So Jene Kim isn’t afraid of change.
Some of the shifts she’s made in her life have been major ones: English major to Wall Streeter. New York to Hong Kong. Banking to consulting.
Others have been more gradual, like the pre-COVID nights that saw So Jene picking up a microphone at a work karaoke event and, with the help of Sia’s “Chandelier” or Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” turning from a financial services professional to a bonafide rockstar for a few minutes.
“I didn’t say I was a good singer!” clarifies So Jene. “I just love singing. And given the formal nature of your relationship with someone in a workplace, it can change quite dramatically for the better after having some laughs and being silly together at karaoke.”
Over her career, So Jene has embraced changes both big and small, even when they came with big risks. We sat down with the Capco partner and risk management professional to hear more about her career story, including what it’s been like to be a free thinker in a very regulated industry, and what advice she has for other people considering a change—particularly one that sees them going from industry to consulting.
So Jene moved to the U.S. from South Korea when she was four years old. Growing up with strict parents, she knew early on that she wanted to build her personal and financial independence.
That’s how she ended up working at Morgan Stanley.
A big reader, she studied English at college, but knew a $18,000-a-year publishing salary wasn’t going to last long in New York. Her college job in the career development office gave her access to the starting salaries of students who got offers in finance, and she decided she needed one of them. A recruiting season later, she had an offer from the bank in hand.
So Jene’s can-do attitude, honed from years of helping out at her mother’s dry cleaner and running a construction import business with her dad, served her well when she started her career in financial services. No job was too small for her to learn from.
Until an acquisition happened and So Jene found herself working for Chase Manhattan Bank.
Her approach to problem-solving wasn’t as welcomed there, remembers So Jene, who tells the story of a time that a senior person on her team asked her to look over a currency out of balance report.
“She said, ‘I got you your own pack of colored pencils. You can use the different colors to mark the different currencies,’” says So Jene, who immediately balked and offered to put the information in a database, write some queries, and create an automated way to review the report both then and in the future.
A meeting with her manager and her manager’s manager later, and So Jene had one thing clear: “They moved at a certain pace, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get the heck out of here,’” she says.
So once again, So Jene prioritized her independent viewpoint and left that role. She tried project management in silicon valley briefly, but realized she was a New Yorker at heart, and eventually went back to Morgan Stanley for a different job, this time as a project manager on a global team working to build and implement new processes and technology.
Her success on that team set her up to be a strong candidate for an internal transfer to work in derivative operations in Hong Kong, which lined up with So Jene and her husband’s desire to try something new.
They loved the experience, but So Jene struggled with having to be on call almost 24 hours a day, between the local and home office, and when she got pregnant, she did what was right for her and her family and left that job.
Making a Sustainable Change
But all roads—at least back then, and at least for So Jene—led back to Morgan Stanley, because after a year-long sabbatical, she took a job offer that once again came from her old employer, this time in operational risk.
“My values were quite different that time, though,” says So Jene. “It was like I had been in a long relationship and broken up with the organization once and I had different priorities going back into it. Because even though I had married young and my husband was always there, my number one priority for so long had been Morgan Stanley. And that’s so backwards, because I was never Morgan Stanley’s number-one priority. I wasn’t even a 1000th priority.”
When she realized that she was falling back into old habits and wasn’t going to be recognized for her contributions in a way that was acceptable to her, So Jene decided to leave, this time for good, and launched her own consulting business.
She started working with Capco, who she’d used as her primary consultants on the industry side, and realized that there was a lot of opportunity there—and maybe even a full-time role.
After six months, Capco asked her to join as a partner, and So Jene felt like she’d found a job where she could make the most of her experience but also maintain her independence and priorities in life. So she took it.
“The transition into consulting worked for me because I was able to say [to the client], ‘I truly understand the position that you’re in. I know what it feels like when your job is on the line,’” reflects So Jene, on a key element of her successful move.
“I enjoy this role so much more than my previous one,” she says. “It’s the flexibility that comes with it. I wouldn’t say I’m working less, but it allows me to work smarter.”
She found that her industry skill set served her well in consulting, especially when it came to having that client empathy and deep subject matter expertise. She had to come up to speed on commercial propositions, selling services, and the unique communication principles of making proposal decks, but a few months of practice got her there, and now So Jene is ready to encourage other longtime financial services folks to follow her example and consider a career in consulting.
4 Tips for Transitioning from Industry to Consulting
- Be entrepreneurial. “If you don’t have entrepreneurial interest or spirit, you’re just not going to make it,” says So Jene of the different motivations in consulting. “It has nothing to do with being dedicated or being smart. There are times when you don’t have something that you have to do, and you are expected to make the most of that time to get sales or improve a relationship with a client.”
- Develop your networks. This is especially true within a consultancy, says So Jene. “You want to build your brand so that you have an opportunity to work on other things and with other people,” she adds.
- Pursue what interests you. Self-learning goes a long way, explains So Jene, giving the example of a group of Capco employees who were interested in the legalization of marijuana and who looked into the business opportunities that came with changing cannabis laws. “Having that kind of curiosity, being focused on self-learning, and then being able to bring that back to the organization is just terrific,” says So Jene.
- At the end of the day, think about the change with a risk management framework. “If you're looking for a change or you want something, and you're a little bit apprehensive about it, evaluate it like a risk manager,” says So Jene. “What kind of risk are you dealing with, how do you measure that risk, and what controls are in place to help you succeed? Also, get some outside perspective.”