, they have “reaffirmed his hope of change” when advancing diverse communities.

In his career, Thabiso wants to support initiatives like Asian Ally Leadership and Women in Technology that ensure everyone has a fair shot. This intersection of community, technology, and problem-solving keeps him energized to advance all underserved and underrepresented groups.

Pearls of wisdom for the new generation

As someone deeply involved with supporting his community and mentoring younger professionals (he also mentors two HBCU students), Thabiso is eager to share his wealth of knowledge with other Black professionals. He has always found himself drawn to McKinsey’s 10 Actions – especially, the first action of doubling Black leadership and hiring Black colleagues.

“We need to supercharge development for young professionals, specifically Black professionals in this case,” he said. “I want to provide that advocacy to help people. [But] at the same time, I want to be able to solve complex challenges.”

He offers the following advice as an example of ways he encourages his mentees to solve complex issues.

“Understand both sides of an argument. Taking the time to understand somebody's external perspective sometimes helps you with your current perspective. There's always a case where someone is overlooked or unheard. I think the thing to ask is ‘why’. Why do you feel that way? Why has that happened?”

This advice again pays heed to “it takes a village.” What excites Thabiso about continuing to work with McKinsey is how the Firm’s actions and commitments embody this proverb by encouraging empathy and support for future generations. In addition to a commitment to community advancement and evolution, McKinsey has what Thabiso calls a feedback culture.

“It's a community that will come to help you if you ask for it,” he explained. Thabiso’s top words of advice for people who are new to McKinsey are three-fold: come out of your shell, get engaged early on in your career, and know that you belong here.

Running toward his destiny

With an unstoppable focus on community, engineering solutions, and uplifting others, how does Thabiso pour back into himself after a long day at the office?

Unsurprisingly, even his hobbies revert to a passion for people and culture. Having completed 20 marathons thus far, Thabiso credits running as an outlet that empowers his physical body while allowing him to continue traveling and meeting new people worldwide.

“Maybe that's part of my calling,” he said. “I run marathons and observe different communities at the same time. [Running] gives me a sense of belonging.”

In addition to running, Thabiso finds rejuvenation in his faith and spending time with his wife, who also works at McKinsey as a senior accountant. They are both jet setters who enjoy traveling and experiencing different cultures while seeing the world.

His future at the Firm revolves around one main goal: finding a balance between serving his community and excelling at technical work. Even though the rain may be falling on everyone’s roof, it’s also nourishing everyone’s gardens.

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