Krishna N Venkitaraman, moved from TCS to McKinsey after his MBA from HEC Paris. In the earlier article, he wrote about how he got into McKinsey India. In this concluding post, he shares what he did as a McKinsey consultant working on technology strategy projects.
McKinsey is like Hogwarts: Help is given to those who ask for it.
I joined the BTO practice (now Digital McKinsey). As soon as I reported for work,they shipped me off on a training program to New Jersey, USA. I met some really cool people from offices across Asia, Latin America, North America, Africa, and Europe. We were then sent to Carnegie Melon University for a crash course on business technology.
One of my fondest memories was visiting the Randy Pausch memorial bridge there (Check out his video, the Last Lecture). After 2 weeks of interacting with my international colleagues, I was yet to officially meet my India colleagues.
My induction into McKinsey India was with an off-site in Goa. Pampered at the Grand Hyatt Goa, I met consultants from across the Indian offices, and a few who were now working in foreign locations. Over three days of networking, team building, and great entertainment (attending a stand-up performance by Radhika Vaz, listening to a very touching talk by Anupam Kher, and partaking in some amazing water sports), I started feeling like I was becoming a part of the firm.
McKinsey teams feel a lot like an Avengers initiative. There is typically a core team that starts off the engagement. And as we enter every new phase, new associates are either brought on board in a planned manner, or just ad hoc.
I’ve typically worked on three types of projects: strategy studies, operations engagements, and research projects.
Strategy projects are what are called “on the balcony” projects where we take an overall, macro view, and help the firm figure out the direction they need to proceed in. Operations projects are more of an “in the dance” effort, where we move with the rank and file of the organization to fix operational issues and improve performance.
Research studies often involve studying an industry landscape or preparing the ground for a firm to evaluate next steps. There are also due diligence studies, build-operate-transfer projects, etc. The breadth and depth of managerial exposure one gets in consulting is unparalleled. But the quality of the people you interact with on a daily basis is what makes the experience so enriching.
I had an opportunity to work across multiple sectors including Banking (digital transformation), Education, Technology, IT, and Pharma. During this time, I also had opportunities to interact with or work alongside design folks who had worked at Frog, Carbon-12, Veryday, and Lunar.
On my very first project, I realized the power of the McKinsey network. For gathering information, I reached out to consultants across the world—right from BAs to Directors. And all of them gave me one or more half-hour calls to answer, share, and guide me in my quest for facts and figures to inform my decisions. They would readily share material they’d prepared, researched, or point me towards more people who could help me. The ease of access I had to people across roles, functions, and geographies still amazes me.
The secret to the success and endurance of the firm lies in its inherent belief that its assets are its people. Almost every manager, partner, and director has worked his or her way up the ranks and, along the way, experienced the power of formal leadership and informal mentorship. So each one of them is constantly endeavouring to pay forward by making the same kind of investment in his or her juniors and subordinates.
The time that leaders spend on one-on-one feedbacks, coaching, etc. is extremely high. One of my favourite managers gave me with a great piece of advice:
Deserve, then desire.
Every time I want something I constantly ask myself if I have done enough to deserve it. That has given me a great sense of control on my inner thought process and definition of success.
My favourite part of the job was client management. I got to work with some incredibly great clients, and I even formed personal relations with some of them.
The highlight was when, towards the end of one of my engagement, one of the team members of my direct client approached me for coaching. He was up for promotion and had an interview for it. Despite being about 10-12 years my senior, I was overwhelmed that he thought it useful to get my perspective. We spent an hour discussing how to approach it, and at the end of it, we were both very pleased with the outcome.
For a typical consulting engagement, I would fly out every Monday morning and return home every Friday evening. During this time, I had a chance to visit quite a few cities in India. While initially the glamour of staying in glitzy hotels was attractive, I soon got weary of it, and yearned for the comfort of my own bed on the weekends. The weekends themselves would often whizz by in either catching up with overdue sleep or in preparations for Monday meetings.
So after about two years at the firm, I wanted to get back to my calling in design. I have a 250-people strong family business into back office processing. I have now joined the family business, as well as launched a Strategy + Design Consulting firm. I have just cracked my first client and am excited about seeing how this new phase of my life journey plays out.
In closing I would say this: I have met many MBA aspirants and participants who are very stressed about their careers, and constantly live in a fear of the future (and I have very much been there too). But if I could give my 29-year old MBA-self a word of advice, it would be this: You will do well in life, no matter what, no matter where—but learn to be mindfully present in each moment of struggle and success, and that’s when you would have truly lived your life.