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January 20, 2016
John Reichl graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Finance in 2015. He served as president of the University Honors Student association and Vice President of the Minnesota Student Association while on campus. He currently works as a consultant with McKinsey & Company.
University Honors Program: What did you study at the University of Minnesota? Please briefly describe your involvement with the Honors Program during that time.
John Reichl: I studied Neuroscience in the College of Biological Sciences for my first two years at the U with the intention of pursuing a career in the medical field. When I realized that path wasn’t in line with my professional and personal goals, I transferred to the Carlson School of Management to study Finance. I was involved in the University Honors Program throughout my academic journey. As was a rite of passage for many honors students, I lived in Middlebrook hall, where I got my first taste of the honors program and developed deep friendships that I still cherish today. But before I even stepped foot on campus, I applied to be a member of the University Honors Student Association (UHSA) as a freshman representative, and from there I continued my involvement, serving as vice-president my sophomore year and then president my junior year. UHSA was truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. Not only did I work with exceptionally talented people, but together we made great strides in building a sense of community within the honors program through regular programming and special events. Much of my senior year was focused on writing my thesis—the capstone of the honors experience. While daunting at first, the process of writing a thesis taught me many skills I use every day in the professional world: hypothesis-driven thinking, data analysis and synthesis, and critical thinking, to name a few. I also enjoyed many other aspects of the honors program during my time on campus, including an eye-opening honors seminar on food and drug policy, attending some of the many cultural and academic seminars offered, and spending time in the wonderful new Northrop auditorium. Above all else, though, I will remember the truly inspiring mentors, educators, and friends in the honors program who I got to know during my four years.
UHP: You’ve now been working for McKinsey & Company for a few months; what has surprised you about the working world? What are some challenges you expected or didn’t expect at all?
JR: I thought the demands of college were tough…the real world is a new ball game. What strikes me the most about my new job has been the strong emphasis on bringing a logical, well-informed point of view to every interaction with co-workers and clients alike. In college, I was able to go to class, learn the information that was expected of me on homework or exams, and call it a day. Now, it’s not simply enough to show up having read and understood the “material.” Today’s professional community expects new employees to bring a fresh perspective and add additional value in all facets of the job. McKinsey is certainly no exception. Another unexpected thing for me has been has been the importance of succinct communication (and these long responses are not a good example). What I mean by that is in today’s professional realm, information is at your fingertips and the organizations who can move swiftly are typically more successful. Being able to structure your thoughts in an impactful manner that convinces those with whom you work to take action is critical to getting results. In college everyone (myself included) could get up and present a PowerPoint presentation, but I’ve realized that some of the most important conversations don’t take place in a formal setting…they occur when you run into the CEO in the elevator, or standing in line to grab the morning’s first cup of coffee. Another communication-related challenge I didn’t expect to be so large was the ability to speak confidently and defend your point of view to someone who may be 10 or 20 years senior to you with far more experience than you. While it doesn’t mean that your point of view is any less valid, there is something very difficult in trying to approach such conversations as equal thought partners. The final thing I’ll touch on is a bit broader. In college many things were prescriptive: if you want to be a doctor, take these classes, volunteer at these locations, take this test, etc. If you want to be an investment banker talk to these people, intern at this company. Various paths were pretty clear. I’ve rapidly realized that in the professional world none of that exists. There is no one route to achieving what you want to achieve, and it is incumbent on a young professional to take a step back every now and then to consider why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what you think the next steps are in working toward your goal. This has been a struggle for me as I focus on just trying to get my feet under me. However, it’s a habit that should start early and happen often to ensure your happiness and success down the road.
UHP: Especially coming from an originally science background, how did you decide on consulting as a career path?
JR: This was pretty easy for me. Science is fundamentally a hypothesis-based, evidence driven discipline. It’s a field that takes major challenges—alzheimer’s disease, global warming, etc.—and breaks them down into answerable questions that together can help find a solution. Consulting isn’t much different. I very much enjoyed the scientific method and thought process, and to me consulting was a way to apply that same rigor and analysis-based approach to business problems. It’s exciting to see this process play out every day on the job. Our clients have big, seemingly unmanageable problems that we try to help with. It’s not that we’re smarter than they are. It’s that we’re able to break the problem down into manageable chunks, solve them one at a time, and build everything back up to find the answer. I’m still unsure whether I’ll remain a consultant for my entire career, but I do know that the way a consultant has to think and deconstruct problems will serve me well no matter where life takes me.
UHP: Now that you are an alumni of the University of Minnesota, and you no longer spend everyday on campus, how do you hope to stay connected to the University community?
JR: I hope to stay connected in as many ways as possible! The University of Minnesota has given so much to me and enabled me to grow in ways I didn’t think possible. I think as institution it is a true asset to our community and our state. I already try to make it back to campus every weekend in the fall for Gopher football, but I think beyond athletics I hope to take advantage of the many cultural and intellectual offerings the University has. I also know that one of the biggest drivers of my success came from having access to the wonderful alumni network that the U has. It would be truly rewarding to be able to get to know and mentor students interested in pursuing a similar path as mine. I hope to give back to the University community by getting involved in mentorship and alumni-networking programs through the Honors Program and through the Carlson school.