From EMBA student to consulting leader

McKinsey’s Jonathan Dimson on his career so far, why mindset is key and what future consultants need to know


McKinsey & Company’s Jonathan Dimson’s relationship with London Business School started long before he enrolled on an Executive MBA (EMBA) in 2003. His father, Professor Elroy Dimson, who now chairs the Centre for Endowment Asset Management at Cambridge Judge Business School, was Professor of Finance at LBS and his brother also completed a full time MBA at the School.

Despite these connections, Jonathan feels his own journey to enrolling in an EMBA was unusual. “I’d previously done two economics degrees at LSE and Cambridge, had worked as a Business Analyst at McKinsey, and worked in two PE backed portfolio companies – in kitchens and in media systems for hospitality. I started my career with this perception that there was a massive difference between being a business decision maker and an advisor, and I thought that I definitely wanted to be the former. But over time, I started to realise that very few business directors are working truly independently – they still answer to their clients, staff and shareholders.” This realisation caused him to reconsider his view of consulting. “I started to feel that consulting was much more entrepreneurial, much more innovative and much more likely to enable me to keep doing new and interesting things.”

What motivated his decision to enrol at LBS? “I had done plenty of economics studies, but I wanted to gain broader skills from both the faculty and the other students. LBS was offering the right kind of programme – as well as the chance to build a network that was more international and more business-centric than my networks from LSE or Cambridge.”

As for the experience of studying while working, he is open about the challenges. “There’s no two ways about it, the EMBA is intense. I have fond memories of my time at LBS, but it can be brutal trying to juggle your work, student activities and a social life. Not to mention, we were also in the process of moving house and my wife was pregnant with twins. I often joke that my subsequent career at McKinsey has been less stressful.” Despite this, he praises the EMBA for instilling him with valuable time-management skills. “I thought I was quite efficient before enrolling, but after being at LBS I can definitely say I’m much more conscious of how I’m using my time!”

“Some people still have the idea that McKinsey purely focuses on strategy. The reality is that consulting today is just as much about delivery, particularly digital delivery.”

What consulting looks like in 2022

Today, Jonathan is a Senior Partner, leading McKinsey’s Public Sector Practice in Europe. He works on a range of topics including: strategic, operational, organisational, and financial challenges facing organisations across the public sector. “We’re essentially trying to ensure high quality services and deliver better value to taxpayers, drawing on the international experience and insights from the McKinsey Centre for Government and from McKinsey’s private-sector work”, he explains.

How does he feel consulting has changed over the years? “Some people still have the idea that McKinsey purely focuses on strategy. The reality is that consulting today is just as much about delivery, particularly digital delivery. Today, over 20% of our staff are digital specialists, working either in analytics, digitisation or in core technology. Take our work with governments – so much of that now is about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of digital services. It impacts every citizen’s life as they increasingly only interact with governments digitally”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sustainability issues are also top of the agenda. “Sustainability is a top priority for many organizations now across the public and private sectors. It is becoming central to everything they do and it is an increasingly important part of our client service. We’re looking at it from so many angles, from asking how an energy giant could reduce their carbon emissions, to how a logistics player can optimise routes to minimise carbon, to how a country can create a national roadmap to net zero.”

Jonathan credits the ever-evolving nature of his work for giving him energy to remain at McKinsey for so many years. “Even now, I do not know which clients I’ll be serving in a year’s time. I know who I’d like to work with, and the issues important to them, but it’s often hard to tell exactly which clients we will be serving. We’re only ever as good as our last piece of work, which forces us to continually reinvent what we do. It certainly never gets boring.” He also praises the ability of his teams to continually collaborate between countries. “Our global partnerships mean I’ve been lucky enough to work with teams from all over Europe and the world. It’s amazing really, sometimes these people have not even met in person yet, but through common values and training, they can work together incredibly effectively. We’re all part of a single team supporting clients to succeed.”

“Our recruitment processes test candidates’ abilities in relation to the tasks they’d actually be dealing with. What we try to do in our recruiting is replicate real-life challenges – there’s no trickery to it.”

What do future consultants need to know?

For anyone who’s considering entering into consulting today, Jonathan’s advice is simple. “Get smart on what consulting looks like. If you’re at a school like LBS, speak to the alumni who are with you on the course or connect to the alumni network, particularly those who left LBS a year or two earlier. Understand how they spend their time, what excites them, and what is most challenging.  Speak to the recruiting teams and join the online and in person events and enrol for interview coaching.  Our recruitment processes test candidates’ abilities in relation to the tasks they’d actually be dealing with. What we try to do in our recruiting is replicate real-life challenges – there’s no trickery to it.”

McKinsey are also undergoing a shift in terms of how they approach hiring for individual roles. “Increasingly, we’re thinking about how we can ensure that entering McKinsey gives graduates the best possible long-term career.  That goes beyond onboarding, we’re looking at providing them with a series of roles – either progressing within McKinsey or outside, depending on what the individual is excited about.” This holistic approach to long-term career planning is very different to when Jonathan joined. “When I came to McKinsey in 1995 it was much more common to think about your career in terms of the next two maybe three years, there was no sense of sustained career pathways.”

Does he feel this shift is reflective of a wider trend? “Absolutely. Lynda Gratton at LBS is right that people need to think in decade long chapters of their life, so more of a journey, and we’re trying to reflect that by creating compelling choices and enabling people to do lots of different things, both geographically, functionally, within McKinsey and beyond.”

Overall, Jonathan believes mindset is key for any budding consultants. “If you’ve got an inquiring mind, self-motivation, a love of problem solving and an interest in working in teams, you’ll never be bored. Consultants are always learning, that’s the beauty of it.”

What makes MBA & EMBA students stand out?

Lynn Boustani, Human Capital Professional at McKinsey & Company

In my role, I come across applications from all kinds of graduates. EMBA and MBA students always stand out. Not only have they clearly been able to get into a top school – which says a lot about their academic accomplishments – but they’ve also often invested their time in interesting extra-curricular activities. At McKinsey, we’re always looking to recruit as diverse a pool of talent as possible – both in terms of background and experiences. MBA programmes tend to bring people from very different industries and walks of life together, which gives students a much broader view of the world. It’s great to have people applying for roles with us who’ve previously worked in sectors like the arts, as well as from more traditional backgrounds.


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