Michael Silber ’86

When I came to Wesleyan I had many different ideas about what I might want to do with my life. If you dug up a copy of the facebook from the fall of 1982, you’d see that my hobbies were tennis and sailing, and my interest was political science.

That has become a bit of a joke for my Wesleyan friends: I rarely sail, virtually never play tennis, and don’t have a ton of interest in political science. Instead, my four years at Wesleyan opened me up to different possibilities.

My mother had made me agree to one thing: I would take an art history class. That first semester, I took Art History 101, taught by John Paoletti and Clark Maines. It was a pivotal moment: I shifted my focus toward the arts.

John Paoletti became a mentor to me. Watching him as a scholar and a teacher—his facile mind, his ability to communicate so articulately, his poise and patience as a professor and a person, as well as the mind-blowing insights he had about the history of art—was a life-changing experience. I had the chance to be his teaching assistant and a research assistant for a contemporary German art exhibition we mounted in 1986. John always believed in me and encouraged me to pursue the things that would make me excited. Because of his influence on my life, I recently funded a scholarship in honor of John Paoletti, Wesleyan’s Kenan Professor of the Humanities, Emeritus, and Professor of Art History, Emeritus.

Ultimately I became a studio art major, with a concentration in architecture. I spent a couple of summers working for an architect, as well as studying abroad in Florence my junior year. However, I concluded that while I had a great passion for the study of art, architecture and design, my talent probably was not on par with my aspirations. Instead, I’d become a management consultant in the health care industry.

I remember a very snowy day during January break, hiking across campus from my house on Brainerd Avenue to the Career Center on High Street for a meeting with Barbara-Jan Wilson, whom I had not met. I pitched the idea that my true calling was in management consulting, focused on healthcare. Part of this epiphany came because I’d seen a posting for a research associate position at a small health care consulting firm in New York.

Barbara-Jan was incredibly helpful and supportive, understanding that, while I had an academic passion for art, I wanted to take a different professional path. She encouraged me to pursue opportunities in consulting and I ended up working at a small consulting firm in New York, having been recruited by Sheri Lesser ’82. From there, I developed a broader interest in business and again I changed course, this time attending Stanford Business School. I joined McKinsey in 1991 and have been here ever since.

My “day job” and passion has always been serving companies in health care. It’s a great chance to work in an industry that makes a difference, to work with companies that are focused on innovation, and to be a part of trying to bring better products and services to society worldwide. In my more recent years I have developed an interest in the management of McKinsey, particularly in the financial aspects. In 2015, I was asked to assume the role of chief financial officer. That is my “night job.” My day job is still serving clients.

The days can be very long, sometimes 10, sometimes 15, sometimes 18 hour, but the pace is exciting. I continue to learn; I continue to be challenged. I find the rewards of McKinsey very much like the rewards of Wesleyan, being in a place that makes me proud, working with people who are diverse, very talented, and by and large very kind, and every day is a moment to learn about what I do and about myself and to continue to strive and to continue to grow.

Another Wesleyan person who has had an impact on my career is Ron Daniel ’52, former managing director of McKinsey and Chair of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees.  When I learned that his three sons, two of whom are Wesleyan alums, had endowed a scholarship at Wesleyan to honor him, I was honored to be able to contribute to this worthwhile fund.  I feel lucky to be able to give back for both this and the Paoletti Scholarship—providing financial aid to future generations of Wesleyan students. Who knows, maybe we will support a student interested in a business career who ends up becoming an artist!!