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  John Livingston '93

Alumni Profile: John Livingston '93

McKinsey's Chicago director works to 'sustain position'
John Livingston '93 says firm's success will continue, thanks to value-adding innovations

By Ed Finkel

As he settles into his new role as managing partner of McKinsey & Co.'s Chicago office, John Livingston '93 plans to build on the firm's success by doing more of the same: innovating to meet clients' needs.

That's a company-wide credo, says Livingston. But as one of the larger offices, Chicago provides leadership in this effort to keep improving quality.

"We continue to serve leading clients on their most difficult issues," the Kellogg School graduate says. "Those issues are becoming more cross-cutting and transformative. It's not enough just to do the strategy, but [projects involve] integrating strategy and linking it to operations. I'm sure that kind of work will continue to increase."

With 280 consultants and about 400 employees overall, the Chicago office is part of a five-city Midwest division that counts operations (39 percent), strategy (29 percent) and marketing (17 percent) among its top areas of focus, and auto assembly (21 percent), banking and securities (17 percent), healthcare (14 percent) and high-tech (12 percent) among its busiest markets.

"Each office and each practice has its own unique characteristics, but we try to build as one firm," Livingston says. "To be able to sustain the position we have, we need to continue to differentiate the knowledge and capabilities we bring to our clients. That requires a hell of a lot more investment [in people and research] than it did five or 10 years ago. Our clients are becoming more and more capable in building their own skills. We have to make sure we're always able to add value."

Livingston's own client base, with which he continues to work as managing partner, has shifted from high-tech and corporate finance, to telecommunications and high-tech media, he says. His clientele evolved while he spent nearly a decade working for McKinsey in South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and China after his graduation from Northwestern University with a joint MBA and law degree.

Livingston says he greatly values the experiences of his time abroad: from helping to open the South Africa office in the immediate post-apartheid era, to consulting in China during a time of tremendous economic growth.

"It was a fast-paced and wonderful time in South Africa," he recalls. "The competition, which had been excluded from the market, was just then entering it. And the opportunity to watch China grow from where it was in 1999, when I got there, to when I left in 2003, was amazing."

To manage internal change and growth in the Chicago office, Livingston plans to underscore McKinsey's traditional emphases on collegiality among associates and partners, through both social activities and pro bono work. The McKinsey office has done the latter for the Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Public Schools and The Joffrey Ballet, he says.

"It always brings people together when you're doing something for others," he says. "We're going to do a lot more to connect the partners and our associates on initiatives outside the scope of client work."

Livingston also plans to reemphasize his office's role in developing younger employees, through peer-to-peer training and coaching from managers and partners. He says his Kellogg School experience prepared him well for the team-building aspects of his role as managing partner.

"Working with other people and understanding how they work is absolutely critical," he says. "Being leader of the Chicago office, the importance of this goes up. The functional skills are incredibly important, as well. But what you're really learning is how to think and learn and behave in a business context."

Livingston's Kellogg connection is beneficial in other ways too.

"The connections I made at Kellogg remain with me to this day," he says. "Good friends and personal relationships — I treasure all of those."

More broadly, from McKinsey's perspective, "Kellogg is a terrific source of talent for us," Livingston says. "We will continue to reinforce and extend that."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University