Making a positive social impact at McKinsey

Philosophy graduate Hugo Hickson shares his route into management consultancy

Name: Hugo Hickson

Degree course: Philosophy

College: Gonville & Caius

Graduated: 2011



During my first year of university I thought that, when it came to careers, I essentially had to choose between taking a professional high-paid job with a bank or a consultancy firm, or a dead-end job for a small charity where the chances to learn and develop would be few and far between. My degree (philosophy) was what really helped me start thinking about how to have a fulfilling career which still had purpose. My Director of Studies, Alex Oliver, was instrumental in encouraging me see behind all the noise and commotion of the City firms with big advertising budgets and discover the real opportunities out there in other sectors. Inspired by Oliver, my university friend Alex Handy and I created the Cambridge University Beyond Profit Society designed to help shed light on social enterprise for other students who may have been in the same boat. Rather than their first encounter with career opportunities for post-Cambridge come from the likes of JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, Alex and I wanted to show students how they could find the opportunities out there for a good job which also had good values. We arranged a number of events showcasing the breadth of  socially and environmentally responsible for profit work; we had traditional corporate leaders speak on roles within their companies relating to Corporate Social Responsibility and boot-strapping social entrepreneurs with start-ups. We showed that students could chose to work in small charities and attempt to scale their humanitarian efforts up, or they could chose to work in a scaled organisation and attempt to add positive social impact to their existing practices.

‘the potential for impact in such a huge company was enormous’

My time behind the Cambridge University Beyond Profit Society spurred my first professional step. After university, I took a role with Proctor & Gamble. My position there enabled me to contribute to organisational change towards increased sustainability. The potential for impact in such a huge company was enormous – Proctor & Gamble is the world’s biggest consumer products company so just one small move towards improving packaging sustainability, for example, can be hugely important.

Hugo is currently based in McKinsey’s Geneva hub

I left my role with Proctor & Gamble later when I decided that I wanted my position to be more fully engaged with the issues I feel matter most. The brand management side of the job was taking up a lot of my time, and it wasn’t what I really wanted from a career. My next position came by chance as I was headhunted by McKinsey who were looking for new people with industry experience at that time. It sounded like a great opportunity for my social enterprise agenda, so I took it. Unfortunately, I had to wait a while before I could realise my ambitions. It takes some time to ‘learn the toolkit’ of consultancy. However, I was very lucky in that by the time I was able to fully take the reins, McKinsey had established number of new hubs in various locations where complex public needs and social challenges can be addressed. For the last two years, I’ve been directly serving the public institutions (such as the United Nations) here in the Geneva hub. Impact investing is now my main interest.

Public perceptions of McKinsey are often that there is no scope for public benefit within the organisation. However, this perception is shifting – quite rapidly. As more young people are joining the workforce, the desire and expectation for some form of positive social impact from their jobs is becoming commonplace. McKinsey is responding to this development. There was a time perhaps 20 years ago when if you mentioned social impact on your application to work here, you would be rejected and told you were applying for the wrong job. Today, it is welcomed. McKinsey are looking for people who are excited about delivering change and have leadership potential in this area.

‘the work that myself and my colleagues deliver is primarily for the good of others’

My position as Engagement Manager is based around the value of servitude. The work that myself and my colleagues deliver is primarily for the good of others. There’s a certain humility to this – our needs are second to those of our clients. At the same time, the idea of mutual benefits is key. If you view the public, social and private sectors as a Venn diagram of sorts then I see myself and my career as being in the middle. I strive to bring different perspectives together, and be open-minded in my approach to finding new opportunities.

While I certainly enjoy my job, to be honest I still have the feeling that I don’t know what to do when I grow up! I’ve never had a clear vision of what I see myself doing, but for now I’m just running with my interests. I’m still learning, and excited to find out where I end up heading next!

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