Being half go-getter New Yorker and half laid-back Southerner, Kaylin Kugler knows how to adapt and fit in just about anywhere. That's come in handy as she's built her career in consulting, where she regularly has to integrate with a diverse set of clients on a wide range of projects.
"Consulting is in my DNA; it's who I am," she says. "A routine-type role is not for me."
Kaylin is currently a partner at financial services consulting firm Capco, and her path to that role included several key career moves along the way, including moving from senior consultant to principal consultant and even taking a break from consulting when the travel-heavy lifestyle felt like too much. We sat down to talk about how she navigated those transitions and what advice she has for people looking to grow their own career in an ever-changing field.
Doubling down on consulting
After studying finance and economics in college, Kaylin figured she'd be in-house somewhere, not realizing that there was an entire industry—financial consulting—that would let her solve the problems she was most interested in, but never do so in the same way twice. Tagging along with a friend to a career fair where she unknowingly met a recruiter set Kaylin off on what she thought would be a three-year stint in the field.
"Ten years into a 'three-year' career, I woke up and realized I was on the road constantly," says Kaylin, looking back. "I had an opportunity to explore the other side of banking. But I made sure my leadership team knew I was leaving consulting, not Capco."
She did, and as it turned out, the grass wasn't greener. She found it harder to be a change agent internally vs an external consultant, even while being on the management team of a bank and she missed the dynamism of the people at Capco. Kaylin ended up talking with her old Capco mentors, who encouraged her to come back, especially since she was ready for a bigger leadership role and could work out of Capco's then-new Charlotte office, which would keep her closer to her home in Raleigh.
"I came back for the people and the culture, and it's been phenomenal," says Kaylin.
Leaning into leadership
Before Kaylin left Capco, she'd made a step-change in her responsibility set: going from senior consultant then to principal consultant, and ultimately managing principal.
"The promotion from senior to principal consultant is the first time as a consultant that you're not just incrementally adding responsibilities, you're actually fundamentally changing your job," she explains.
Taking on that role required Kaylin to really stretch into a new responsibility set. "[My managers] have always been fantastic at pushing me into stretch roles and believing in me. And when I get in front of something, even though it's scary at the time or I'm still struggling to figure it out, I know that I have their support. They will never let me fail and never let Capco fail," she says.
It's that "safety net of support," as Kaylin says, that helped prepare her for a second big career transition a couple of years after she returned to Capco: going from managing principal to partner.
"Becoming a partner was something I didn't know if I was ever going to be ready for," she says. "A lot of my now-peers were pushing me. It wasn't me saying, 'I'm ready.' It was them saying, 'When do you want to start the process?'"
She started—and completed—the process, and now, as a partner, Kaylin finds herself on the same level with the very people who were her biggest mentors and teachers when she started. She knows that she represents all of Capco to its clients, employees, and community, which is a heavy weight, but one she's embracing.
"It's exhilarating," she says. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful at this level but I also have to remind myself that I've earned it. Everybody agrees I'm supposed to be here."
One of the biggest things Kaylin has learned is that the partner role is hers to shape. She doesn't have to be a partner in the way that anyone else is a partner. For instance, she was worried about the sales component of the role, and whether she could be the type of "big-man-on-campus" salesperson that she'd seen other partners become.
"What I've learned is that sales comes more naturally and organically to me through relationships, which is something that I feel I'm very good at. If I am true to myself, that's going to come across to my clients," she says.
That experience has led her to one of the foundational pieces of advice she passes on to younger women in consulting, whether as part of the Women@Capco affinity group Kaylin helped found or in one-off mentorship conversations: "Don't let something you might have to do five or ten years down the line scare you from progressing in your career."
5 tips for building a career in consulting
Kaylin's other key pieces of advice include:
- Understand the path, but don't limit yourself by it. Throughout her career, Kaylin has realized that there's no exact right way to engage with the preconceived pathing in consulting. "I never let a performance framework actually dictate how far I push myself," she explains. Instead, she's worked as hard as she could to show her managers what she was ready for, which ended up leading to her skipping an entire level early in her career. "Frameworks help you understand what the expectations are; you exhibiting those behaviors consistently at whatever pace you want to go is how you'll get acknowledged," she says.
- Take inspiration from others. He doesn't know it, says Kaylin, but she kept notes on the career of a man who was hired a few years before her. "We didn't really work together, but from afar, I just kept on watching. 'He's doing what? Managing what type of people? Okay, I can do that,'" she says. "I've always set my goals with a kind of guiding post."
- "Take risk, but fail fast." Kaylin learned this lesson after her first big career transition: "Consulting allows you to take a lot of stretch roles and with increased responsibilities and accountability, but ultimately you've got to manage that impact and pivot quickly."
- Be resourceful. You'll never have all the answers, and that's okay, says Kaylin. "You ultimately need to leverage your team or others around you, because a collaborative solution is better than one person's opinion," she explains.
- Never stop learning. "Be ready and willing to continuously learn," says Kaylin. "That's the value our customers are looking for. Experience is great, but don't think your experience from 15 years ago is still relevant. Financial services grows and evolves so quickly. A little over 11 years ago, we didn't have iPads. With mobile, digital experiences—everything is transformed."