- A chemistry graduate.
- A PhD-holder.
- Working for McKinsey & Company.
- Using my chemistry skills daily.
BJ Wright ’03 tackles tough questions in the science lab and the boardroom.
BJ Wright '03 majored in chemistry and went on to earn a PhD at Columbia University with a renowned organic chemist. Today he works for McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.
The two fields may sound unrelated, but Wright says that consulting and chemistry are more alike than they appear.
"I like the challenge of taking on a problem that nobody knows how to solve," he says. "As a chemist, I broke apart molecules on paper to figure out how to put them together in real life, and in consulting, we use a similar process to lend structure to complex business problems. It turns out that in all those years of studying chemistry, I was also training myself to be a management consultant."
Wright joined McKinsey's New York office after finishing his PhD, and through a global rotation program, he also spent time working in Europe and Asia.
Wright fell in love with chemistry during his freshman year after former Willamette Professor Jeff Willemsen introduced him to the field.
Through Willamette's Presidential Scholarship and the Science Collaborative Research Program, Wright spent his summers making organic compounds in the lab — and he enjoyed the work so much that he went on to grad school.
Along the way to his doctorate, Wright attended a McKinsey & Company retreat and was attracted to the opportunity to work on a broader variety of problems with companies around the world. He turned down a post-doc chemistry position and joined the consulting firm.
Wright says his active involvement on the Willamette campus — he swam for the Bearcats, was president of Sigma Chi and helped start the chemistry club and Willamette Men Against Violence — has helped him cultivate relationships with his consulting clients.
"These experiences serve me well in my job at McKinsey. As a consultant, I help executives think through a problem and come to a decision. A major part of my job is developing personal relationships with my clients and other people in the firm. At Willamette I learned to work with many different types of people. My extracurriculars at Willamette were like job training."
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