Janelle McDonald
Janelle McDonald
Home Region

Richmond, VA

Undergrad Education

University of Virginia, Engineering, 2003

Previous Experience

Accenture; Northrup Grumman; American Management Systems

HBS Activities

African American Student Union, Women's Student Association, Finance Club, Investing Club, VC/PE Club, Leadership & Values Rep, Section A

“HBS forces me to think more holistically.”

Right away, Janelle McDonald makes something clear. “Coming to HBS is a significant achievement, not just for me, but for my family,” she says. “I’m a first-generation college graduate. This accomplishment means a lot to my parents and grandparents.”

For Janelle, coming to HBS has also meant taking personal risks. Initially trained as a systems engineer concentrating in computer science, she started her career as a software developer and later became intrigued with consulting. “I liked the variety of work, the exposure to different industries, the mix of problem-solving and working with people.” Taking a chance, she started consulting with a small firm just outside of Washington DC. From there, Janelle went on to Accenture, where she enjoyed the rush of “working on some of the most challenging business problems every day.”

“I had completely transitioned from engineering to consulting,” Janelle says. “Then I decided to interrupt my consulting career and go back to school to get a stronger business foundation."

An old man’s smile and a reevaluation of priorities

HBS appealed to Janelle, because she “really liked the case method. I like looking at real-life problems from different points of view, considering all the factors across a given situation. HBS forces me to think more holistically. The case method, plus the general-management curriculum, broadens my perspective and hones my business skills.”

Janelle’s FIELD 2 trip to Chongqing, China, proved eye-opening on multiple levels. “It was the first time I traveled outside North America,” she says. “Talking to the local people, I saw obvious differences, but also many similarities to myself– at our basic core, we want the same things.” One conversation in particular stood out. “We met with an elderly couple in a small, run-down, one-room apartment. After a number of questions, someone in our group simply asked the man if he was happy – he had a huge grin the whole time. The man said, ‘Look at my face. Of course I’m happy!’ At the end of the day, that’s what life all about – that old man’s face. What will make you smile like that?”

The experience, Janelle says, “made me slow down. I realized I had been pursuing the wrong kind of jobs for the wrong reasons. Rather than choosing a job or industry because it is hot or trendy, I decided to take the time to ask myself what’s really going to make me happy.”