Breaking into McKinsey is no small feat. Breaking into McKinsey London? It’s just that much tougher. And then – pursuing an MBA at Columbia Business School and launching a startup? Now things are getting interesting.
Read on for our interview with Annabel as she gives us insight into why she chose consulting over banking, how she successfully navigated the McKinsey recruiting process, why she left for business school, and insights into being an entrepreneur.
Consultant Interview: From McKinsey to Entrepreneurship
Q: How did you break into McKinsey consulting?
In short: I took relevant courses, did my research and prepped.
I was in the final year of my Master’s degree and had always been somewhat intrigued by consulting. At that point in time, I was very much focused on banking and was recruiting for internships.
Nonetheless, as I felt the consultant toolkit would be a useful one to build, I decided to enroll in the “Stratégie et Conseil” specialization in Paris with my besties Elena, Hannah and Lucie – we still have a WhatsApp group called “Les Consultants!”
I loved it. We had real consultants coming to our classes, sharing about their work, taking us through cases, and having us work on semester long projects. Not only did I develop a mini consultant skill set, but I started wondering if consulting could be for me.
I started my research – went to events, met consultants and read about consulting on the world wide web. The more I explored, the more I saw a fit. So, I decided to recruit and started prepping!
Regarding case interview prep: the most important aspect is to find the method that works best for you. I soon realized that I much preferred going through cases solo. So I only did a bunch of cases with friends who were also casing for interviews.
In addition to cases you’ll find resources through your consulting club. It’s important to check the practice cases published on the website of the firms that you’re interviewing with – every firm has its own style and set-up so it’s important to familiarize yourself with this.
Q: What are some things that are special about the McKinsey London office and community?
Not that I’m biased, but McKinsey London is THE office. I’ve only worked in London, so in all fairness, I cannot speak about other offices. But what I always tell my friends is that the London office has something special to it.
There are many things I appreciate about the office, but two stand out. First, the breadth of industries covered – I worked on projects in Telecom, Transport, Financial Services, Energy, Retail and Consumer on a broad range of problems.
Second, the friends I made – I started off with a Business Analyst class of ~20 and to this day I’m still close and in touch with many. In general, the BA group is a tight-knit and supportive community, which made me feel at home. It was my first “real” job and so having a group you could rely on, could understand what you were going through, and that you could call on at all times made such a big difference.
Q: Why did you go into consulting vs. entrepreneurship initially?
I never saw or thought of myself as an entrepreneur. This only kicked in once I started my MBA at Columbia and landed in the Big Apple (there’s something in the NYC water that makes you think anything is possible!).
Until then, consulting simply made the most sense – I didn’t know what I wanted to “specialize” in and wanted to explore as many sectors and functions as I could, so that’s exactly what I did.
Q: When you became a consultant, what McKinsey exit opportunities did you think would be top choices for you?
Mmm, I came into McKinsey with such excitement and high expectations, thinking it would open many doors. And it did.
As time went by, I realized that the toolkit and skills I was developing would allow me to work across a huge range of industries and functions. It was just up to me to figure out which sector I felt most energized by and then make sure I focused and developed within that eco-system.
Going in, I always thought that my preferred industries would have been retail and consumer but nonetheless, I made sure I explored others as well. After more than a year of working across a multitude of industries, I realized that my initial hypothesis was correct – retail / consumer was for me. This is where I would keep on working both in and outside of McKinsey – entrepreneurial endeavors aside.
Q: When you decided to go to business school, how did you choose Columbia Business School (CBS)?
One of the perks of consulting is the MBA sponsorship. Going to business school had always been in the back of my mind, hence I decided to apply (why not?) and am so glad I did. CBS turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Being in New York was equally special and I wanted to make sure I leveraged the energy and opportunities that flow from doing an MBA in the City.
When people ask me why I’d recommend Columbia Business School, I always talk through the experiences that it enabled me to pursue… from interning at a cashmere start-up and a luxury fashion house, to teaching a semester-long course on Negotiation to a group of incarcerated women at the Taconic Correctional Facility, to an expedition in Patagonia, all the way to starting my own business and becoming an entrepreneur. So yes, many exciting experiences which were made possible only thanks to Columbia and being in NYC.
Q: When at CBS did you decide to defer your McKinsey offer to return?
It wasn’t until after this past summer, after the huge progress made on tryll (my start-up), that I asked McKinsey if I could defer the offer to focus on tryll.
And you know, this is one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of the firm. They were understanding and supportive and allowed me to defer the offer. It’s a testament to how supportive they are of their people and I am nothing but grateful!
Q: What did you think about becoming an entrepreneur before that is different to the actual experience?
Being an entrepreneur never crossed my mind before starting business school. So, I never found myself imagining life as one!
When I started at Columbia, I became very active in the entrepreneurial life. I had always had an idea (now tryll) in the back of my mind, never thinking that I’d ever really start working on it. Until one day, when I asked myself “Why not?”.
And the journey began.
Being an entrepreneur and working on tryll is fantastic. It is energizing, fun, challenging and ambiguous – all at the same time. There is no right answer and no right way of doing things. It’s all about navigating ambiguity, testing, learning and iterating fast.
Q: If you could explain to other consultants what you’ve learned about how to become an entrepreneur – what would you say?
Being an entrepreneur is 100/100 ambiguous. And the number one skill I learned from consulting that has proven to be essential for my new role is navigating and getting comfortable with ambiguity.
The newness that comes with each and every project – be it related to the problem, the topic, the client, the team or the role – throws you into the deep-end. It forces you to quickly grasp the essence of problem solving: structuring, prioritizing, articulating and executing.
Q: What do you think are 2 benefits of being an entrepreneur?
Not sure I’d phrase them as benefits but the two aspects that I enjoy the most are (i) bringing a personal “passion project” to life and (ii) seeing how energized the team and people around us are.
Live to express and not impress is the motto and as an entrepreneur bringing whatever you’re energized by to life is rewarding and fulfilling regardless of the outcome (although fingers crossed it keeps going well!)
I am someone who is energized by people, and therefore seeing how excited, interested and motivated my team is and how much interest we have been getting brings me joy and energy
Q: What are 3 risks of being an entrepreneur?
- Not prioritizing: Prioritize, priorities, prioritize. There are always a gazillion initiatives to try, people to talk to, and events to attend. But you cannot do everything and be everywhere – pick and choose what is going to be the most beneficial.
- Not reflecting: Of all the things you do, the majority won’t work. Take the time to process and understand why.
- Working hard and not smart: It’s more important to be productive and efficient when you’re working as opposed to putting in extremely long hours while feeling tired. Think about how to maximize your individual productivity. We’re all different and it’s about creating a system that allows us to be the best we can be.
Q: Tell us about Tryll. What is it, where is it now, and how can we get involved?
Yes! Tryll is a recommendation platform that allows you to track and share experiences while accessing your friends’ recommendations. Think of an Instagram meets Yelp BUT just centered around you and your wonderful friends.
If you’re interested in:
- Learning more? Reach out to me at [email protected]
- Becoming a tryller? (Defining the strategy and sharing the vibe) Reach out to me at [email protected]
- Beta-testing the app? Sign up at https://www.tryll.co/#signup
Can’t wait for you to be a tryller!