From Engineer to McKinsey Associate: How this MBA Landed a Top-Tier Consulting Job |

From Engineer to McKinsey Associate: How this MBA Landed a Top-Tier Consulting Job

By Linda M

Updated March 9, 2021 Updated March 9, 2021

Is it difficult to career swap without an MBA? MBA graduate Emmanuel Lawal talks us through pivoting into a competitive field from an unusual career background.

Consulting is one of the most varied and profitable paths MBA graduates can pursue.

In fact, depending on personality, skills and experience, b-school graduates will land high-paying jobs at consulting organisations of all sizes and across continents, including top firms such as McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, Accenture and Deloitte.

However, much like other desirable career paths, consulting is not for everyone. Between long hours, managing long-term projects and dealing with a wide range of individuals and teams, kick-starting a career in this field requires acumen, flexibility, and determination.

TopMBA caught up with INSEAD MBA graduate Emmanuel Lawal to find out how he went from being an engineer to landing an associate role at consulting giant McKinsey & Company.

From STEM to b-school: the path to the MBA

Unlike many b-school grads who share a similar, business-first educational background, Emmanuel’s dream to do an MBA began by watching TV.

He said: “I found out about INSEAD around 10 years ago, after stumbling across an episode of BBC Desert Island, where Tidjane Thiam, former CEO of Credit Suisse was a guest. I was truly inspired to see a black person make it to the upper echelons in the European corporate world. It’s a rare story and it still is today, where we now have a live discussion and a clear realisation of how grave the issue is.”

At the time, Emmanuel was studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Portsmouth. He says he’d never considered a business career before, as the business world always seemed a “distant novel” to him growing up.

However, after learning about Tidjane Thiam’s story, Emmanuel became more and more interested in a business career.

He said: “When I learned that he went to INSEAD, I looked into the school and it almost became a sudden dream of mine from that point on. Several career decisions I made following that were shaped by that in mind – all were driven from a long-term goal.

“Being inspired and discovering this new possible path stayed with me for the following years. I still wanted to make a career out of engineering which I did, becoming a Chartered Engineer, which is in its own way a stamp of credibility. But the long-term goal was to make the transition [to business].”

But Emmanuel didn’t go into business immediately. Before embarking on his MBA journey, he decided to do two master’s degrees abroad – an MSc in Industrial Engineering and Management at Politecnico di Milano, and one in Management, Technology and Economics at ETH Zurich – to develop his skills, professional network, and resilience.

He said: “The decision to do a master’s abroad was by far the toughest one I made so far. Very few were convinced of the rationality of that decision, but I had a conviction I would come out of it better. It did prove to be the toughest adjustment socially, culturally, educationally, and even learning how to overcome some of the barriers I had faced – for example with race. And it made the decision to do an MBA a lot easier.”

An open-minded MBA experience

In 2019, Emmanuel began his MBA degree at INSEAD, the b-school of his dreams, after being awarded one of the prestigious Sainsbury Management Fellowships for global talent.

He said: “I wanted to go to INSEAD for its global network of connections, international exposure with one of the most diverse classes, world-class education and an understanding in areas such as finance, strategy, marketing and operations.

“The scholarship made a huge difference as it allowed me to make a lot of decisions with a much calmer frame of mind. It was a dream to learn from the smartest group of people, and an MBA from INSEAD is probably one of the most credible endorsements one can have entering into the business world.”

Throughout the degree – where he participated in several extracurricular activities, including an exchange with The Wharton School – Emmanuel began to explore his career options and shape his ambitions for after graduation.

He said: “I found that it was important during the MBA to be open-minded and explore different topics and industries, even the ones I wasn’t really interested in. I attended events, networked, and acquired a mindset that allowed me to learn by getting involved.

“I also chose my electives wisely. I found that choosing based on the topics I realised I wanted to know more about – like search-funds, venture capital, and technology – worked in my favour. But soft courses were also important during the MBA. Negotiation, communication, public speaking, organisations – those became crucial once I entered the world of business.”

Kick-starting a business career

After graduating from the MBA, Emmanuel began working as Head of Product for the Munich-based start-up ScaleWork.

He said: “I had always wanted to be part of something from the beginning, help build something from the ground up, and so joining a very early-stage start-up was a lot of fun. The breadth of responsibilities was wide, from product, through investor pitches to bringing some of my previous operations and engineering context to helping grow the base in those industries. I learnt a lot during my time there and the world of start-ups quite quickly did not feel as distant any longer.”

And in February 2020, less than a year after completing his MBA, Emmanuel landed an associate role at McKinsey & Company, one of the most popular consulting firms in the world.

He said: “As an ambitious person, it was natural for me to aim for the top-tier players in consulting, where I would have a plethora of opportunities and high-level exposure. So, I went for firms that reflected that.”

Emmanuel says that – unlike for the start-up world, where networking and cold-emails can go a long way in terms of finding work – the preparation the MBA gave him was key to landing his current position at McKinsey.

He said: “Working in consulting has been both an education and intellectually stimulating. Truthfully, it’s more high-pressure than any other space I worked in, and you probably work longer than the average person.

“Aside from that, the exposure I get is incredibly wide, from banking and healthcare to aerospace. I think intellectual curiosity and passion for problem-solving have been key to land the job. However, I also found it helpful to have an in-depth understanding of finance, strategy and operations.”

He added: “Overall, the MBA helped me with developing knowledge, confidence and credibility. I really made the most out of the opportunity. You don’t want to leave anything on the table at the end of the degree. You want to finish knowing you’ve made the most of the experience, learned, and grown as much as possible.”

This article was originally published in March 2021 .

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Written by

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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