An Unusual Start to my Management Consulting Career

I love asking people how they got started in the field of work they are in and the story rarely disappoints.

For my part, I’m often asked too (though typically by my Mom, asking “what is it that you do again?”), but was recently asked to “write it out” for another publication. I thought I’d share it here too:

When I finished business school, I began to work as a junior associate with McKinsey out of their NYC office. My first real engagement was with a large, privately-held Quebec-based commercial construction firm, helping them to assess a new market opportunity. I was chosen to be on the consulting team as I was Canadian and “could speak French” (certainly better than my American colleagues, but really only at a “Grade 12” level at best).

So I was sent out to Quebec to do some of the initial data collection and analysis work before the rest of the English-only team was to arrive. After a 5hr flight across the country, I was met in Arrivals by a short, white-haired, older gentleman, perhaps in his early 70’s, wearing a black suit and what looked like a chauffeur’s hat, holding a sign: “M. Healy”.

Obviously, my client had sent a driver to pick me up and drop me off at the downtown hotel where I would be staying, so I waved and allowed the man, at his insistence, to take my luggage to the car. He could speak only a few words of English, and I could only speak basic French phrases, but I suspected I wouldn’t need to communicate too much to him anyway.

Within moments we were loaded into his black Mercedes sedan, and I took the back seat … isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with a car service? He pulled away, and after about 20min I realized that we were driving toward the outskirts of the city, and away from the hotel that I was supposed to be checking in to.

As he continued to drive, I queried in rusty French where the hotel was, “Monsieur, où est l’hôtel?”. He responded in French, then in even rustier English, but I had no idea what he was trying to say.

It was a Sunday, so I thought that I might as well enjoy the scenic route. I would obviously “start work” in the morning anyway.

After another 20min we were well into the country when the driver turned into a very long, cobblestone driveway flanked by tall manicured trees on both sides, leading up to a very large, extravagant stone estate which soon loomed into view.

It then dawned on me: oh no … this must be the home of the CEO.

As we pulled up to the base of a sprawling stone staircase leading up to the impressive main entrance to the home I straightened out my brand new suit jacket and fixed my hair a little. I wasn’t prepared to meet the CEO just yet, and certainly not immediately following a long flight, but such is the nature of consulting work I thought.

Within a moment a very friendly, well dressed older woman came out of the main entrance and descended a few steps toward me and my driver as I was just getting out of the car. The driver quickly opened the trunk and retrieved my bags and started to skip up the stairs, at a pace belying his age, toward the smiling woman. In a moment he was before her, and she greeted him a warm smile … a hug … and a kiss …

I’d like to think that I’m no idiot, but it took me longer than I’d like to admit to figure it out: my “driver” was, in fact, the CEO of the company … and I was convinced that my first consulting engagement may be my shortest.

The woman came down to greet me herself, laughing as she explained (in much better English than his) that her husband wanted to pick me up as they INSISTED that I stay with them for the duration of my work with their firm. When he saw that I was obviously mistaking him for “a driver” he essentially played along.

After what was clearly an awkward start, their graciousness, hospitality, and class was one of, if not THE, primary reason that I knew: management consulting was my calling … if only to meet more people like these.

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