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African Fellow to McKinsey Johannesburg

Firmsconsulting Emerging Fellows are scholarship recipients in our training program. Applications for Emerging Fellows are only accepted on a referral-basis from past Fellows.

Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?

I loved working with Michael and the Firmsconsulting team. My background and story was very unusual and I felt they took the time to get to know me well before starting. I wrote to Michael in August asking if he would consider me. I went to an average university in South Africa, yet I did very well in my studies, graduating with a 94% average overall.

It was my dream to join McKinsey and get my family into something better for everyone. Both my mother and father made HUGE sacrifices to get me into school and pay for my education. I was able to win some scholarships but the money was nowhere near close enough to pay for everything. Some textbooks alone cost R400 which is a LOT of money for me. I therefore ended buying used books or just relying on class notes.

I had no money, no way into McKinsey and my career office was advising me not to consider it. Heck, my career office had not even heard of McKinsey and suggested I try to get a job as a local bank teller. I wrote to Michael explaining my situation, lack of money and my desperate situation. It was a long email and I did not hear anything for about 2 weeks.

Then I get this email from Michael asking if I could speak over Skype. I was a bit scared and worried to speak to a former partner but Michael was very, very understanding of my situation. He asked me a LOT of questions about my parents, grandparents, hobbies, studies, savings, part-time work, career options, what I did on weekends, if I had been in vacation, what clothes I wore, if I had applied for scholarship, how many brothers I had… It was a long and tiring call but I was excited to speak to a former partner!

I will never forget this, but at the end Michael said that FC would allow me into the program since the questions gave him comfort that I was doing the best I could given my circumstances.

The program cost was the most we had ever seen for anything in our entire lives! I was so happy to be selected as an Emerging Fellow because this is an opportunity that could have a generational impact on my family. It really was a great day for me.

I was humbled and excited to be working with Firmsconsulting.

Did the program meet your expectations? If yes, how?

The program blew my mind! It reminded me off the first time I went to a big city. Everything was far different from what I expected and I needed to learn everything again.

Michael was very patient and the rest of his team was just too kind. I was a little annoyed that my education did not cover most of the things we discussing in the training. It felt that half of every session was a lecture to teach me the basics of business. Michael was very nice about this and explained that it has nothing to do with my school, but more the differences with how consulting firms analyzed problems.

The session on corporate finance was the best thing I ever did. Michael was able to explain things like discounted-cash flow-methods, nett-present-value analyses and financial strategy in such an easy way that I was a surprised my university did not give me this powerful knowledge. I was eager for every session and stayed in late at the library to make sure I had internet access. I parents shut down the power at night to save money and we could even think about getting internet access at home. My friends going after banking also used my notes on finance since they were so good. I will never ever forget what Michael told me early in the program…

“The system of commerce is designed to allocate capital to people who are perceived as low risk. Your background, school and profile create the impression of a high risk profile. It is your responsibility to do everything in your power to demonstrate you can operate as a low risk individual. Never ask for anything. Demonstrate that you deserve it. Always remember that.”

I spoke to Michael every day before my McKinsey interviews. On the final day all he said was that he does not need to offer any advice because I was ready.

When I received the offer I was numb with joy. I could not believe it. The first person in my family to go to university and the first person in my family to work for a firm like McKinsey.

What was the most important learning’s from the program?

The case training was incredible. But Michael taught me a more important lesson. He told me that while I need to manage my image carefully with everyone else, I need a mentor who can see my flaws and is willing to accept them and guide me with them. If I hide my flaws from my mentor, my mentor can never offer useful advice.

That was a very powerful lesson. I like to think Michael and Firmsconsulting are my mentors but I also sought out other mentors with my background when I joined McKinsey.

I think FC are special. I send Michael messages all the time asking for advice on how to navigate McKinsey and he always responds within 12 hours. Sometimes he even calls up to see how I am going.

If I want to develop one skill it is his ability to quickly analyze anything and arrive at a very close correct answer. Sometimes we will discuss South African business issues and it baffles me how Michael can logically get at the right things from just tiny pieces of information and arrive at the same answer as the guys who took time doing all the research. But I know how he does it – applying all the tools he taught me.

The last thing that sticks with me is that Michael told me he would teach me NOT to get the job, but to EXCEL at McKinsey. The techniques he taught me are exactly what we use. Some of the things are even more advanced than what would be expected of an associate.

Do you feel the program provided an advantage for you versus your own/other preparation? If so, in what way?

The program changed my life and that of my family. I am deeply, deeply grateful to Firmsconsulting in so many ways.

My own preparation was terrible. I found some books on the internet visited some sites but still struggled to solve cases. I also found the advice to be confusing. The biggest advantage was giving me clear and direct answers to all the questions I had, and focusing my training on the sectors covered in the Johannesburg office. That was a huge step-up. We did many banking, mining and public sector cases.

Brainstorming was a surprise for me. Michael hated frameworks and threw them away. In the McKinsey interviews I received consistent praise that my structures were tailored to the case and my communication skills were very strong.

The other big benefit was the amazing boost to my confidence. Michael has a tough style but it works and he pushed me further than anyone thought I could go and I am always grateful for that. I looked at where my friends ended up after graduation and I was the only one to join a top firm. I am glad I did not settle for being a bank teller.

Both the mindset shift and technical skills are what set me apart from everyone else.

Can you recall any memorable moments?

There are far too many memorable moments to mention. One thing that personally changed me was the communication and image management tricks I was taught.

I think the navigator, airport and presentation ideas are so simple and powerful. When I arrived for my first interview I was intimidated and struggling to pay attention. I just followed the 3-step guide Michael suggested to bring me back to earth.

It surprises me how much attention the program gave to small things like communication, language, confidence etc that I ignored but turned out to be so crucial to getting the offer.

I recall Michael saying that only if I could communicate my intelligence would people know I was intelligent. I thought that was insightful.

What would you like changed in the program?

FC uses some very strange techniques to train candidates. I can clearly see that they work but I think many candidates would not take the time to read the website and listen to the podcasts to understand how clever the advice really is. Maybe FC can better explain the process of the program on their website.

The podcasts are a gold mine! There is so much useful information there that I listened to it during breaks and study periods and listened to it again later. I asked Michael to put together a podcast explaining the consulting market in South Africa and that was the best thing I ever listened to.

The details were very useful and it helped me understand how I should prepare.

Do you believe your coach was effective?

Michael is unbelievable. Every session is designed just to focus on my weaknesses and improve my strengths. I found the team to be very friendly, very professional, providing specific feedback and always in a nice manner!

The team cared about my development and I could clearly see that. I never expected that they would want me to succeed as much as I did.

Do you personally believe the sessions were tailored for your own development?

Without a doubt every single session had to be changed to help me understand some ideas in business which my university training did not cover. Michael did it without any problems and I was able to focus on my own development areas. It was like doing a special MBA just for me!

I liked the sessions on corporate finance and operations. I studied them at university but Michael explained them in a much more interesting way which made it easy for me to grasp the concepts.

Operations cases were amazing! I never really understood operations until I did that session – and my first McKinsey project was an operations engagement in bulk logistics for a state owned company.

What are your thoughts on using former McKinsey/BCG worldwide practice leaders to coach clients?

It think it is a great idea. That was one of the reasons I chose FC – and my scholarship! By having ex-partners like Kevin etc I knew that the advice I would receive would be of the highest quality and it was.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I wish FC and the team all the best. They do amazing things and I plan to pay my opportunity forward.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

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