Published on March 28th, 2014 | by thevyne1
Woman to Watch: Nneka Rimmer
Name: Nneka L. Rimmer
Twitter Handle: Nnek_Nnek
Hometown: Evanston, IL
Education and Alma Maters: B.S. Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, JD & MBA from Northwestern University
Occupation: Partner and Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group
Roles you play in life: Mom, Daughter, Only child version of sister (Sister-cousin, sister-friend, play sister)
Tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?
When I first graduated from college, I went to work as an engineer at Motorola, Semiconductor Products Sector. My five years in Phoenix were incredibly important to my personal and professional development, as my Moto-years taught me how important certain strategic projects could be the trajectory of a company. I decided I wanted a career transition, and went back to school to get my JD/MBA and move into strategy consulting.
Was being the first African American female partner at BCG something you set out to do when you joined the firm?
It absolutely wasn’t, for two reasons. First, there were several African-American women ahead of me when I joined. These women were my mentors and advocates in many ways. If you asked me as I entered in 2001, I definitely expected that one of them would be a partner before me. Each of them ended up leaving for other fantastic opportunities outside of BCG, but that wasn’t what I would have anticipated. The second reason is that like many others, I joined because I was very attracted to the fast-pace of learning that I would have at BCG, but I honestly couldn’t foresee it being something I could do for longer than 3 or 4 years. I just assumed the challenges of making the career work would become too difficult. I’m thrilled to say that anytime that would start to happen, I would always be encouraged by our local and regional leaders to think of an unconventional solution that kept me on the partner track.
What have been some of your biggest challenges?
My challenges also fall into different categories (yes, I am indeed a consultant and thus categorize just about everything). The first are just the traditional business challenges of learning new things, building expertise and honing that to the point where it can be used to influence the client’s business in a positive manner. One really interesting thing about being a consultant is that as an advisor, I have to do the analysis to get to a differentiated solution, and then I have to convince someone else to actually take action. Those can be very difficult skillsets: doing and persuading. However, if I didn’t possess both, I would be completely ineffective at my job. Here’s the secret: virtually no one walks into BCG possessing both skills, so one or the other, or both will need to be learned on the job. The ability to learn those, and quickly, is what keeps a person progressing through our career ladder.
The second set of challenges are stereotypical life challenges. I am a single mother of two beautiful boys, with a demanding and time consuming job, and a group of personally rewarding and nourishing set of relationships with my friends and family. My role in my nuclear family, my job and my extended friendships are all very important to my happiness, but it’s absolutely a challenge to constantly invest in all of them. I know that without me investing in each of these facets of my life – with my attention and focus, not just my “time” – I wouldn’t be able to grow personally or professionally. But it’s a challenge to do.
And the third set of challenges pertain to me being a African-American woman in an environment that is disproportionately male and disproportionately White. I am what I call a “lonely only” in too many meetings, too many teams, too many events and too many conversations. In some ways that’s great for me, as when I perform well I am often remembered positively. However, it is still challenging to be invited into the decision-making in the first place.
What has been most gratifying about your work?
My last 5 years at BCG in particular have been incredibly rewarding as I have had the opportunity to define my own “book of business,” and I have successfully managed to balance my work to include work in both our Public Education and Consumer Goods Practices. During that time I have partnered to support major transformative programs with $20B+ CPG companies and the successful execution of the largest school merger in the history of the United States. So in just my time as a partner, I’ve had the occasion to drive increased shareholder return of large multi-national corporations and to positively impact the educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of minority students in the United States. I’m grateful that my job both feeds my kids and feeds my soul, in a combination that is incredibly hard to find.
Let’s talk about your life outside of work. What are some of the things that help you manage your life?
First and foremost, my mother. My mother is such a blessing in my life, and always has been. But for the past six years, she’s taken that to a different level. After a 35 year career with IBM, my mother retired in 2008 to help me raise my son, Ryan. Today, she lives with us and takes care of my two sons, Ryan and Reed. I can’t tell you the sense of peace it gives me to know that when I have to travel for my career, or even just work late, my sons are with the only person on the planet that loves them as much as I do.
Finish this sentence: “To feel more centered I…take a long walk along Lake Michigan”
What is one of the biggest risks you have ever taken? What was the outcome?
When I was 36 years old, clearly on partner track at my firm and on my way to being “the first African-American female partner at BCG”, I decided to become a single mother by choice. I absolutely didn’t know what the reaction would be to my decision, whether by my family, friends or professional colleagues. More importantly, I didn’t know if I could truly accomplish everything. However, I knew that it was critical to my happiness that I become a mother. And I knew that I wanted to at least try to do that while continuing on my career trajectory. The outcome was unexpected in terms of the options I would have, what compromises I would have to make, and how my life would ultimately change. These were all things I didn’t even know to think about in 1996. I think that’s the biggest part of taking a risk, the not knowing the twist and turns that await. In my case, the greatest rewards all came on the other side of those unknown twists and turns.
What a brave choice that was. I bet other women considering the same decision would have similar concerns. So what was the reaction from your friends, family and colleagues? What advice would you have for other women considering making the choice to have a child or children on their own?
My family and friends know me much better than I realized before this decision. I think the overwhelming reaction was “this is really, really strange….but it’s not so strange FOR YOU.” After the initial surprise, came a tremendous outpour of love and support, which was exactly what I needed.
As for advice for others, I don’t have any different advice than I’d offer to anyone thinking about starting a family. Think about it long and hard, talk about it with the critical people in your life, think about it some more, find time to meditate/pray/seek spiritual guidance in whatever way provides you peace, think about even more…..and then in the end do what feels right for you.
What advice do you have for other professional women who are trying to build their careers and navigate through the corporate infrastructure?
I regularly give two pieces of advice: 1) Set your boundaries realistically. You will likely live exactly at them, and 2) You are not as critical as you think you are for many or even most things. Proactively know what they are, and act appropriately.
What are three things you cannot live without?
1) My iPad (FaceTime and Kindle apps in particular)
2) summer vacation time with my best friends from college
3)My maternal grandmother’s ring, which I wear every day and find myself looking at almost reflexively whenever I feel “stuck.” It’s a reminder that even when things are difficult, I’m never truly stuck unless I let myself be.