Recently, I’ve gotten the chance to discover the world of consulting through the eyes of Mary Winn Miller, a management consultant who works as an Engagement Manager for McKinsey Consulting, one of the premier consulting firms in the world. She also happens to be someone who I call a mentor, friend, and lately, “boss”. This is consulting as she sees it.
In your own words, what is consulting to you?
To me, consulting is impact. I am a consultant because I want to make a difference in the world. The word “impact” means everything from helping organizations achieve tangible, bottom-line financial impact… to less tangible, and in my mind more meaningful social impact: helping the leaders and teams in organizations reach their full potential, and helping companies serve customers in a way that adds real value and meaning to their lives.
How did you become interested in consulting?
I didn’t know what consulting was until my senior year of college, when I attended an information session. I was struck by the thoughtfulness and kindness of the people, and I was attracted to the opportunity to work in a variety of industries on some of the world’s toughest problems. As an engineering major, I always believed I would become an engineer, but I never liked the idea of having to “narrow” my career so early in life. As I learned about the case interview process, and began practicing case interviews, I developed a real affinity for the type of work consultants do. I also found my fellow consultants to be interesting people that shared my values and were multi-disciplinarians at heart.
What is a typical day in the life of a McKinsey engagement manager?
There is rarely a typical day – consulting requires an ability to quickly adapt to changing information! I will give you my schedule for one day this week to give you a feel:
8am: Fly from my home in Boston to New York City; answer e-mails and review documents from my team on the flight
9:30am: Taxi ride to the office; informational call with the Education practice to learn about how the Firm is impacting K-12 education
10:00am: Check-in with my two analysts to align on success for our client this week
10:30am: Live problem solving session & white-boarding time with my analysts to align on decision-making rights
11:30am: Walk to client for an interview with an Executive Leader of the company to understand how she would improve decision-making at all levels of the organization
2:30pm: Walk back to the office with the Engagement Director on the study to debrief the interview and align on next steps
1:30pm: Check-in with team: share interview notes and review progress
2:00pm: Schedule remaining Executive interviews; answer e-mails; send a note to the leadership team to share how the interview went and what success looks like for this week
2:30pm: Write document & key questions for problem solving time with the senior directors on our engagement tomorrow
3:00pm: Problem solving time with our Engagement Director and governance expert
4:00pm: Chai latte break (critical!)
4:15pm: Call with an expert on Financial Services governance structures & strategic planning processes; we want to make sure we are bringing the best knowledge to our client
5:00pm: Call with an expert on Asset Management to make sure we are coming up with the most important decisions required to run this business
5:30pm: Align with the team on insights from the expert calls & problem solving sessions
6:00pm: Send latest decision rights to Visual Graphics to convert from Excel to Power Point over night
6:30pm: Call with the Boston Office retreat planning team
7:00pm: Check-out with the team; what did we accomplish today? What are our goals tomorrow? What is our latest answer and how do we feel about it?
7:30pm: Walk to hotel; order food; answer remaining e-mails
What is your favorite thing about being a consultant?
I have three favorite things: the pace (moving fast is a ton of fun), the challenge (constant learning and growth is one of my core values), and the people (I find that the people share the value of a “caring meritocracy” which I find deeply inspiring and engaging).
What is your least favorite thing about being a consultant?
Traveling Monday through Thursday can be tough. I appreciate that as I get more senior, I have more control over my schedule, and can prioritize developing a local client base. This was tougher for me to do earlier in my tenure.
What advice would you give to undergraduate students who want to go into consulting?
Your freshman and sophomore years, I would focus on creating an outstanding academic record, and finding one or two organizations that you really believe in–and contributing to them in some sort of significant way. Join organizations that you genuinely believe in; don’t join things or take on roles to try and “check a box.” True passion shines through. Your junior and senior years, start to practice case interviewing. There are plenty of great books that will help, but the best thing you can do is practice frequently and with a wide variety of people.
What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you as a consultant?
Planning and directing a 100-consultant musical at our office retreat in Puerto Rico. I am a huge advocate of the arts – particularly theater and dance – and love directing shows. Being able to direct 100 very talented people was a blast; seeing the senior leadership of our office dance to “Gangnam Style” and “Moves like Jagger” was a pretty crazy, awesome moment.