Following Her Own Tune

Following Her Own Tune

How a first career as a traveling folk singer was pitch-perfect training for sales pro Julie DeLoyd, ’11.

When Julie DeLoyd, ’11, first came to Chicago Booth, she may well have been the only incoming student with a background in queer performance studies—an undergraduate major she designed herself at New York University. “Basically, the only thing it prepared me to do was become a lesbian folk singer,” she cracked. That’s precisely what she did for almost a decade, touring the country and singing in clubs 175 days a year. At Booth, she felt she stuck out among more traditional MBAs like an A-sharp in a C-chord—at least at first.

“People kept using the term ‘P&L’ all the time, and I had to turn to the person next to me at orientation to ask what it meant,” she said of her early experiences in b-school. When it came to more hands-on exercises in sales and marketing courses, however, she found that all her time on the road hustling to get fans to check out her merch table was the perfect preparation. “I would think, what do I have to say to get this specific person to walk over?” she said. “I looked at market research the same way.” She parlayed that experience into a job after graduation at McKinsey & Company in Chicago, where—now as an associate partner—she has cofounded the McKinsey Sales Academy to lead custom trainings that help companies transform their sales strategies.

DeLoyd grew up spending all of her free time performing in musical theater. By 16, she was playing guitar and writing songs, developing a style that combined yearning vocals with percussive acoustic guitar. “I started my music career with $800 to my name, and within three months, I was making a living doing music,” she said.

But eventually, life on the road took its toll, and she began to think about the future. One day, she was watching TV and saw a woman give a boardroom presentation. Something clicked. “My mouth was wide open,” she said. “That was me. It was an inherent understanding that I had something to offer that I had only just begun to unleash.” She threw herself into studying for the GMAT, ultimately earning a spot in Booth’s full-tuition Distinguished Fellows Program.

At McKinsey, she has combined her performing and entrepreneurial skills to lead trainings to help companies completely restructure their sales organizations and train managers to improve salesforce performance. “A lot of companies purchase a one-off training to teach sellers new ways to sell,” she said, “but you need to think systemically about the whole ecosystem.”

For a medical product company, for example, DeLoyd helped redesign the CRM (customer relationship management) and compensation systems, and added a data analytics piece to give the company vital information in the field about which physicians to target and how high its penetration should be. The first year, the company saw a 10 percent increase in growth; the following year, it saw 40 percent year-over-year for the target product. In addition to her sales work, DeLoyd also leads LGBTQ recruiting for McKinsey, reaching out to business schools to actively attract talented professionals of all orientations. She also works with the company’s allies program to educate employees on issues facing underrepresented groups of all kinds.

After putting music on the back burner for six years, DeLoyd finally returned to the studio in 2015 to produce a new album, What the Waves Said. Gone are the days of touring the country and cold-calling music clubs. Now she mainly plays concerts at private homes for a few dozen people at a time. “For so long, playing music was about ‘how much money am I making?’ and ‘how many CDs am I selling?’” DeLoyd said. “Now I am seeing it can just be about the message of the music and connecting with an audience.”

—By Michael Blanding