Hear how consulting opens doors for a variety of careers
Manu Lakshmanan, PhD
Director of Strategy & Innovation
We sat down with Manu Lakshmanan, PhD, to discuss how his time at McKinsey prepared him for the positions he’s held since leaving consulting. Manu graduated with a PhD in biomedical engineering from Duke University and then became a consultant at McKinsey. After his time at McKinsey, Manu held multiple director roles at DJO Global before his current position as the Director of Strategy & Innovation at UnitedHealth Group. Additionally, Manu is the founder of OnSight Case Interview Coaching, a coaching service that aims to help consulting candidates develop unrivaled problem-solving skills for success in the case interview, and is the author of Elements of the Case Interview.
CCTMC: Manu, thanks so much for joining us. Why don’t we start with you giving us a brief background about your path to consulting.
Manu: Sure. I’m originally from Beaumont, Texas so I actually have a lot of experience in Houston. I started off as an undergraduate at Emory University, where I majored in Physics and had the original goal of becoming a professor. The Physics research opportunities at Emory were more life sciences focused, so I eventually transferred to Cornell and got to do some research that I was more interested in while I was there. After undergraduate, I wanted to do something more applied, so I went into biomedical engineering for my PhD at Duke. My dissertation was in medical imaging, and while I received a lot of great training at Duke, I still felt that I wanted to do something even more applied, and I saw that opportunity in consulting. What really led me to consulting was the opportunity to combine problem-solving skills, which is what PhD students excel at, with leadership and development, aspects that I really enjoyed developing outside of lab through organizations such as Toastmasters. After graduate school, I was a consultant at McKinsey for about a year and a half, and I eventually ended up leaving in large part because I wasn’t getting many opportunities to do life sciences type of projects.
CCTMC: Can you describe the positions you’ve held since you’ve left consulting?
Manu: I first transitioned to a mid-sized medical device company called DJO Global, where I held multiple director positions. At the time, it was a very exciting opportunity to be involved in implementing the improvement of the company’s financial performance. Now I’m at United Health Group, where I’m really excited to be a part of working towards implementing the digital transformation of healthcare. My role at UnitedHealth is as a leader on the Strategy & Innovation team. We are focused more on strategy – specifically, how do we compete in data and analytics in healthcare, improving patient experience and lowering healthcare costs, those types of problems. I’m really passionate about the work we’re doing at United Health Group and have been able to do more thought leadership. What I mean by that is really focusing on developing the strategy that informs the leaderships decisions on where they want to invest their traditional revenue streams.
CCTMC: Can you tell us a little bit more about your time at DJO? How well did your time at McKinsey prepare you for the type of work you were doing?
Manu: When I got to DJO, it was backed by a private equity company that wanted to sell DJO and get a return on their investment. At DJO, I was focused on improving their profitability. My time in consulting prepared me very well to come in and do the kind of analysis, structuring, and presentation of analysis for big strategic decisions that best inform and help our CEO make those decisions. Some example projects I worked on included how to turn around a business unit, or whether we should consolidate six distribution centers around the country to one distribution center in Texas, and can that save us money overall. So, I was using the same types of frameworks that I developed at McKinsey to approach the types of problems I was solving at DJO. Another skill I learned was how to synthesize and effectively communicate my findings to the CEO. I was developing these extremely complex financial excel models, and the CEO doesn’t have the time to sit down and learn the nuances of the model. I learned how to best do that during consulting. The last skill that I learned, and this is something that you learn during your PhD as well, is how to put together a compelling story.
CCTMC: So it sounds like in your new roles you’ve held since McKinsey that there is more of an implementation aspect that isn’t seen in shorter-term consulting projects?
Manu: Right. At McKinsey, I was able to develop strategies and great relationships with our clients, but I didn’t get to be involved as much in implementing the strategy that we developed. So, not being able to see our work come to fruition and assess whether it actually worked. In my roles since, I am implementing the strategy that we as consultants work with clients to develop. As an example, I was able to see that the strategy that I developed at DJO to consolidate distribution centers into one center did end up increasing profitability for the company.
CCTMC: When did you start thinking about your next career move after consulting, and how did your time at McKinsey prepare you for that transition?
Manu: I started thinking about what I wanted to do before I even started consulting. I knew that my ambition was never to become Partner, so it made it easier for me to think about and make that transition to my first job out of consulting. When you leave consulting, you’re eligible for every industry. I was interviewing for jobs in the public sector, like joining the mayor’s office in Chicago, automotive, to healthcare of course where I had more of a connection. The problem-solving skill, the fast-paced environment, teamwork, all those things that you develop in consulting are really appealing to employers in different industries, so I think that’s what really prepared me. One of the perks that McKinsey and other consulting firms have is paid time to look for a job, so you don’t have to work the long hours consultants do and not have the opportunity to just focus on looking for a job. McKinsey also gives you a coach to help you navigate all the different options.
CCTMC: How did you approach the types of roles you were applying to during your job search?
Manu: Yeah, that’s a great question. For me personally, the majority of them were strategy roles. I can share here some interesting data from a head-hunting firm that specializes in consultants, and once or twice year they publish these great reports that will include surveys for things like salary. Here you can see the diversity of roles that consultants enter into after leaving consulting. You can see that the majority go into strategy, but other popular roles include Operations, Corporate Development and Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A), and general manager. I think that people who transition to these other kinds of roles (not strategy) are people who, when in consulting, build up their experiences targeting a certain exit. So, if you were at McKinsey and you did a lot of due diligence projects for private equity clients, you would be one of the 35 people in entering investing roles. If you were a General Manager, you would probably get experience in many different functions, like marketing, operations, strategy. As for me, both my roles after consulting have been in strategy - most of my projects at McKinsey were in strategy. But you can see there is significant representation across a variety of roles.
I’ve seen some people who have exited into some really great roles after McKinsey. One person exited to become a senior advisor to the director of Medicare and Medicaid. He was someone who just did healthcare projects.
CCTMC: Are there any differences that exist for exit opportunities between an MBB versus a boutique life sciences firm?
Manu: I would say there are two big differences. One big difference is obviously related to the industry, and the other difference is the time it takes and seniority of the roles you exit into. First note on industry. The life science firms have really good relationships with and sending talent to the big pharma companies and other MedTech companies, so that’s typically where consultants at the more specialized firms will end up, whereas at a generalist firm, you’re typically exposed to more industries and will have a greater opportunity to exit into a variety of industries. On the second difference, I’ve noticed that at life sciences firms, it takes a couple of years to be in a client facing role, whereas at the MBB firms, they have you meeting with clients immediately. So, there is a lot of pressure to do well at an MBB, but the trade-off is that you can exit more quickly into a more senior role. It’s a matter of how quickly you want to move and your stress tolerance.
CCTMC: Thanks Manu, this has been great. Can you tell the reader more about your recent book, Elements of the Case Interview?
Manu: Yeah, I’d love to. I think that my book is the most systematic approach to the case interview out of any book on the market, like Case in Point or Case Interview Secrets. I find that those books are a bit disorganized and don’t lay out a training plan to help one succeed at the interview. Instead, my book helps you develop a training plan and focuses on the discrete skills that you need: math, conceptual problem-solving skills, which breaks into brainstorming and exhibit interpretation, and then structuring. I lay out an exhaustive set of tools you can use for customizing structures using general frameworks as a basis.
Source: Charles Aris Executive Search Firm 10th Annual Strategy Consulting Compensation Study