Alexandre Mercier-Dalphond made the much-considered switch from engineering to McKinsey. He advises those considering the same career move to work three to four years as an engineer before moving on.
What prompted your career change? Were you sick of engineering?
Definitely not! However, I believed it was a good time in my career to broaden my horizons and explore other industries - and other functions within organisations.
What does your role as an Associate at McKinsey involve day-to-day?
We help companies change their mindset from seeing IT as a cost to a value centre. We bridge the gap between business requirements and IT requirements. Because we can speak business and technology at the same time, we work with an organisation to create value with technology.
Has your engineering background helped?
Technology is everywhere. In my opinion, engineering is now the profession which opens the most doors. It was perhaps law in previous years. But there's no doubt about it now: engineering gives you the edge.
In my job at McKinsey, although we don’t get into technicalities, engineering definitely gives you a great perspective. And when there are technical concepts, you can grasp them better. Technology is omnipresent in today's world. For example, if a retailer has a problem with his store operation, we can redesign the process by adding a technological tool.
So engineering has been a great foundation. It structures your thinking and gives you a strong technical tool kit.
You've studied engineering at Montreal, Montana State and Columbia. Good experiences?
Yes. I’d say to young students looking at their options: "Don’t look at the ranking of your school. Look at your interests, and see if there’s a good fit with the general vibe of the university." I’d recommend all these schools, but they’re not for everyone. For Columbia, you need to have the mindset for being in a huge city. But I also spent a year as an exchange student at Montana State. The university is the centre of the city, and so there’s a great sense of community. An in-between is somewhere like Montreal, where I did my Bachelors.
What did you do straight after your Bachelors?
I started my career as an engineering consultant, working for two years. My main customer was the third biggest cable company in Canada, which is Videotron. From there the client gave me an offer to become a permanent employee, to play a greater role in their wireless network deployment. I then worked for them or two years. It’s very important to nurture your network. Engineering is a small world – one day the phone rang after two years at Videotron, with an offer to work for a similar company in Atlantic Canada.
And you went on to do an MBA at Oxford. Did you need that MBA to get to McKinsey?
McKinsey loves engineers - for their structured approach and problem-solving skills. But for someone in engineering who wants to do something similar to me, I would recommend working three to four years before moving out. Get recognised first for certain skills, but then do an MBA because it's a great program for engineers. You learn marketing, HR, finance, accounting, all these skills which you don't necessarily learn being an engineer. An MBA gives you the skillset to en chance the skills you’ve built up. So build a career as an engineer, build a toolkit, and then do an MBA.
McKinsey recruits from all schools – the most important thing is your talent. We’re looking for exceptional individuals.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m very happy at McKinsey. But my goal is to maybe go back to the telecom industry, and perhaps become an executive, and leverage my engineering background. But at the moment I’m learning a lot.