A little over eight years ago, between his junior and senior years at Princeton University, Jonathan Keller accepted an internship at the Minneapolis office of McKinsey & Co. After graduation, McKinsey offered him a full-time job. But Keller wasn’t sure it was right for him.
Having noticed a picture of Jesus in the office of senior partner Tim Welsh, Keller decided to confess his concerns to him. “Jonathan is a very devout Christian, and that’s an important part of his life and worldview,” Welsh says. “He came into my office with a job offer from McKinsey and said, ‘I don’t really know if this is what I’m meant to do.’ ”
“Funny you should say that,” Welsh replied. Almost 30 years ago, Welsh said, he had been in a similar position, as a Harvard graduate—weighing a McKinsey job offer against a life as a Catholic priest. “I told him that ultimately, success at McKinsey depends on really liking to help people,” Welsh recalls. “For me, that’s a great way to live out my faith, and I would suggest to you that maybe it’s worth an experiment.”
That conversation with Welsh was a big reason Keller took the job at McKinsey. “I was concerned about the lifestyle of traveling all the time, balancing faith and work,” Keller says. “He had a family of five, with young kids. I asked him, ‘Do you think it’s possible to be a Christian and work at McKinsey?’ He did. He’s based his life around helping people, helping them achieve what God has created them to be.”
After that first meeting, the two continued to have many long conversations about faith and work. “Even when I was the lowest-ranking team member, he would take time to find me in the lunchroom on Fridays and ask me how things were going,” Keller says. “He’d go out of his way to find things I’d done well and talk to me about them.”
McKinsey is a place where most employees stay for just two or three years, and Keller was no exception. Another of Keller’s mentors told him about a soft, slip-resistant flooring material, and Keller saw an opportunity. In 2011, with $600,000 in start-up funding, he co-founded Life Floor, a Minneapolis-based company that manufactures material for pool decks and water parks. Before taking the entrepreneurial plunge, Keller once again conferred with Welsh.
“Jonathan was investigating whether or not this was a good thing to do in terms of his calling,” Welsh recalls. “He came to realize that Life Floor has only a little bit to do with flooring, and a lot to do with helping people stay safe. That’s very much in keeping with his calling.” In fact, Welsh was so certain the new product would succeed, and even more convinced that Keller would succeed, that he became the new company’s second-largest investor.
In the five years since, Welsh and Keller have talked at least once a month by phone and met four or five times a year in person. “Tim is good at coaching me through the lows and celebrating the highs,” Keller says.
At times, Welsh’s involvement has given Keller the impetus to keep his company alive. “At the end of 2012, I was on paternity leave, and the company ran out of cash,” Keller says. “Tim said ‘Get some sleep’ and then worked with other team members to secure emergency loans.” Additionally, Welsh has offered business advice, encouraging Life Floor to price its products based on the value they provide to its customers. “He has consistently pushed to make sure we do not undersell our product’s worth.”
Keller says business is good, and Life Floor is profitable and on pace to exceed $2 million in sales, a 100 percent increase over 2015. Over the course of its five years in business, the company has raised $3.5 million in equity investment.
“I was 24 when I started the company,” Keller says. “And having access to [Welsh’s] business knowledge, but also to someone who consistently has a positive outlook and knows that all things are going to work out for good has been such an encouragement to me.”
That’s not to say that Welsh has all the answers. “At other times, he says, ‘I don’t know, but I believe that you will figure this out,’ ” Keller says. “He’s willing to give his time, and so I keep taking him up on it.”
As for Welsh, he believes that a good mentor “is someone who puts self-interest aside and says, ‘Who is the person sitting in front of me and how can I help them be the best version of themselves?’ That’s the most exciting and hardest part of mentoring: looking through their lens, not yours. For Jonathan, that’s faith. For other people, it might be something else.”