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Transitioning from Consulting to EA is easier than you may think: An interview with Paul Ziesche

This month, we spoke with Paul Ziesche, Experience Director at Generation Pledge, about his journey from consulting at McKinsey to developing strategy for an early-stage EA organization, and why he chose to leave. Paul is excited to meet fellow consultants who are considering similar career transitions.


We’d love to hear about your background and your Effective Altruism (EA) journey to date!


Despite falling neatly into the stereotyped profile of an EA (I studied physics and philosophy), I didn’t get in touch with the EA community until I joined the Generation Pledge team this summer. After graduating from university in Germany, I worked at McKinsey for 3 years, leaving upon my promotion to Engagement Manager. I have always been focused on impact (just not consciously from an EA perspective), hence I primarily worked on sustainability and ESG strategy projects. One of the main reasons I left McKinsey was my impression that it’s not possible to simultaneously optimize for societal impact and financial returns; and McKinsey usually chose to optimize for the latter.


In what ways did your experience at McKinsey provide you with what you wanted? In what ways did your experience differ from your expectations of consulting?


I joined McKinsey with the hope of contributing to a sustainable future for businesses. I would say that I left radicalized and disillusioned. I lost my trust in the vast majority of “sustainable” business cases, most forms of impact investing, and standard frameworks like ESG, SDGs, or IFRS in a traditional business context. I still believe that transforming the industry is crucial, but I just don’t think that McKinsey can lead the way there.


That said, I really value my time at McKinsey. The cliché ‘I learned so much’ really rings true. I could not have wished for better preparation for my new endeavors, which are highly entrepreneurial and fast-paced. The skill set I acquired at McKinsey enables me to truly shine under these circumstances. If you have the stomach for long working hours (with some countries being definitely worse than others), I can definitely recommend strategy consulting as an educational endeavor.


Congratulations on your new role as Experience Director at Generation Pledge! Could you tell us about Generation Pledge’s mission and theory of change?


Thank you so much. I am really excited for it! Generation Pledge exists to mobilize inheritors in ultra-high net wealth families (UHNW) from around the world to use their resources for effective impact, both before and after they inherit. Our aim is to work with thousands of inheritors to move tens of billions of dollars in addition to economic, social, career, and political capital. We put an emphasis on educating and supporting our pledgers as they navigate the complexities of effective impact. We specifically pursue a broad tent approach to bring on as many people as possible and move their impact towards higher effectiveness. Through that, we aim to ultimately challenge the ideological default of private wealth accumulation.


That’s quite the vision! What does your day to day look like as Experience Director?


My day to day looks a lot like my work at McKinsey, although I effectively halved my workload (German McKinsey hours are 14-18 hours per day). With Generation Pledge as a client, I own a few workstreams where I focus on perfecting structures and processes and pushing the frontiers of understanding around impact in the ultra-high net wealth realm. My work is still predominantly conceptual, although I’m excited to eventually implement the concepts I design.


What has your transition from consulting to an early-stage EA organization been like so far?


It has been quite a smooth transition. I would compare it to joining a McKinsey project as Engagement Manager, where existing material and information from the team and leadership give you a sufficient overview of what priorities look like within the first few days. I even had the additional advantage of knowing some of my current team members. I managed a project from within McKinsey that Generation Pledge participated in, resulting in our report ‘Influence for good’. So far, the working style doesn’t feel fundamentally different, which I see as a huge compliment to Generation Pledge, who easily matches the quality and pace (adjusted for weekly working hours) of a McKinsey team.


Many of our EACN members are eager to share their passion for EA with their colleagues. What lessons have you learned through your new role that you think are applicable to others looking to increase the number of people aware of Effective Altruism?


I feel the biggest difference I’ve seen so far in terms of communication style between the consulting world and EA is the appreciation for meeting people where they are. Consultancies put a lot of thought into crafting messages in ways that are tailored to the current belief system of whomever they address, with the underlying assumption that marginally moving your clients towards a target is better than not moving them at all. Within the broader EA community, I perceive the tendency to be less compromising with messaging, risking that the message doesn’t land at all. I’d encourage other consultants to use a more compromising communicative approach when speaking with colleagues about Effective Altruism, not letting perfect become the enemy of good.


What excites you about EACN’s mission of creating a global community of consultants who use evidence and reason to maximize the social impact of their careers?


Consulting and EA have a lot of methodological similarities that complement each other quite well. EA feels definitely stronger on moral compass and rigor, while consulting excels in being pragmatic and getting things done. Combining both can become a force to reckon with. I would definitely recommend the EACN as it’s amazing to see all types of consultants coming together, forming a network spanning the globe. For anyone who works for a larger consultancy, I would recommend using EACN to see if they know of anyone else in your organization who is affiliated with EA. I just found out that there are a bunch of EA’s within McKinsey after leaving the firm. I would love to move as many consultants towards careers that are more impact focused!


Having recently attended EAGx in Berlin and EA Global DC, what do you see as the most valuable aspect of EA conferences?


Simply put, engaging with amazing people who are coming together because they share a deep-seated and burning passion to bring as much good into the world as possible. Never before have I seen so many people being authentically committed to this goal than at EAGxBerlin and EAGxDC. A truly inspiring experience.


What are your current top content recommendations for those who want to learn more about EA?


I read ‘The Precipice’ and ‘What We Owe the Future’ as well as a bunch of stuff on the EA Forum and enjoyed those reads. Beyond that, I can only recommend attending EAGx or EAG events as there are a lot of fascinating talks and a very welcoming community that is happy to share their wisdom. Getting in touch with people and listening to different perspectives on topics have been my go-to methods when starting new projects as a consultant at McKinsey, and they have served me well in navigating the EA space.


What advice would you give to prospective consultants who have an interest in EA, and to consultants who may be thinking of exiting into a role at an EA-aligned organization?


Check the job board at 80.000 hours! Also, feel free to reach out to me, I am more than happy to chat. If interested, you can book a meeting with me here. In addition, we at Generation Pledge are also looking to expand our team. It’s a very exciting time for us, and if you want to learn more or would be interested in a position, make sure to get in touch!