Change is inevitable – it takes a lot of strength to adapt to change, but leading that change asks even more of a person. Yetunde has always been up for the challenge of questioning norms and paving new paths – in fact, she’s made a whole career out of it.
“I went to a space and aviation camp during high school, and I listened to one of the design engineers talk about the way planes are designed,” she recalls. “He said, as a design engineer, you get to question why planes have two wings and not four. You could perhaps build one with ten wings and see what happens. That made me realise that you could be creative in the technical space and I was hooked.”
Now, as director of product management at QuantumBlack, an AI company by McKinsey, that kind of outside-the-box thinking is what drives her success as a leader who helps others create what they need to thrive.
“I like making things. When I look at my career, every role has had a component of making things myself or helping people make things so they're successful. Product management essentially for me is just an application of that skill set once again.”
Originating from South Africa, Yetunde never really had a dream career as a child. Yet, somehow, she has always found herself bouncing between creativity and logic – first wanting to be a scientist, then a chef and even a plumber before stumbling into engineering during university.
From there, her career has evolved into the perfect blend of boundless creativity and pure logic. After realizing how science pushed the bounds of her imagination, she pursued an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering before getting her MBA from Oxford.
The Science of Creativity
“I love being able to bring together engineering and design to solve a problem in the best possible way,” she says. “I really think of it as being almost like Father Christmas. When you're Father Christmas, you must know the person that you're gifting to give them the thing that will give them the most joy. That's how I think about product management – it’s knowing our users well enough to give them the thing that will most help them solve their problem, whatever it is.”
Yetunde discovered QuantumBlack after seeing presentations during her time with the Oxford Artificial Intelligence Society. She was immediately impressed with the company’s commitment to solving large-scale problems and applied shortly after.
Upon taking a job at QuantumBlack, Yetunde found an incredible support structure in the McKinsey Black Network (MBN) – especially over the last two years, as the world faced unprecedented attention on racial justice and equity.
“It's been really, really difficult,” she admits. “I wouldn’t have been able to navigate those experiences, even professionally, unless I had the support of McKinsey Black Network.”
Supporting McKinsey’s Black-Led Future
Her level of involvement with the network hasn’t always been what it is today. When she first joined QuantumBlack, she was one of only four Black people in the entire company. Though she’s been able to find an amazing community as a member of MBN, she recognizes that there are still many Black people throughout McKinsey who are the only one (or one of only a few) on their teams. Mentorship, she realizes, is a powerful way to bridge those gaps and help people throughout the company feel less disconnected.
“It's a heavy burden knowing I'm the most senior Black woman in QuantumBlack today. I'm glad I'm a mentor because I never really had an opportunity to get that advice from someone else who was more seasoned than me.”
Finding the Autonomy to Lead the Kedro Team
A passion for building community and diversifying the firm aren’t the only things that keep Yetunde at McKinsey. At the end of the day, she truly loves her product, Kedro, and the work she does.
Kedro is a Python library that helps data scientists write well-structured code that is easier to put into production systems. While she loves creating the product itself, she also loves the sense of autonomy she gets working in such an environment.
“I define the success metrics of the product within the business goals, and then I can coordinate with a team to deliver those things,” she explains. “That level of autonomy is very difficult to find in many other places.”
What makes this sense of autonomy she finds within QuantumBlack even more powerful is that it’s perfectly balanced by a sense of team harmony and reliability.
“It's one of the few places I've worked where everyone is so on it; they're really smart. They know what they're doing, and I can fully trust that they've got my back and that, together, we will do the work that we need to do.”
This type of synergy is especially critical in evolving consulting into a tech-focused industry. Yetunde doesn’t fear that shift, though – in fact, she’s wholly committed to ushering McKinsey into that future.
Embracing a Dynamic Industry
“We're finding ourselves in this very interesting dynamic where tech is now becoming the big model and not necessarily strategy consulting,” she explains. “The challenge is to make changes that support a tech-based model within the firm because much of our [work] was geared towards strategy consulting.”
Others might be overwhelmed by the prospect of supporting a company in paving a new path. Yetunde, however, thrives in a setting where she has the freedom and knowledge to help define what that path needs to look like.
It’s that kind of trailblazing approach to creativity that attracted her into the world of virtual reality and interactive filmmaking. Her first project, Atomu, premiered at Sundance in 2020 to rave reviews. Based on the Kenyan myth that if one walks around a Mugumo tree (a wild fig tree) seven times, they can transition from man to woman and woman to man. It is a comment on gender fluidity ideals. The project consists of a multi-player Oculus Quest experience that allows the player to embody the perspective of an ancestor trying to help the main character find the most honest version of themselves.
As a co-director and user experience coordinator for the project, Yetunde found great inspiration from expanding her skillset and exercising her creative muscles in different ways. After all, that’s been the guiding principle for her entire career.
Advice for Other Scientists and Technologists in Consulting
“Don't be afraid to admit you don't know,” she says. “It sounds so intuitive, but when you're placed in a space that has many smart people, you feel the imposter syndrome, and you wonder, why on earth am I here? What do I know? There's something magical about being able to remind yourself: I was brought here because I am good at one, two, three, four, five. These are the skills that I bring to this team, and this is why I'm good and I'm here.”
She fondly recalls a time years ago when she saw Oprah speak in South Africa and received wisdom that followed her throughout her entire career.
“[Oprah] spoke about destiny, and how everyone always looks at their destiny and thinks it's something far out and far different to what they've been doing – but your destiny is actually the same thing that you have been doing your whole life.”
When Yetunde breaks it down, it’s true – though product development and intensive scientific problem-solving isn’t something she’s been doing her whole life, being creative is. Thinking outside the box is. Leaning into her curiosity is.
And with that perspective guiding her path, she’s not only excited for what’s to come at McKinsey – she’s ready to lead the charge.
“I'm really passionate about seeing an ecosystem – an open-source office if you say – created for McKinsey, where we enable many people within the firm to open source their projects so that we can contribute to the greater tech ecosystem that they fall into,” she says. “Those are two things I think that I'd like to still be defined by: product excellence and open source at McKinsey.”