Meet SWIB Alumna, Isabella Tang

Where have you worked/what have you done so far?

After graduation I worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, which gave me the opportunity to travel widely and immerse myself in different industries. Two years later, I joined a new McKinsey SaaS startup (software as a service) as the marketing and operations leader. Today, the startup has grown significantly and merged with several other products; my role has evolved into Marketing Manager, focusing on marketing strategy and brand management across the product portfolio. I also run a program in the Los Angeles office, McKinsey Scholars, which provides mentorship to underprivileged local high schoolers.

Outside of work, I've found time to pursue projects as a singer-songwriter, a passion of mine since participating in the Stanford talent show my freshman year. Last year (2015), I released an original album, If I Could Tell You, a collection of 6 pop songs with electro/classical inspirations. I also produced a music video for my single "Passenger," a surreal, fantasy-adventure story about traveling through life side-by-side with the person you love.


How did your experience with SWIB influence where you are now?

I was accepted into SWIB's Associate program my freshman year. The training and the exposure to other business-minded women have been truly tremendous in shaping my career ambitions. In fact, it was one of the SWIB leaders who inspired me to pursue consulting!


What's something interesting you've learned along the way?

Opportunities come to those who ask for them. 

What's a fun fact about yourself?

Before I became a singer-songwriter, I loved writing poetry. At age 8 I wrote my first poem about the birds and bees - literally; we had just learned about pollination and ecosystems in science class. Also, I'm terrified of heights but I like roller coasters because they remind me of line integrals!

Also, I've always wanted to go into space. I found a way to make it happen through my music video ("Passenger"). Thanks to a talented crew and special effects, we were able to incorporate kaleidoscopic galaxies, glowing super-size planets, and other surreal elements. If only everything was real....

How did you find the time to balance your consulting work and your artistic aspirations?

At work, we often hear the motto "Make your own McKinsey," which encourages employees to find their own path. And that is what I did. By openly sharing my desire to pursue music projects with my colleagues, I eventually heard about an exciting new internal startup role. With the support of McKinsey leaders, I was able to shape an unprecedented role with minimum travel and less rigorous hours, compared to the typical McKinsey job. As a result, I was able to spend much more time in Los Angeles, join the local artistic community, perform across Los Angeles venues, and lay the foundation for my eventual album and music video projects.


What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?

Coffee is not a substitute for sleep.  I'm still learning to apply this one.

Power poses really do help build confidence before critical meetings.

Unless you ask, the answer is always no. So ask!


What's the difference between working for a large company and a startup? Pros, cons, changes you didn't expect?

I would say the differences are simultaneously pros AND cons. For example, the startup environment is very fluid and full of new challenges every day. Since we're exploring new territory, we don't always have a proven McKinsey "playbook" or standard approach to follow. This can be both exciting and daunting (and frustrating). As a result, we often have the opportunity (or challenge) to experiment, find out what works, and share what we learn with the broader McKinsey organization as a model for future groups to follow.


How has mentorship factored into your path?

I am super lucky to have had some fantastic mentors and sponsors, who have made a huge difference in my trajectory. The term sponsor is probably less well-known, but I'd highly encourage SWIB members to seek them out, in addition to seeking mentors. You can look at the difference this way - a mentor is someone who will ask you "How are things going? Let's catch up over coffee." Mentors are fantastic to have. A sponsor takes it to the next level --  they will say, "Come with me to this meeting" or "How would you like to lead this upcoming project?" They invest in you, believe in you, and challenge you, knowing that sometimes you might fail, but they'll still have your back anyway.


What's something you're trying to learn right now?

I bought a slow cooker last year in an overly excited attempt to gain some skills in the kitchen. Naturally, it's been sitting in a corner gathering dust since. So, one of my resolutions this year is to finally open the box, learn some recipes, and throw a dinner party for friends. Wish me luck!

On the more professional side, I think facilitation is such an invaluable skill to have, both at work and in one's personal life. This is different than presentation, which tends to be more of a 1-way communication (e.g., presenting a PowerPoint in a meeting). As a facilitator, you bring together a group of people and guide the conversation in a way that empowers them to self-discover insights and make effective decisions. It's a highly nuanced art which requires you to understand the mindsets, objectives, and group dynamics of the people in the room. I recently completed a fantastic facilitation training at work, and I'm hoping to learn and get more practice this year!