Hi, I'm Rachel Cleveland, and I embarked on a unique journey that seamlessly blended my corporate background with a passion for wine. A bit about me; I graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 2019 with a degree in supply chain and operations management and spent two years at Goldman Sachs before finding my way to L.E.K. Consulting.

I’ve now spent 2 1/2 years at L.E.K. in the Chicago office. I started as a generalist and then aligned myself to the Organization and Performance practice where I help clients across sectors solve for both organizational and operational strategies. I love being able to work hand in hand with clients, asking the right set of questions to unlock new insights or opportunities for improvement.

The shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic was the encouragement I needed to dive into a new hobby outside of work. I became infatuated with wine – from origin grower stories to understanding how different variables (soil, climate, grape varieties) impacted what we all ultimately get to enjoy in bottle, I couldn’t get enough. I am lucky enough to have family in Napa, CA and have fond memories as a kid, driving through the valley and being mesmerized by the endless rows of vines everywhere you look. I decided to dig in and began pursuing formalized wine education through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) based in London.

After passing the Level 3 exam in June and beginning my Diploma journey, I found myself at a crossroads. Instead of merely reading and studying about wine, I decided to take a 6-week sabbatical and roll up my sleeves, working as a cellar hand at Etude Winery to immerse myself in the practical aspects of winemaking. I traded in my business clothes for a pair of overalls and a high visibility vest. The decision turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve made in my personal life and professional career, and I had an absolute blast.

Here are my top takeaways from my sabbatical:

Reconnecting with nature to find balance: Spending time in the vineyards and experiencing the beauty of Napa reinforced the importance of balancing the intensity of our work with the serenity of nature. I came out of the experience with a new appreciation for spending time outside in the sun, using your hands in tandem with your brain, and being present in nature. It’s incredible how these small things can help clear your head and make you a better teammate, better thinker, and strategic partner.

Problem solving through ambiguity: The fast-paced operational environment during harvest is a breeding ground for problem solving on your feet - a valuable skill that translates well into my consulting role. My day-to-day experience was completely new and different for me – I previously could’ve never imagined myself driving a forklift – yet I did it! That’s just one example of how sitting in the discomfort and unknown is a positive opportunity for continuous growth and development.

Integrating my passions into my career: The experience encouraged me to consider ways to continuously integrate my passion for wine into my life and career, whether through another sabbatical, sharing memorable wine experiences with friends, and continuing to travel and explore the world of wine. I find myself constantly talking about wine, sharing fun facts, tasting notes, and producers with friends and co-workers around the office. I was lucky enough to visit Napa with fellow L.E.Kers back in 2022 and there is certainly another trip in the works!

Support from L.E.K.: L.E.K. was incredibly supportive of my decision to take a sabbatical. The team welcomed me back with open arms and the partners checked on me throughout my time away. The experience showcased the organization's commitment to individual growth and development.

Returning to L.E.K. Consulting after my sabbatical, I find myself not only armed with a deeper understanding of the world of wine but also with valuable insights and skills that enhance my consulting capabilities. The journey reaffirmed the importance of bringing your full self to work, the power of nature in rejuvenating the mind, and the endless possibilities that arise when passion and purpose are seamlessly integrated into ones career. For now, I’ll continue to be satisfied helping clients by day and studying / tasting wine in my free time!