Jim Brennan: Life of a Consultant

The two career paths you almost always hear about at Dartmouth are investment banking and consulting. Yet, few realize the diversity of specialties within those two huge fields. In particular, consulting spans a broad range of industries and topics. To get a more detailed perspective on this field, we contacted Jim Brennan ‘96, a partner at McKinsey & Company. We found out immediately that a consultant, especially a partner, has very little unscheduled time. Nevertheless, we managed to steal a half hour of Jim’s time as he was getting ready for a dinner.

Dartmouth Business Journal (DBJ): On a day to day basis, what type of consulting do you do for McKinsey?

Jim Brennan (JB): I’m a partner at Mckinsey & Company. I spend most of my time working on strategy and go-to market issues with consumer package goods and retail companies.

DBJ: What do you mean by go-to market issues?

JB: By go-to market, I mean I work with the way that companies bring goods to the market and customers through retail.

DBJ: Are there any projects you are currently working on or recently finished you can tell us about?

JB: I can’t give client names for confidentiality reasons, but typically I work with large manufacturers of food, personal care products, snacks, or candy. An example project that I would work on would be working with a multinational food and personal care company to help them develop a turnaround strategy for one of their products that has been losing market share. So we come up with ways to reposition their product and come up with a gross strategy so that it can grow and deliver more income back to the company.

DBJ: Are most of the projects that you work with turnaround projects? How about startups?

JB: It’s not just turnaround. We also work with brands that are doing well and continue to do well. Most of the work I do though is for pretty big and established manufacturers and not startup companies.

DBJ: When you are doing these types of projects, what type of skills are the most important to your success?

JB: I actually think the most important skill is the ability to work well with people and build relationships with them. That could be with the client or within McKinsey itself. I have to be able to work with them in a one-on-one way. The other skills are probably logical thinking and clear communication.

DBJ: How did you acquire those skills? Dartmouth? Law school?

JB: I think it is sort of mixed. At Dartmouth, it was relating with people and interacting with them. In law school, it was a lot of logical thinking and presenting things in a clear and compelling way.

DBJ: So those skills are what McKinsey’s looking for in employees?

JB: McKinsey’s definitely looking for those skills. They make up a big part of what we do.

DBJ: Are there any additional things you would advise Dartmouth students who are looking at consulting?

JB: No, I don’t think so. I think those skills are the biggest aspects.

DBJ: Can you tell us about your time at Dartmouth? What did you study here?

JB: At Dartmouth, I studied government. It was what I was interested in. I never took a math or business course at college or law school. So it’s kind of interesting from the perspective of what you decide study and what you end up doing. I mean they ended up being pretty different. I spent most of my time, as most people do at Dartmouth, hanging out with my friends and going to parties. From the activity front, I was probably most involved with the Rockefeller Center. I spent a lot of time there helping the administration of the center and also working with some of the political candidates that went on campus.

DBJ: Do you think that put you at a disadvantage compared to students who focused on economics or went to business school instead of law school?

JB: Not really. Obviously I had to figure out excel before I started working. I never used it before that. But it really wasn’t a disadvantage. But I do think that’s worth noting. The other skills I mentioned are much more important that just being able to punch numbers all the time. That’s my perspective.

DBJ: Would you say that networking with other Dartmouth graduates has helped you?

JB: Not directly. I didn’t work with people that went to Dartmouth. I do certainly continue to have friends from Dartmouth that I spend a lot of time with. I am actually married to a ’96 as well, so I’d say there is a good amount of Dartmouth discussion that goes on at home.

DBJ: After Dartmouth when you decided to go to law school, were you thinking about practicing law?

JB: I just went to law school because I thought it was interesting, which it was. But once I got there, I decided I didn’t want to practice law. Most of the big law firms I looked at weren’t doing things I thought were very interesting.

DBJ: What led you to consulting?

JB: I thought it had a good mix of having clients and personal interactions. It seemed a much more interesting context for work.