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Women of Leadership Profiles

Maria Steingoltz Marries Hard and Soft Skills for the Just-Right Career

With a head for math and a love for people, Maria Steingoltz, an L.E.K. managing director, has found the perfect niche in consulting.

Q: How would you describe your current role at L.E.K.?

A: I am a managing director at L.E.K., which is a global strategy consulting firm. I deal with questions from our clients related to growth—new product launches, customer/geographic expansion, pricing, mergers and acquisitions, and more.

Q: What was your motivation for attending Northwestern University and the Kellogg School, specifically? And what attracted you to the consulting industry?

A: My upbringing really was foundational to my career. My family emigrated from Belarus when I was seven. My parents didn’t speak English, they had to learn the language and new ways of working. They had both been engineers in Belarus, but they went back to school to retrain themselves as professionals in this country. So, from a very young age, I was steeped in the idea of continuous learning and had great curiosity about the world around me.

I went to Northwestern specifically for the Mathematical Methods in Social Sciences program. I’m a very quantitative person, but the program applied math to domains that are a lot softer like psychology, sociology, and economics. We looked at what happens when you apply mathematical principles to qualitative social interactions, and I liked the program because it allowed me to concurrently explore many topics and domains. Subsequently, I sought a career that could help me stay on that path of not having to choose between hard and soft sciences: consulting was a great fit for that. In consulting, you use analytics to get to the root cause of a problem, but then you work with people to solve it—it’s really a people business.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: The most rewarding part of my job is the people element—I really feel like I’m helping clients who don’t have the time or expertise to grow their businesses. I also get a lot of personal satisfaction out of working with our associates and guiding them as they make choices for their careers. They have so much energy and innate curiosity.

Q: What are some current issues facing the consulting industry today, and how are you approaching those challenges?

A: The consulting industry is facing the same challenges that many industries are, around how to find, recruit, and retain talent. The next generation of leaders has a different set of priorities and motivations, and appealing to this cohort is important because it’s a people business. We need to get the right people in the door, and flexibility is really what they want.

The next generation has grown up being given tools and the ability to make a lot of choices. They’re looking for that in the workplace—they want choices around location, remote working, and timeframes for work, whether that’s part-time, job sharing, partial year, or flexible hours. It differs for each individual—sometimes the flexibility is needed around a family situation, sometimes it’s around a nonprofit commitment or a research appointment at an academic institution. People simply want more options.

Q: What is the best career advice you ever received?

A: The best career advice I ever received is to think about the elements of my life as the burners on a stovetop. One burner is your career, one is your family, one is friendships, and another is your personal fulfillment. It’s impossible to burn bright and strong across all four burners at the same time. To be more effective at one of your life elements, one or two burners have to turn off, or be lowered temporarily.

This doesn’t mean they won’t ever get turned on again—but every burner can’t be firing at the same time—life just doesn’t work like that. So, you need to make thoughtful choices and adjust where you’re going to focus your time on an ongoing basis.

Q: How have you navigated the competing demands of work and personal life over the years?

A: I have two kids, now aged 7 and 5—so my weekends and evenings I’m spending time with them doing homework, going to choir, dance class and soccer. Seeing how they grow has been amazing. My husband is my life hack. He’s a small business owner, so he has inherent flexibility. We also have a wonderful nanny, and my parents are not far away.

It’s all about creating an ecosystem that allows for flexibility.

Q: What’s your personal superpower? What innate ability can you always count on to save the day?

A: I am extremely organized. But on the fun side, I love karaoke! I’m a master of 90’s songs and raps, and can be counted to impress in any singing situation!

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