Katerina (or Kat for short) Cinkova never believed she’d return to her roots. Originally from the Czech Republic, she spent her early childhood in Prague—living there until she was six—before her family moved to California.
When it was time to decide where to go to college, she says she swayed between returning to Europe and staying in the US. In the end, she opted to stay, receiving a bachelor’s degree from American University in Washington, DC, before studying for an MBA at the University of California.
It was while studying for her MBA that consulting became an exciting avenue she wished to explore. Kat says she picked up positive vibes about McKinsey & Company, and so decided to apply for a summer internship in Los Angeles.
This was the start of her journey back home. After the recruiting team discovered she spoke Czech, they suggested she consider the Prague office.
“At the time, I never considered moving to Prague, and had no idea McKinsey had an office there,” she says.
When the offer came in, it was a no-brainer.
“My internship was an incredible three months full of action, learning, and discovery,” Kat explains, “and it convinced me McKinsey was a place for me long-term.
“The Prague office is like a big family who supported me on the journey and cared for me. From my first day, I felt welcomed and like I belonged.”
After graduating, she accepted a full-time offer and her life came full-circle. Being in one of McKinsey’s smaller offices, she’s now reveling in a close-knit community.
Kat started her career at McKinsey as an associate and she’s now an engagement manager. “I feel fortunate to be a leader on my team,” she asserts, “and I love to see the people I work with learn and grow.”
She is one of 1,800 McKinsey colleagues working across seven countries in Central and Eastern Europe—Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. While McKinsey has a great presence in the region today, 30 years ago it was a nascent area for the firm. The consistent growth translates into a wealth of opportunities for teams working in consulting, digital, advanced analytics, and research to transform the regional economy.
“In the last three decades, we’ve played a role in the region’s economic rebirth, working with a variety of institutions, including business organizations in banking, telecom, digital, oil and gas, retail, and other sectors,” says Jurica Novak (pictured right), a senior partner and leader of McKinsey in Central Europe.
Jurica, who is based in Warsaw and has been with McKinsey for 12 years, adds that he has seen an unparalleled growth journey in that time.
“Our people are on this journey too, as they help clients expand their local and global presence, and contribute to the economic wealth of the region,” he says.
Kat encapsulates that journey. The business analysts and associates on her team are constantly teaching her things. Everyone learns from one another.
“The learning curve at McKinsey is steep and I thoroughly enjoy helping people through that curve,” she says. “Early in my tenure, I had mentors who invested time in me, and it’s important for me to do the same.”
Ewa Wilk-Gozdziewska, McKinsey’s recruiting manager for Central Europe, also based in Warsaw, adds that the scope and scale of the work is remarkable. She recalls a colleague who told her, ‘the topics I am working on during my project would be enough to write a PhD thesis’.
“This is what you can expect when you come here,” Ewa says, “to learn more than you ever dreamt of in a supportive business environment. And, you will be surrounded by people who care about your growth and become your friends forever.”
Those people aren’t just business folk. Ewa explains the teams in McKinsey’s Central European offices also include doctors, physicists, psychologists, engineers, and linguists. It’s about what you bring, not where you’re from.
“When we speak to candidates we look for the ability to solve complex and challenging problems, curiosity about other people, and a drive to change things for the better.”
McKinsey colleagues meet in the Prague office
So, for a McKinsey consultant, what does work look like in Central and Eastern Europe?
“This job is anything but boring,” exclaims Kat. “On a weekly basis, I find myself learning new things about business, industry, leadership styles, and problem solving.
“One of my goals each day is to make sure my team is doing well. I like to have a sense of where they are struggling so I can lean in to help, and where they are excelling so I can celebrate their success.”
Kat adds that the opportunity to travel has also been a key factor in her happiness at McKinsey. Although she admits it’s not for everyone, seeing new places is something she grasps at every opportunity.
“It has been great to get in touch with my roots,” she says. “I never imagined living and working in my native Czech Republic, but the firm has given me the platform to make a difference in the region—it’s easily the best thing that has happened to me personally, and professionally.”
This article has been sponsored by McKinsey & Company