A month in the McK life: Thorsten

Zurich-based associate Thorsten recently completed an engagement in New Zealand. He chose the project because he was passionate about working on sustainable energy, and exploring a new country. Read on to experience what life was like – in his team room and beyond.

Thorsten inline
Thorsten inline

Week 1

Our mission is to develop a business model to make New Zealand more sustainable. It is an exciting topic because reducing the economies’ dependency from fossil fuels is so important for the environment. In only four weeks, we need to develop a full-fledged business model and a minimum viable product – often referred to as MVP. The idea behind this approach is to develop a preliminary version of a product as soon as possible. It will not be perfect yet, but it will allow us to quickly test our design with customers and iterate.

We start the week with a team kick-off. We define success for the project, describe our personal working preferences and learning objectives, and establish our team norms. Thereby we make sure everybody starts on the same page and get to know each other.

One interesting aspect of this study is that we are actually serving two clients in the region who are both interested in the topic and are not direct competitors. Employees from both companies sit with us in our team room. We are united by our enthusiasm for sustainability, and the possibilities of an emission-free energy future. This shared passion creates an amazing working atmosphere.

As an associate on the team, I’m responsible for answering a few sub-questions that will lead us to an overall answer. My work streams include developing a financial model and an operational model to answer the following questions:

  • Can the business be profitable?
  • What will the purchasing process be for the clients?

The first thing I do in the morning is plan my day. I discuss my objectives with my engagement manager. She helps me to make sure I’m prioritizing the right activities, involving the right clients and McKinsey leaders at the appropriate times, etc. We talk many times throughout the day, tackling challenges as they arise. I’m also learning that, while my plan is important, I have to be flexible. Clients and/or colleagues often have requests throughout the day so plans need to evolve. Life is definitely is never boring.

Week 2

This week, we conduct dozens of customer interviews to understand how they think about emissions and energy. We use this information to develop typical personas of potential customers (to segment the market). For select personas, we develop an initial value proposition - an offering that fills a need or solves a problem for people in this segment.

We run an interactive session with the clients’ executive board members to gather their perspectives on this initial segmentation and the related brand purpose. We put together a gallery walk with several large displays to illustrate different concepts. We encourage workshop participants to use post-it notes to leave their feedback by each display. It turns out to be a great way to gather feedback and spurs a lively discussion.

My role in this workshop is to present and discuss the results of my work streams. We split the workshop members into small groups for this part of the workshop. It is exciting to play such an active role.

Over the weekend, I go surfing in Piha Beach, one of New Zealand’s most famous beaches. It is summer here and the trip to Piha is breathtaking. I cross a landscape with dense and exotic vegetation, similar to a rain forest. Once I reach, Piha Beach, the Pacific seems bluer and brighter than any other ocean. I meet several Kiwis who I find very relaxed, open and fun. They seem to enjoy each moment and worry not about the hustle and bustle in the world outside of New Zealand.

Week 3

This week is intense. We refine the product value propositions for main customer segments and work on the financials for the business models we’ve developed to ensure all options are economically viable. We analyze and compare potential sources for our product, exploring options for where we buy it, how we bring it into New Zealand, etc.

At the end of the week, we have another interactive workshop with the executive board. It is amazing to see the CEOs of our client organizations fully engaged in developing solutions.

After working hard all week, I am ready to explore more of this beautiful country. I love exploring outdoors and the options for adventures in New Zealand are practically infinite: surfing, sailing, hiking, biking, climbing, visiting Hobbiton (the Hobbit village from “Lord of the Rings”), etc. Since Auckland is known as the “city of sails,” I decide to take sailing classes. I’ve sailed quite a bit, but never finished my licensing requirements. I book classes with Penny Whiting, who is a sailing legend in NZ. She has been an instructor for 40+ years, and her sons are professional competitors in the America’s Cup. We sail in the Bay of Auckland in pouring rain on Saturday and 30-40 knots winds on Sunday. Pretty exciting, and perfect for freeing my mind. I feel rested and ready for another week.

Week 4

Monday we enter into the last week of this journey. We finalize several pieces of work before our final workshop with the complete executive board on Thursday. During the first half of the week, I make sure my pieces of the puzzle are finalized. As a team, we outline and develop the final PowerPoint deck and discuss the agenda. We want to make our presentation as tangible as possible, so we program real webpages to present the products we have developed. These give our clients a realistic impression of what the product will look like and how it will be offered to customers.

The workshop is a great success. The board is enthusiastic about the results. They select one of the business models we co-developed, and start thinking about implementation. We all leave the room feeling invigorated by the possibilities ahead for New Zealand.

Friday morning I hurry to the airport with a backpack full of memories and a network of new friends. The intense work my team undertook has been the starting point of some fantastic relationships. What a memorable project!

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