Alumni Stories: Consulting and Learning
When she graduated from Yale SOM, Sarena Lin '98 took a job with McKinsey & Company, thinking it would be a good place for someone who is intellectually curious and interested in getting a chance to learn how different types of companies operate. "McKinsey was perfect for me because it was all about accelerated learning," Lin said. "You get exposed to so many different topics at the level a general manager is exposed to, but at a much earlier point in your career. Right out of the gate I had opportunities I never would've had at my previous company." She stayed at McKinsey until this spring, when she accepted the position of corporate vice president for strategy and business development at Cargill.
Lin spoke at Yale SOM on April 25 as the final guest in the Women in Management First Mondays speaker series. Over the course of the year, WiM welcomed speakers, including several alumni, from all three sectors and a wide variety of industries such as finance, consulting, communications, and New York city government.
During her first two years at McKinsey, Lin worked mostly in New York and Chicago until a partner in Taiwan called with a project for her. The job lasted six weeks, but she ended up staying in Taiwan for eight years, eventually becoming a partner and running the Taipei office for two years. She described the work as intensive but rewarding, where lots of travel was just an accepted part of the job. "You're dedicated to the client 100 % of the time," she said. "Before I was made a partner, I traveled around the world for two years straight. I'd go from Taipei to Amsterdam to Silicon Valley."
Once McKinsey named her a partner, she informed her superiors she wanted to stay in the country and work on building the Taipei office, which she headed her final two years in Taiwan. In 2008, she moved to New York to help set up the McKinsey Asia Center, which aims to harness the firm's global reach to help executives both in Asia and the West better understand how to expand their businesses during a time of increasing worldwide interconnectedness. She also worked on mergers and acquisitions, focusing primarily on pharmaceutical companies.
Lin said she had no plans to leave McKinsey when she got a phone call from a headhunter at the end of last year. He asked her whether she'd be interested in moving to Minneapolis and working for a major industrial company. The job intrigued her. She met with the senior management team and came away impressed. As the largest private company in the United States, Cargill's reach goes beyond food and agriculture into energy trading, manufacturing, finance, and transportation. In all, the company has 75 different business units and it is Lin's job to lead an internal consulting team of 70 people tasked with developing long-term strategy across the units, while aiding in mergers and acquisitions. "After 12 years at McKinsey, I feel I'm ready to move into a corporate setting and really contribute," she said.
She said that there was no way she'd be in her current position without her time at McKinsey and her training at Yale SOM. She found that when she began her post-MBA career, she had acquired an important skill set not everyone she worked with had. "SOM fosters collaboration a lot more than other business schools," she said. "Especially in consulting a high EQ is essential. People who come out of SOM understand how to work with others. We're grounded in all the concrete knowledge needed to get your career underway, with a key advantage."