Maria Kinkina

  • Over 10 years’ professional experience
  • Consulting background with Bain
  • In-house experience with an educational non-profit
  • Project work includes cost benchmarking, margin optimisation, and customer journey redesign
  • Recent work for Eden McCallum clients in sustainability, retail and logistics

Maria led strategy and impact assessment for a small NGO in her home country of Bulgaria before she began her consulting career with Bain in London. And it was in the gap before taking up that role that the roots of her independent consulting career had originally taken hold: when Maria learned to kitesurf.  

“It was a life changing moment for me. During my time at Bain, I spent my weekends at the seaside kitesurfing, and it became quite an important part of my life. I loved consulting, but needed this balance of being out in nature and far away.” 

She would go on to combine her growing career at Bain, rising from Associate through to Consultant, with rising to the #4 ranking in the kitesurfing World Series. It was during a kitesurfing sabbatical from Bain that she heard about consulting as a freelancer, and it felt like the perfect way to balance her work with her other interests. Though it was not an easy choice to walk away from a great role with Bain – 

I was doing well, getting promoted, and I loved the work.. I was still wondering what to do when I heard about Eden McCallum and reached out. I was so afraid not to have any projects!” 

Keeping busy turned out not to be a concern. On leaving Bain, Maria was immediately approached by a friend for an assignment that turned in to a long and fulfilling series of engagements, before she took on her first Eden McCallum project.  

“And I loved it. The best thing about working with Eden McCallum is the model, working in a team as opposed to by myself – people who are further ahead in their career and I can learn from them. I also enjoy coaching other consultants, that’s really rewarding. 

When I think of the people, the consulting teams and also the internal team, they’re all great people, really high quality – I’m not missing out. One of my fears when I left Bain was, oh, you’re not going to grow professionally, freelance consulting isn’t as high level… but I feel like at Eden McCallum I don’t need to make that trade-off, because of the people I have met and the projects I have done.”

For Maria, part of the learning comes from the range of backgrounds in Eden McCallum teams. 

“At Bain you would only work with Bainies, who are great but you really know what to expect, because we all had very similar training and experiences. In EM teams you’re working with people from different backgrounds so you see different ways in which you can approach a project.” 

As an independent, Maria has also found a new way of working with clients.  

“Now, my work is much more collaborative and more client-heavy, probably because of the type of projects clients seek independents for – it’s not only what’s the answer but also let’s get this done. Consulting is always about ensuring your recommendations are implemented, but with EM there is more emphasis on that.” 

Most valuable to her as an independent is the ability to choose.  

“The best thing is that I can choose the project I’m working on, and the work I’m doing – I just did a couple of pro bono projects with Eden McCallum because I wanted work with a different sort of impact – that’s a great opportunity. 

Also you can choose when to work, and how to work, so if you want time off you can take it, if you want to work part time you can work part time. There’s just this freedom to shape your work.” 

Maria has used the flexibility she has gained to invest in her professional development, and is currently studying Sustainability in Business at Cambridge. 

“I think you need to be quite proactive in managing your career and professional development… I was interested to find out more about sustainability and I’m hoping to do more work in this space, combined with the rest of my projects. And you know at the start of every project I sit down and think, what can I get out of this professionally.”   

Her roles on projects have evolved, and these days Maria is increasingly taking on management responsibilities, within Eden McCallum teams and with her own clients. 

“I left Bain before becoming a Manager.. someone told me I should wait, but I don’t know if you should wait. If it’s the right moment go for it, you get more responsibility and freedom as an independent so if you want to grow you can. You just need to say what you want to the people that you work with.”  

And ironically, instead of the famine she feared, the number of project opportunities coming to her now requires difficult choices, and a sharp focus. 

“It’s a bit overwhelming at times – a lot of people reach out to me about projects. The key is knowing what you want, and why you are doing this, and being very clear. That’s going to help you choose the right projects, and not be afraid to say no to something you’re just not passionate about. That’s why you’re doing this – to have the freedom.” 

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