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Real Humans of McKinsey & Company: Mansoor Safi, Northwestern Kellogg MBA ’21, Associate

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Many factors can combine to make the perfect place–location, values, fit, ROI, culture and more. In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Mansoor Safi, Northwestern Kellogg MBA ’21, digs into the culture and other features that drew him to join Kellogg and then McKinsey on his professional path.

Read on for Mansoor’s story and his advice to current MBA students.

Mansoor Safi, Northwestern Kellogg MBA ’21, Associate at McKinsey & Company

Age: 29
Hometown: Hanover Park, IL 
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Duke University, B.S. in Biology 
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): Kellogg School of Management ‘21
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Tennis Industry – 1.5 years; Healthcare – 2.5 years
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): <1 year (6 months) – Consulting

Why did you choose to attend business school?
I was coming to a point in my career that I knew I liked the type of work I was doing, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in my particular subset of healthcare. I was looking to pivot in both industry and geography, and for many of the types of roles I was interested in, business school offered the clearest path to those careers. I also came from a non-business background, and I wanted to learn the business fundamentals and create a very solid foundation for the rest of my career. I know I learn best in a structured environment, and an MBA offers just that. Most of all, though, I heard from many of my mentors and peers about the value of the relationships you create during business school. These are connections you carry with you for the rest of your life, and even just a few months out, I can clearly tell that the bonds I formed at Kellogg were the most important part of the experience.

Why Northwestern Kellogg? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I knew I wanted to choose a business school with a great academic reputation, strong recruiting pipelines, and an excellent culture. Kellogg is part of the M7 and attracts very talented students based on the alumni and current students I met, so I knew I would be surrounded by smart people. Walking into Kellogg, I had a strong interest in life sciences and consulting, and again, Kellogg had very well-established pipelines into both of those industries. I know it’s cliché, but the people, by far, are Kellogg’s strongest offering. Kellogg’s culture is known for “high impact, low ego,” and even though it could just be a catchy phrase, I found it to ring true. People at Kellogg are incredibly grounded, social, and want to build strong relationships on top of working hard and achieving lofty goals. That made all the difference for me. 

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
It was a combination of the heavy emphasis on teamwork, several classes that taught important foundational concepts, and the opportunity to be introspective. Like most MBA programs, Kellogg focuses much of the curriculum on group projects, which teach you how to work with people different than you and learn to have constructive disagreements. This is invaluable for my current job. I also loved my Strategy, Finance, Federal Policy, and Selling Yourself and Your Ideas classes. They gave me both very solid foundational knowledge and a tactical toolkit to use in my career. Finally, the mental space to look inwards and think hard about who I am, what I want in life, and how I plan to get there was an underrated aspect of business school. I spent the first six weeks of Kellogg thinking hard about what I wanted to recruit for, and I capped off my experience with Personal Leadership Insights, a class where you dig deep into your identity and make a lofty plan for your life, all supported by peers. Having the time and freedom to engage in that activity helped me build more confidence and gain clarity on who I am as a person.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned with McKinsey & Company during my summer and returned to them full time. I had a good sense of the type of work consulting entailed thanks to my prior job (which was full of former management consultants and investment bankers), but I needed to see if I liked the client-facing work, the culture, and the career path offered. My summer was great, and I was surrounded with a very supportive team. It was an easy decision to go back.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I chose consulting because of the type of work, the opportunities to learn, and the options to explore. I chose McKinsey, specifically, because of the people (again, the cliché, I know). Throughout recruiting, you get a chance to meet teammates from all the firms and learn about their cultures. I distinctly remember going to a McKinsey dinner where I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. It was early in the process, but I left that dinner with a very good feeling about the firm. Of course, McKinsey serves some of the most prominent clients across industries, has an excellent brand name, and does a great deal of work on future trends. I loved all those aspects of it, but the people I met definitely won me over.

How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
Most obviously, we are not hopping on a plane to head to the client site Monday through Thursday of every week. The teams are adapting to their clients’ comfort levels, so some teams are in-person, while the majority seem to be remote or hybrid until companies feel comfortable to return to office. The pandemic has challenged the industry, especially when it comes to apprenticeship and development. At the same time, it is creating opportunities that could make the work more sustainable. Firms are thinking about more mindful travel schedules for spending time with clients (e.g., travel every other week, two remote days per week, etc.), and when appropriate, we are still co-locating in a local office to get that in-person experience. It’s still evolving, but I think everyone misses some aspect of being in-person with their teammates. Hopefully we can get back to a more normal rhythm soon.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Taking the time before on-campus recruiting to think long and hard about what I wanted from my career and my life was invaluable. I met so many classmates through the process, asked tough questions, and gained more clarity on why I was doing what I was doing. It gave me a sense of calm as I entered a rigorous recruiting cycle. Plus, it is so easy to get pulled into different directions when recruiting begins, so it helps to have that North Star. I cannot recommend it enough.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
It’s easy to say now, but I do wish I could have relaxed more and had fun with the process. When else are the top companies in the world going to come to campus to meet you?

I was so focused on consulting and life sciences that I didn’t go to lunch and learns or company presentations for other exciting companies outside of those industries. Yes, it’s very busy and stressful, and you do have to be smart with your time. But going to events simply to learn can be fun and may open your eyes to new ideas and ways of thinking.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
I was honestly surprised with how many events went on during that time (Fall 2019). We had large presentations, dinners, coffee chats, fun events like Whirly Ball, and even group fitness classes with sponsored students. It was very busy, but also a very fun way to get to meet new people, build relationships with your classmates, and learn about the companies.

It hasn’t been quite the same these past two years for obvious reasons, but I hope we can get back to a degree of that. It made recruiting so much more human and personal.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Use your MBA to try new things you may not have the opportunity to do again (or at least for some time). If there’s a brand or startup you love, shoot them a cold message offering to help with projects. They would probably love a free MBA intern that can offer some very in demand skills, and they will probably pay you in free swag or discounted services. 

Or, try out a new hobby or join a new interest group. Many of us come from rigorous academic backgrounds and are used to being involved in the traditional extracurriculars like student government or an industry club. Those groups are great, but if your goal at this point is to get into a new exercise routine, learn about crypto, or become a wine connoisseur, go do that and make good friends while you’re at it.

Alexandra Markovich
Alexandra (Alex) Markovich was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She attended Florida State University (FSU), where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English. After her time at FSU, she has continued to pursue learning more about the writing industry by enrolling herself in editing certificate programs provided by Poynter Institute and the University of Chicago. In her spare time, you can find Alex working out her local gym, perusing local book stores, taking her dogs to the local dog park, and soaking up the Miami sun!