It’s funny because I had no intention of leaving when I did, and actually was not as gracious or open during the interview process because of that. I was intent on staying into my tenure as an Engagement Manager, and instead I left just before I was to EM my first study.
For me, I was pretty sure I wasn’t cut out to be a Partner. I’m sure plenty of Partners felt this way – I was positive I wasn’t smart enough (a constant feeling at McKinsey because you are challenged and grow so much every day), and I also felt I wasn’t able to commit long term to the travel demands. So that’s ultimately why I left “prematurely” when a great opportunity arose.
What I knew I was sure about was the kind of opportunity I wanted to leave for. I had a passion for distribution, and loved the dynamism and creativity required to create growth within it. I was also excited for operational responsibility, and I knew I did not want an internal strategy role, because I didn’t want to be project-based anymore. The job I took at Beazley was clearly what I had been looking for, so I had to change my timing to jump at the opportunity. I think that’s basically the key here – you need to know what it is you’re trying to achieve so that you can spot the good opportunities when they come along. The role I left for just fit my goals, and I was smart enough to see the big picture because I had spent a little time thinking about it before I had any pressure to leave.
Many consultants aim for P&L responsibility in their corporate careers, something you were able to secure straight out of McKinsey with a Manager role overlooking the strategy and operations of a unit within your current company, Beazley plc. What were the similarities and differences between consulting and your first corporate role? What would you say was the greatest challenge in that transition?
Consulting is ultimately not really about what studies or projects you do, what functions you have experience with, or what senior people you worked with regularly. It’s learning how to think about things – problems, opportunities, etc. – in a way that you can’t really learn in most corporate jobs. If you figure out how to think, you can tackle any role in nearly any industry. I firmly believe that. You can learn about industries or functions, but either you are able to think about things critically and in a structured, strategic way, or you aren’t. I got some of that from my MBA, and some from McKinsey. I don’t think I’d be as capable with just one or the other, with the combination being key for me.
For my transition, I was lucky because I knew the industry, and I had experience with some of the functional items I would be charged with. But I had never directly managed people (not including managing someone on a work stream in a study), nor had my actions and their outcomes for a company been directly tied to each other – they were always recommendations I contributed to that played out after I was already working on something else. At Beazley, what I decided I implemented, and I lived or died by the impact. This is ultimately the biggest transition, and probably not the one anyone anticipates requiring an adjustment. I think too many ex-consultants focus on the people management, the industry / subject matter, etc. – those things matter, but you can learn. It’s deeper than that to me and something that’s more introspective, and it’s also the single most rewarding piece of the transition in my eyes. It’s not just brilliant ideas, but actually putting them into action, seeing the dynamics of people, competitors, and customers react to them, and then either winning or learning how to do better.
So between consulting and corporate, the similarities are how you think and try to solve things, while the differences are in the integral role you now play in the entire lifecycle of an idea. There are more subtle differences, like dealing with HR issues and compensation discussions, but the big difference that matters is around your ideas and your involvement in them.
You worked on many insurance-specific projects during your time at McKinsey, and now run the U.S. operations for Beazley plc. Having focused on insurance throughout your career, what are your thoughts on industry specialization and its effects on the opportunity for post-consulting advancement?
This is definitely a mixed bag, and it becomes more so as my time in the industry increases. I started at a large property and casualty insurer (Liberty Mutual) out of college, got my MBA, and then did mostly insurance work at McKinsey before going back to a smaller insurer where I currently work today. Functionally, I have a very well-rounded resume from all of my employers, but there’s no getting around the reality that it would be hard for me to land a role in any other industry. While I’m not interested in leaving my current employer, if the need arose, I definitely appreciate the trouble I would have – or at least that I believe I would have. The positive side of industry specialization is very positive – it allowed me to move quickly at McKinsey, prove myself to clients easily and give them comfort with my views or even just my presence in their offices. It also sped up the rate at which recruiters and search firms were reaching out with opportunities, and I got a better role when I left than I would have gotten at most insurers without the depth I had. So, it clearly has helped me through to where I am today, which is a fantastic place to be at my age and tenure. If I wanted or needed to move elsewhere, it would likely be an issue.
When I consider the seniority and responsibility I have at Beazley compared to the roles and careers of people who have been working for longer than I have, the bigger issue would be in finding something with the same amount of opportunity and excitement as I have today. It would be a tough sell outside of insurance, and inside of insurance would mean sacrificing things I very much value in my current role and company. But, you truly never know what will happen. I knew I wanted to go into consulting after business school but refused to even apply to McKinsey – and look how that worked out. I then tried to blow off the recruiter who called me about my current employer, and was not as easygoing, gracious, and friendly in my first interviews as I would have been if I was serious about the opportunity (I’m embarrassed to admit). We learn things as we open our minds to exposure, which is exactly what’s brought me to where I am today.
In an increasingly global economy, international experience is becoming much more valued. Having stayed in a similar location throughout your career, what are your thoughts on international roles? Is it something you would consider / are considering in the future? While I have stayed in the Boston area, I wouldn’t say I’ve had a limited experience geographically. I did several international projects in my consulting days at my first Insurance firm and McKinsey, and have also lived in China for a summer in college and speak Mandarin and Spanish. I’ve worked directly in or on projects focused on many different countries and regions, and I go out of the country quite a bit with my company now. I think you can be somewhat geographically grounded yet still get international exposure really easily in consulting. Just seek it out. Given globalization, you can still get that outside of consulting quite often. Again, if you want it, just look for it.
What do you find most exciting about the insurance industry today?
Knowing this might not apply as broadly, what’s exciting to me is specific to the type of carrier I work for. I “grew up” in the general P&C model of big, multinational insurers, and served them at McKinsey, and now I work a relatively small carrier that is anything but a generalist. We are proudly specialists. We pick our markets carefully, and we look at each risk individually. It’s truly an art and a skill at a very granular and specific level rather than the skill it takes to execute within a large portfolio approach. It also means we’re incredibly nimble and creative. The fact that this sort of thing even exists in an industry that I figured was just made up of huge carriers losing money on insurance so they had good money to invest with is what is exciting. What everyone thinks is a boring industry actually has these pockets of innovation and creativity in it. It’s very rewarding.
That isn’t to say the big carriers can’t be successful or exciting, or have creativity and innovation within them. In fact, many do. I just find the most excitement to come from the way this can be when the entire company is built around this culture of innovation, creativity, growth, and the true art of underwriting.
What would you say is the most important skill that got you where you are today? What did you take specifically from consulting that makes you successful in your job now?
Again, it’s all about how you think about things. This is what will make you stand out to those senior to you and get you put on a list of people to watch in your organization who get moved up the ranks quickly – there’s really nothing else of substance from consulting that will affect you more as a professional. The experiences are great filler or color, but the real thing to take is how it reshapes your mind.
As Head of U.S. Operations for Beazley, what’s your next target in terms of personal progression and development?
My role is still evolving and solidifying, so I’m quite focused on the present. I also have an amazing boss who is fairly new to his role, so we’re on a bit of a journey together which has made it really exciting and rewarding – we have so much we’re working on that I’ve not been too focused on “what do I do next.”
Something very particular to Beazley, and what makes it either really easy or incredibly hard to recruit people, is that the path ahead may not exist yet – we do not stick to a prescribed hierarchy of “Junior Some Role” to “Some Role” to “Senior Some Role”, because it doesn’t go with the creative and dynamic way we do business. We create the roles or evolve existing roles to meet our needs and the needs of our talent. To that point, depending on how you look at it, I’ve had four roles at Beazley since joining – three of them didn’t exist before I took them, and the fourth didn’t exist quite how I had it. And I’ve only been at Beazley for four years. It has taught me not to be so concerned with my next step if I’m committed to the company, because the path will evolve around me and with my hand. It’s not something I think most people understand until they’ve lived it, and certainly not something everyone can be comfortable with. For me, the freedom to grow into what I aspire to do and flex as those aspirations evolve is incredibly exciting.
More immediately, I’m working on my leadership and ability to develop others. My unit’s results are good, we solve lots of problems, and team morale is generally high. What I want to focus most on is how I develop and grow my team – both my direct reports, and their direct reports. So, for me, the next target isn’t concerned with the role so much as what I’m trying to achieve myself. The role will come from that.
With the strictly defined trajectory and constant reviews of consulting life, do you feel it is harder for consultants to adapt to a company like yours with such fluidity around its roles?
I think this really varies from person to person. Some people are more sold on a risk adverse path than others, but it is also counterintuitive to be wedded to one specific path coming from a consulting role. To me, it’s OK to not know the exact title or definitive responsibilities as long as it is a space you’re excited about and can grow within.
Three pointers I would give to consultants to help focus their searches are to 1) know the kind of company you want, 2) know what the internal consulting teams look like (e.g. do they hire consultants?), and 3) be aware of your cultural fit. While you need to adapt to how others are just like in a client situation, you also don’t want to fake it if you’re very different from the culture of the company you’re interviewing with if you’re going to end up working there.
Which of the skills that you gained in consulting has added the most value to your life outside of work?
Again, it’s how I think about things. My consulting work and the mindset I developed taught me a more rational and probing approach that helps me bring others around to my view without me trying to force it on them. My style has changed. I still want to go further with this change, but I’ve seen a shift in how or why friends and family come to me for advice or to talk about things that have them worked up. I don’t think that ever happened before consulting.
What is the coolest job you have seen a consultant / former colleague move into?
I didn’t know him, and I don’t know if this qualifies, but a former McKinsey consultant from the West Coast won Survivor a few years ago. That probably doesn’t count, but watching him, I just knew he was a McKinsey alum given how he thought and interacted with people. His occupation just said, “Consultant,” but it came out after he won. It was cool to see.
Honestly, I don’t know that any one job stands out to me. People seem to generally do things they are excited about doing and all seem really happy, and they all pretty universally recognize the contribution their time at McKinsey had in getting to these roles. Some specific examples I can think of are actually ones that people turned down in favor of a different role, so it isn’t even about what you end up doing. It’s about having options that are all really interesting – if not amazing careers.
I know for me, this has absolutely been the case. My time at McKinsey opened a door I am sure I’d never have known existed, and that has led to four really interesting and challenging years at a company I fully believe in and am excited to be at. I don’t know how many people can really say that about their jobs, so I feel really lucky.