Alumni Interviews: Jan-Paul Wiringa on Junket’s Beginnings, Working at McKinsey, and Advice to University College Students

By Miles Henderson
Photo: Emma Kappeyne

Jan-Paul Wiringa is an AUC alum from the class of 2015. During his time at AUC, he majored in the Social Sciences, co-founded the Junket committee, was a volunteer for Taste Before You Waste, and graduated class valedictorian. After leaving AUC, he would go on to spend a year consulting for De Kleine and Strategy& before beginning a graduate degree in International Economics and International Relations at Johns Hopkins University. After working briefly in Italy and Jordan, he moved back to Amsterdam, where he now works as a Business Analyst for McKinsey & Company. Jan-Paul sat down with The Herring’s editors in Amsterdam’s Eik & Linde to talk about his personal journey from student to consultant.

Let’s start with the story of Junket, the committee that you co-founded 7 years ago. Do you remember any of the first trips that you organised back then?

Yeah I do remember them! I think one really fun thing that we did was Museum Madness. I’m not sure if it still exists, but we started doing this thing where once a month we would go to a museum in Amsterdam. Of course there was the ski trip, which was really fun, and I think Junket is still doing that, but I really loved this local initiative where we would go and have organised tours. That’s when I discovered museums could actually be fun with a tour guide. We had groups of about 10 to 15 people coming together…

Maybe a more interesting story is a hitchhiking trip that we organised. I think they’re still doing it right?

Yeah they are.

So that’s what we came up with, which was then not really clear if we could do it. As a university, with hitchhiking there was always a risk that something goes wrong. 

We were in Berlin then and well things went wrong. I actually ended up not coming on the trip myself, so I can only tell this story. So, two people ended up hitchhiking in a car that got busted for a drug deal.

Wow.

Yeah, they were carrying drugs in the back of their car. So, that was pretty stressful, ‘cause we had everyone sign that they would be responsible for anything they did on the trip. Still people ended up hitching a car that had x kilos of drugs in it. It was pretty bad but they got off okay, but it was still scary. 

That was a pretty memorable moment, but it’s really cool to see that it still exists and it’s still going strong.

I think all of the traditions that you started are still here.

The ski trip was already there to be honest. There was another group that started the ski trip before us, but it was never formalised into a committee so we just took over that tradition.

So, I dug up this photo of you guys back in the day. Could you talk a little bit about the photo and some of the people in it?

So this is Lotte, Chloe, Alwin, Henriette, Maxime — it’s really funny to see this picture.

What do you think of the new board photo?

Yeah, it’s super cool. I’ve kept track over the different years. You can see the logo is still the same, Chloe made the logo, and we even had tote bags with the logo on it. What’s really cool is that we always made really weird surveys with just bullshit questions on it, and sometimes I peek at some of the new surveys — it’s in the same style which is really cool.

It was always sort of geeky humour which makes it awkward to look back on, but it’s fun.

Back in 2015, when you had just graduated, the oldest alumni were only 3 years out of college. Looking back, do you remember anyone at the time that you really admired and drew inspiration from?

I’m not really sure if there was anyone I admired — the age gap was just too small. I think admiration is usually for someone 10 or 20 years ahead of you. I didn’t know that many people from the first graduating class.

Or was there anyone who you were really impressed by? Could be someone from the previous graduating classes or your class.

I think someone I really admired was Luana, she was the one who founded Taste Before You Waste. I think what she’s done with Taste Before You Waste is amazing and I’ve always really admired that.

That’s funny, because you also did some work for TBYW. Weren’t you in the team at the very beginning?

I had a really small role. I was bringing food to the homeless shelter, which I really liked doing. It also inspired me. I was doing some research during my masters on food waste — I think it has made me personally much more aware of my waste, and I’ve been trying to do some more work with food waste at my job now.

You’re a business analyst at McKinsey.

Yeah.

When people hear “business analyst at McKinsey” they’re immediately impressed, but a lot of people don’t really understand what that means in the day-to-day. Do you have a recent example or project that you think would give people an idea of what you do?

What I think was a super fun project was one where we were helping a few companies in The Netherlands come up with a business case to assess if they should get into zero-carbon hydrogen production. We had five weeks and in the first three weeks me and my project manager were pretty much locked up in a room — with a lot of excel files, calling a lot of experts, and we had all this internal data about how much it costs to produce hydrogen. We were trying to bring that all together into specific calculations and specific insights for this group of companies that wanted to potentially start production in The Netherlands.

In the end, that part is a lot of exceling and powerpointing. It sounds boring, but it was really fricking hard to come up with locations…you’re talking to experts, you have all this data on clusters…I won’t get into the details too much.

Another part of my job is talking to clients. You’re not just locked up in this room with your colleagues trying to crack a problem. For example, we had a three day workshop with clients from different companies. We were with around 15 clients, and were really working side-by-side. Really long days, but we had different parts of the day where we had working sessions with clients. Everyone brought their models to the table and we were doing little breakouts to focus on specific topics and crack the case.

So — working directly with your clients, doing problem-solving with your teams, and we get to travel to cool places…although not so much these days.

Has the COVID-19 epidemic impacted the way you work?

Majorly, so far at least. So today we heard from our client that everyone who has travelled to Germany, Spain, France, Austria, and all the usual suspects, has to stay home for two weeks before you can go back to the client. That’s for all the client’s employees too, but that’s also true for us — we have to follow the client’s policy.

So, how much do you travel on a monthly basis?

It depends. The way that consulting usually works is that from Monday to Thursday we’re at the client site and then on Friday we’re at our home office. Now, it’s easy for me because I’m on a project in Amsterdam, but there were a few months when I was on a project in Italy, where every Monday to Thursday I was in Italy.

Which is bad for my emissions…I know that.

Would you say that level of traveling is a plus for you personally? Do you enjoy it? Do you take anything with you?

It’s one of the reasons I chose consulting.

Sort of corny, but I have a box full of nice postcards and photos from people that I love: my family and my friends. When people send me postcards I put it in the box and keep it with me wherever I go.

You’ve lived in Jordan, Italy, Holland, Australia, and the U.S. Would you say that traveling has made you more adaptable?

It’s made it easier to connect with people from different backgrounds. I think it’s given me some tools to make an easier connection — it’s also important in my job. You have to make sure people feel comfortable with you, comfortable being honest, and to share things that are on their mind, things that might be roadblocks for important things that we need to accomplish together.

I haven’t really reflected on if that makes me comfortable myself. I don’t know if that makes me more comfortable in a new situation. I don’t know if it’s because you’re just older and you don’t worry about it as much. 

It’s become much easier in the past year and a half. I was shitting my pants the first time I walked into a client’s office — feeling so under qualified to be here. It’s because you know nothing about the industry, nothing about the company or the people, you don’t even know how McKinsey works — ‘cause you’ve only been there for a few weeks.

I think that’s something that a lot of people at AUC are about to experience: Imposter Syndrome. What is something you’ve done to reassure yourself that you are where you’re supposed to be?

This is going to be super cheesy.

I think my Dad told me this once. He said something along the lines of “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re doing something wrong.”. It means that you’re not learning enough. 

Not that I want to feel like the dumbest person in the room, but even if I feel like I am, I try to see it as my advantage because I have the most to learn out of everyone there. If anything I’m well placed to become the smartest person in the room somewhere else, you know?

I think, though, sometimes that’s a cliche thing to say and not always helpful, because I still have Imposter Syndrome sometimes. I think we all have that — when you’re in a situation with someone that you feel is much more experienced or intelligent than you. I feel like when I make a suggestion in a work environment, or ask a question, I can think about it for such a long time that I end up not doing it — ‘cause I’m thinking “this is going to sound so dumb,” and “I don’t know if this suggestion is even relevant.”

The reason why I hold back is because I expect people to react like “that’s a dumb question.” But then when you observe other people suggesting something that you think “actually that’s not relevant, I don’t know why they would say that,” there’s no one who would react in such a way. They might disregard it. People never react in the way that I’m afraid of. I’m trying to translate that observation into my own expectations.

That’s a really nice way to think about it. I like that you have a growth mindset. You’re always in a position to learn. Following that thought, what would you say are some surprising habits that you’ve picked up at McKinsey?

Well, one habit I’ve picked up. What’s actually sort of annoying about McKinsey people is that they always overstructure what they’re saying, and they’ll also apologise when they’re not being structured — which is okay, because you’re a human being who thinks and talks. People will structure things by saying: “You asked me why AUC students are so great. Well, there’s three things.” People at McKinsey always have three things to say, and it’s so stupid because they usually only know two things about a subject and they just come up with a third thing — or they already know four things but they leave the fourth one out. For some reason “three things” just sounds better….always three things.

On that note, what are the three habits that you’ve put the most effort into keeping?

I think I’ve become a lot better at saying “no” to people who are asking me “can you finish this?” or with other requests. I’ve become a lot more clear about “this is when I can finish this,” and decide for myself when something can wait until tomorrow or the day after. Maximising my time where I’m not working. I think that’s a habit that I’ve become quite vocal about, and I’m pushing for a lot.

How do you say “no” to someone when you need to? I feel like a lot of people are hesitant to make someone upset, or offend someone. How do you shift the way you think to make it easier for yourself to say “no”?

When you’re very transparent about obligations that you have it makes things easier. To give an example: If I’m very transparent about “hey, tomorrow evening I have a family dinner at 6 p.m., if there’s something that needs to be finished I’m super happy to do it before then.” I’m giving someone notice and I’m also letting them know that if there’s anything they need before that time I will be super helpful, but afterwards I won’t be able to do it.

I think offering alternatives is better than saying “no”.

Do you have someone that says “no” to you, and keeps you grounded?

I think most people  tell me I’m wrong. Fewer people should tell me I’m wrong. (laughs) We have a lot of discussions at work, we have too many smart people, too many opinions, so that happens all the time.

Did you always know that you wanted to get into consulting?

I think consulting always seemed interesting to me. I didn’t always know what it was, but I thought that it was a job where you could work for a lot of companies and think about strategies — I thought I would be better at coming up with concepts rather than implementing them. I thought I would work in a lot of countries, with people from different backgrounds, and I knew that it was a high-pressure environment — which may seem terrible to some people but I like that aspect. 

Although, what I think a lot of people don’t know is that I’m not even sure what some people do at McKinsey. I can’t talk about consulting in every facet, but I thought I would like it.

Now that you’re actually working at McKinsey, what’s a misconception you had about McKinsey that you realise was totally wrong?

I thought I was going to be working with robots — sort of perfect humans who were all from exactly the same schools, and who were all just a super homogenous bunch of people. In some ways that’s true, but there are so many people that have these really strange hobbies and go travel to these great places.

I remember the other day I was talking about travelling to the Kurdish part of Turkey, and I thought that other people at McKinsey wouldn’t do it — people are married, they have kids. So, I was talking about it with my colleagues and everyone in my working team had been to the same city in Turkey that I had been to. I remember thinking “Wow, people here are interesting.” 

Also, a lot of people there care about social impact and sustainability and I hadn’t expected that.

Back when you were applying to jobs, how did you sell AUC as a concept? It can be a bit strange and unknown.

I think not anymore. Even when I was applying it wasn’t as pioneering as it used to be. UCU has been around for such a long time, spread the concept, and made a pretty good name for University Colleges in The Netherlands. I think now University Colleges are known as a high-quality, well-rounded degree. When I look around at colleagues of mine, and colleagues at other consulting companies, I think UCs are very well represented.

Do you think UC students are overrepresented for the relatively small number of people that go to UCs?

I think what’s truly overrepresented is engineers from Delft, and economists and business degrees from Rotterdam. Those are really the classic profiles. 

I think that people that go to University Colleges are generally ambitious. They have a wide range of interests, they speak different languages, are from different countries. I think their profile fits the competences you need for consulting quite well.

So you’ve been living in Amsterdam for a long time now. Is there a place that you like so much you hesitate to let people know about it?

We always had this thing back at AUC. Back in the day Amsterdam wasn’t that gentrified, so there weren’t that many cafes. It sounds like I’m glorifying gentrification, but there was only Coffee Company. I remember then we had Drover’s Dog — not many people knew about it yet so it was our secret place. Then, people didn’t want to tell each other about Drover’s Dog because it was a chill place to study and you didn’t want to bump into other AUC people there.

Did they serve pizza at Spar back then?

Oh yeah. It gets this weird flavour cause they don’t fully cook it — they put it in some sort of blitz for three minutes. It was such a good meal though and only two euros.

Do you have any fond memories of eating Spar pizza?

Mostly in the morning when I was hungover.

It was funny, on Tuesdays they had three croissants for a euro and you would see everyone with croissants in the AB.

If you had to teach a course at AUC, what would it be?

Logic. 

Logic?

For sure Logic. Logic is fantastic. I think Logic is so — it’s dumb if I say logical, but it’s nice that there are a set of rules. It’s conceptually very easy: only a few operators. It’s much easier than math.

If you could go back and say something to yourself at your final year at AUC, what would you say?

In my final year I went on exchange. I would say spend less time in the bloody library. I took this super hard econometrics course. There were definitely nights when I was in the library until midnight. Not that I’m unhappy that I did it, I did learn a lot. Keep the hard courses for AUC, when you’re on exchange go outside and meet people.

Also, I didn’t do the final intensive period because I already took enough courses.

Has there ever been a distinct failure in your life that has taught you something important?

This might be a boring work example:

I applied at McKinsey when I was at AUC for an internship but I didn’t get it, then I applied afterwards for a job and I didn’t get it, and then I applied in the U.S. and I didn’t get it. I wasn’t even invited for the interview the first time.

The last time I applied and was invited to the interview I prepared the hell out of it — and I got it.

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