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Alexandra Hay-Plumb

Engagement Manager, London

What I love is that instead of being handed projects to work on, I have a say in the problems I want to tackle.

With a degree in natural sciences, Alexandra brings a scientific approach and discipline to the analytics and problem solving required for business challenges.

After graduating with a degree in natural sciences, I realised what I enjoyed most wasn’t the subject matter, but the process of analysing facts and figures and working out what they can tell you. Instead of becoming a research scientist, I decided to find a commercial business niche where my scientific background and problem-solving abilities would be useful.

Carving out my own path

I also wanted to be exposed to many different areas of business, so when I joined McKinsey as a business analyst and saw the range of clients, industries and topics in the London office, I felt like a kid in a sweetshop. What I love is that instead of being handed projects to work on, I have a say in the problems I want to tackle. Even though I’ve been here for only eight months, the onus is on me to take control. For instance, I was fascinated by the content of my current project, so I just called the partner in charge and asked if I could join the team.

A supportive environment

One of the highlights of working at McKinsey is the level of support we get from the firm and from one another. It couldn’t be more different from the stereotypical view of consulting. At the dinner with fellow candidates the night before my final interview, there was a real sense of community and camaraderie, and I decided that this was where I wanted to be.

Now that I’m here, mutual support is a major part of my life as a business analyst. My next step will be starting to coach other business analysts who have just joined. I’ll be expected to help them find their feet, and since it isn’t long since I was a new recruit myself, it won’t be hard to put myself in their shoes.

Collaborating with clients

Before I arrived I imagined I would start by doing a lot of backroom leg work, but that wasn’t at all how things turned out. Even in my first project I had an area of research and a client relationship that were mine to manage. Our client was going through a major restructuring affecting more than 4,000 employees, and I spent three months working closely with a senior HR executive who was right at the centre of the changes.

I didn’t just do the analysis and help in a practical way; I also helped her think through how to handle the challenges she faced, and we became friends. At the end she thanked me and said I’d made a real difference. I would never have expected to establish such a deep level of trust and collaboration with a client at such an early stage in my career, and it’s incredibly rewarding to help people improve the way they work and see them reap the benefits.

The values we live by

Talking about values can sound schmaltzy, but they are at the heart of everything we do. One of our core values is always to put a client’s interests before our own. We take on a project only if we can make a real difference, which helps to build trust and respect in our client relationships.

Another core value is the obligation to dissent. If you don’t agree with what someone is saying you must speak out, even if they are a McKinsey director and you are a new business analyst. A partner once said to me, “I’d rather you said a hundred things and were wrong for 99 of them than sat there saying nothing.” That one-in-a-hundred idea might start the team thinking in a new way and gets us a step closer to solving a problem.