Wesley Walden's journey from MBS MBA to leading McKinsey Australia and New Zealand
After starting as an environmental engineer, it never occurred to Wesley Walden that he would become a leader at one of the world's top consulting firms.
Wesley is McKinsey & Company's new Managing Partner for Australia and New Zealand, having been appointed in January this year after more than two decades in the company where he first began as an intern.
But Wesley's path to the top was anything but straightforward. His foray into management consulting began not after university, but well into his career as an environmental manager, while studying his MBA at Melbourne Business School from 2002 to 2003.
"I didn't really understand what consulting was all about, certainly not management consulting," he says.
"When I was at Melbourne Business School, I had a friend who had been at Yale and he had gone to McKinsey and he talked to me a little bit about what management consulting was about."
Intrigued, Wesley applied for internships and received multiple offers from different consulting organisations – including McKinsey.
"I did the internship and expected that it might not go anywhere, to be honest, and that at the end of it, I might not like it.
"I thought I would spend 12 weeks and see a different part of the world of corporate and what it meant to advise. At the end of that was made an offer and again, like many people, I thought I would go to McKinsey for two years. Twenty-plus years later, I'm still here. That's amazing."
At the forefront of sustainability
After graduating with a civil engineering degree from the University of Southern Queensland, Wesley rapidly moved into environmental management and obtained a master's degree in the field from the University of Queensland.
"I spent most of my first decade working in the environment in water quality, flooding, terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna, and did that in Australia and in different parts of Asia, like Hong Kong and Thailand," he says.
Recalling the early days of working in environmental consulting in the 1990s, Wesley says: "It was really exciting. I got to work with different types of organisations in the public and private sector, everyone from developers to regulators and people who were looking at establishing mitigation and management plans for things like flooding or water quality.
"It was still a relatively new and emerging field, which meant that there were a lot of people who were doing research."
Eight years in, Wesley moved to Melbourne to lead a small environmental management practice, an experience that led him to study an MBA at Melbourne Business School.
"I knew nothing about what it meant to run a business or to lead an organisation," he says.
"After a couple of years, a good family friend suggested that I might want to consider doing an MBA to learn more about what it means to lead a business and to grow a business. So, I looked at Melbourne Business School."
'It opened my eyes to what's possible'
Wesley said he was drawn to Melbourne Business School because of its reputation and the diversity of its academics and students. He was exposed to "a range of different ideas, people and connections" from around the world while studying, including from the United Kingdom, China and India.
"Many of those students over time became great friends," he says.
"I was really fortunate that some of my best friends are people that I went to Melbourne Business School with."
The experience also gave Wesley the knowledge he needed to move from being a specialist consultant into a business leader.
"It taught me all the fundamentals of what it meant to establish a business, to grow a business, to lead people, to think about how businesses evolve and how they continue to improve," he says.
"Everything from accounting to strategy, microeconomics, macroeconomics, organisational management, data and analytics. It brought all these things together in a way that allowed me to think about what it would be like to lead a business and grow a business.
"It really opened my eyes to what would be possible. I guess that is what really inspired me to then want to go and join McKinsey."
As an intern in his early thirties, Wesley thought he might only stay with McKinsey for a few years and then move onto the next challenge.
"But what I found was, firstly, I loved the opportunity of working across a range of different sectors on different types of problems," he says.
"Across each of these sectors, I work with amazing and inspiring CEOs, boards and their executive teams, and have the ability to be part of a broader story in shaping organisations' impact.
"That for me is a unique thing that I get to do every day with all my clients. You can see how it's not just moving the outcome for those organisations, but it's moving outcomes that impact broader society."
Twenty years after graduating, the feeling of having his eyes opened to what's possible still stays with Wesley from his MBA studies.
"It teaches you how to think in a way that really constantly challenges yourself and allows you to constantly challenge the organisations and the people that you work with to aspire for something."
Helping clients with transformation
In his new role leading McKinsey Australia and New Zealand, Wesley is excited about three key priorities for the company's clients.
First, as someone with expertise in environmental management, he's passionate about helping organisations to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.
"We're seeing this amazing shift with the energy transition. That means that sustainability is now foremost in the mind of all our leaders," he says.
"It's creating an existential shift in many organisations in terms of their business models, in terms of how they think about managing their own carbon emissions or impact on the environment."
Second is helping organisations reinvent themselves for the future of work.
"So many organisations have grown up with business models... where they've worked in a similar way for a long time," he says.
"With digitisation, changes in technology, changes in the ways of hybrid working, coming out off the back of COVID, there's an opportunity now for organisations to really reinvent the way that they work."
The third is helping clients to maximise the opportunities of digital technology – especially where it crosses over with the other two priorities.
"That's in its broadest sense, whether it be new ways of engaging with customers, all the way through to generative AI and how that's impacting the way organisations work," he says.
"Again, I feel like we're going through this once-in-a-generation shift where each of those three areas are coming together. It's going to change the way organisations work. It's going to change the impact that organisations have on society more broadly – and also, what they're able to deliver for generations to come."
Learn more about Wesley's career and read his publications at the McKinsey & Company website.