Brand or Substance: McKinsey or Millions* - Cold Decisions by a Global MBA (Part 2 of 2) - Blog
Two years goes by quickly. Seems like just a week ago Maya was noodling on whether or not to go to business school. The Great Recession had ushered in an untapped love of entrepreneurship that in its seductive appeal cast every other career as its ugly cousin. Furthermore, Maya had been regaled by success stories of young recent HBS alumni such as Yelp!, Gilt Groupe, Rue La La to name a few. Startup risks be damned! In fact, more of Maya’s Harvard classmates were going to Silicon Valley than going to Wall Street! Still the brand appeal of a blue-chip firm like McKinsey was not easy to dismiss. After all, Facebook COO and HBS alum, Sheryl Sandberg had “leaned in” to the Facebook role only after building a strong foundation at McKinsey. The lure of a hi-growth tech start-up, substantially changing he lives of millions customers, having recently secured Series A financing – despite all the risks – gnawed at Maya’s stomach. A cappuccino at the Soho House in New York City, seemed a fitting place to be brooding over this patently privileged decision. Should she choose the security of McKinsey or the potential of a Silicon Valley start-up? How should she decide? Learn how she utilized the Crimson Oak Career Decision Framework to advance her career.

The need for high quality advice was all too apparent. Lifestyle, income, prestige and even her love-life were wrapped in this decision. McKinsey after all was a stalwart recruiter of MBAs and many of her classmates were on McKinsey fellowships. McKinsey offered stability, brand and substance – the bio-tech start-up offered the promise of meaning and potentially millions of dollars. For this life-altering career decision, Maya had polled her classmates, sliced off 10-minute conversations with alumni, waited to speak to the next available Career Center employee and stalked professors. Her need for objective, expert advice was similar to two years ago – rather than MBA admissions advice then, her need now had morphed to Career advice. About a month ago she had reached out to Crimson Oak once more – they had been successful in and scheduled a series of consultations with a certified Executive Leadership coach.

Another sip and she began to sketch on her note pad a few of the points shared with her over the past few weeks. Brandon – her boyfriend – kept interrupting her thoughts. But that was a whole other matter and there was no need to murky her focus on this career decision she reasoned. Having a keen understanding of a top MBA career path and the top fields such as management consulting and start-ups, made each Crimson Oak consultation impactful.

Scanning her notebook, Maya reviewed notes from the series of consultations she had with Crimson Oak Executive Leadership coach; a summary follows.

• Happiness Factor – Job Smile Ratio

Monday morning blues does is not an impervious rule of the universe. There are jobs that professionals welcome the work week, being around their colleagues and diving into the project. A simple way of assessing whether or not you would be happy with is being conscious of the number of times you smile when thinking about or talking about your new role. Tedious can be tiring.
• Team Fit / Cultural Fit

The classic “If I was stuck at the airport, would I dread the next hour or could I stomach an hour of conversation with my team?” is appropriate in determining your guage of team fit or at least team tolerance. Cultural fit – is a bit broader – and goes to the values of the organization. A clarifying question to ask is “Socialist or Capitalist?” Given the team and firm culture, where would you feel that you could grow the most?

• Data Dominates – Compensation Metrics

Compensation is often the crux of the career comparison. “I deserve this”; “This is our band”; and “You or I should be happy” these phrases that often adorn the pageantry of compensation negotiation. Conducting research prior to these negotiations and compiling data will help. In the case of a well-known firm, McKinsey is easy (see ; for a health care start-up the sources are a bit more difficult and the range of compensation for any given role much wider. Clarity vs. Flexibility; Stability vs. Upward Mobility? New venture pricing rounds provided a little guidance in what her option based compensation could be worth. The choice can stark when data begins to illuminate the murkiness. Additionally, gathering objective data however can create a positive anchoring point.

• Trade-offs

Implicit trade-offs are the ones that later become difficult to bear. Beyond the more obvious trade-offs – e.g. location changes, annual cash salary, title – perhaps one of the most pernicious is that of relationships. Location or work/life can strain these relationships – romantic or platonic. How will your choice impact your current relationships? This question must be considered.

The Decision

Wrestling with the decision for weeks now and utilizing the framework, Maya dwelled on the “trade-off” aspect. Consulting’s travel schedule would strain her relationship with her boyfriend and her family. Start-up life would be long hours and unpredictable schedule but mainly keep her in NYC. Under a certain scenarios, her options could be worth millions of dollars in a few years or zero. The start-up had no brand; McKinsey had both brand and substance. The start-up’s substance or meaning had greater resonance for her. The only thing worse than dithering in a decision is not making an informed one. She had decided. Maya would take the plunge and join the start-up! Grow & Lead.