McKinsey & Company is an American worldwide management consulting firm. It conducts qualitative and quantitative analysis to evaluate management decisions across public and private sectors. McKinsey publishes the McKinsey Quarterly since 1964, funds the McKinsey Global Institute research organization, publishes reports on management topics, and has authored many influential books on management. Its practices of confidentiality, influence on business practices, and corporate culture have experienced a polarizing reception.
McKinsey was founded in 1926 by James O. McKinsey in order to apply accounting principles to management. McKinsey died in 1937, and the firm was restructured several times, with the modern-day McKinsey & Company emerging in 1939. Marvin Bower is credited with establishing McKinsey's culture and practices in the 1930s based on the principles he experienced as a lawyer. The firm developed an "up or out" policy, where consultants who are not promoted are asked to leave. McKinsey was the first management consultancy to hire recent college graduates, rather than experienced managers.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the firm expanded internationally and established new practice areas. It had 88 staff in 1951, 7,700 by the early 2000s and 27,000+ by 2018. McKinsey's consulting has helped to establish many of the norms in business and contributed to many of the major successes and failures in business in the modern era.
McKinsey was merged with accounting firm Scovell, Wellington & Company that same year, creating the New York-based McKinsey, Wellington & Co. and splitting off the accounting practice into Chicago-based Wellington & Company. A Wellington project that accounted for 55 percent of McKinsey, Wellington & Company's billings was about to expire and Kearney and Bower had disagreements about how to run the firm. Bower wanted to expand nationally and hire young business school graduates, whereas Kearney wanted to stay in Chicago and hire experienced accountants. Additionally, in 1937 James O. McKinsey died after catching pneumonia.
This led to the division of McKinsey, Wellington & Company in 1939. The accounting practice returned to Scovell, Wellington & Company, while the management engineering practice was split into McKinsey & Company and McKinsey, Kearney & Company.
After Bower stepped down in 1967, the firm's revenues declined. New competitors like the Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company created increased competition for McKinsey by marketing specific branded products, such as the Growth-Share Matrix, and by selling their industry expertise. In 1971, McKinsey created the Commission on Firm Aims and Goals, which found that McKinsey had become too focused on geographic expansion and lacked adequate industry knowledge. The commission advised that McKinsey slow its growth and develop industry specialties. In 1976, Ron Daniel was elected managing director, serving until 1988. Daniel and Fred Gluck helped shift the firm away from its generalist approach by developing 15 specialized working groups within McKinsey called Centers of Competence and by developing practice areas called Strategy, Operations and Organization. Daniel also began McKinsey's knowledge management efforts in 1987. This led to the creation of an IT system that tracked McKinsey engagements, a process to centralize knowledge from each practice area and a resource directory of internal experts." By the end of his tenure in 1988 the firm was growing again and had opened new offices in Rome, Helsinki, São Paulo and Minneapolis.
Fred Gluck served as McKinsey’s managing director from 1988 to 1994. The firm's revenues doubled during his tenure. He organized McKinsey into 72 "islands of activity" that were organized under seven sectors and seven functional areas. By 1997, McKinsey had grown eightfold over its size in 1977. In 1989 the firm tried to acquire talent in IT services through a $10 million purchase of the Information Consulting Group (ICG), but a culture clash caused 151 out of the 254 ICG staff members to leave by 1993.
McKinsey set up "accelerators" in the 1990s, where the firm accepted stock-based reimbursement to help internet Startup company; the company performed more than 1,000 e-commerce projects from 1998-2000 alone. The burst of the dot-com bubble led to a reduction in utilization rates of McKinsey's consultants from 64 to 52 percent. Though McKinsey avoided dismissing any personnel following the decline, the decline in revenues and losses from equity-based payments as stock lost value, together with a recession in 2001, meant the company had to reduce its prices, cut expenses and reduce hiring.
In 2001, McKinsey launched several practices that focused on the public and social sector. It took on many public sector or non profit clients on a pro bono basis. By 2002 McKinsey had invested a $35.8 million budget on knowledge management, up from $8.3 million in 1999. Its revenues were 50, 20, and 30 percent from strategy, operations, and technology consulting, respectively.
In 2003 Ian Davis, the head of the London, UK office, was elected to the position of managing director. Davis promised a return to the company’s core values, after a period in which the firm had expanded rapidly, which some McKinsey consultants felt was a departure from the company's heritage. Also in 2003, the firm established a headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region in Shanghai, China. By 2004, more than 60 percent of McKinsey's revenues were generated outside the U.S. The company started a Social Sector Office (SSO) in 2008, which is divided into three practices: Global Public Health, Economic Development and Opportunity Creation (EDHOC) and Philanthropy. McKinsey does much of its pro-bono work through the SSO, whereas a Business Technology Office (BTO), founded in 1997, provides consulting on technology strategy.
By 2009, the firm consisted of 400 directors (senior partners), up from 151 in 1993. Dominic Barton was elected as Managing Director, a role he was re-elected for in 2012 and 2015.
In February 2018, Kevin Sneader was elected as Managing Director. He will serve a three-year term beginning on July 1 2018.
Senior partner Anil Kumar, described as Gupta's protégé, left the firm after the allegations in 2009 and pleaded guilty in January 2010. While he and other partners had been pitching McKinsey's consulting services to the Galleon Group, Kumar and Rajaratnam reached a private consulting agreement, violating McKinsey's policies on confidentiality. Gupta was convicted in June 2012 of four counts of conspiracy and securities fraud, and acquitted on two counts. In October 2011, he was arrested by the FBI on criminal charges of sharing insider information from these confidential board meetings with Rajaratnam. At least twice, Gupta used a McKinsey phone to call Rajaratnam and retained other perks — an office, assistant, and $6 million retirement salary that year — as a senior partner emeritus.
Mckinsey's then Managing Partner, Dominic Barton issued a statement, following an internal investigation, in which the firm "admitted that it found violations of its professional standards but denied any acts of bribery, corruption, and payments to Trillian."
In September 2017, the Democratic Alliance, South Africa's main opposition political party, laid charges (Case Number: CAS 1156/9/2017) of fraud, racketeering and collusion against McKinsey in terms of Section 21 of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act (Act 12 of 2004). The party alleged that McKinsey ignored red flags from senior South African staff members that deals between Trillian, Eskom and other Gupta-linked companies were not above board. The party said that McKinsey seems to have ignored these warnings as the profits were far too lucrative for McKinsey to pass up. Corruption Watch, a South African non-governmental organisation, also filed a complaint about the controversial contract to the US Department of Justice, alleging that there was a criminal conspiracy between McKinsey, Trillian and Eskom in contravention of US and South African law. It was revealed in January 2018 that criminal complaints were filed against McKinsey & Company by the South African Companies and Intellectual Property Commission. South African prosecutors confirmed that they would enforce the seizing of assets from McKinsey.
South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority concluded in early 2018 that the payments to McKinsey and its local business partner, Trillian, were illegal, involving crimes such as fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering. McKinsey had subsequently been in discussion with Eskom and the National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit to agree on a transparent, legally appropriate process for returning the R1-billion (US$74m) it had been paid - it was confirmed on 6 July 2018 that this had been concluded. Eskom confirmed it received R99.5 million in interest from McKinsey on July 23, 2018. The interest payment covers the two years since McKinsey was paid almost R1-billion in 2016.
The repayment of the near R1-billion illegal fee was not universally well received by South Africans. McKinsey continued to receive negative coverage in South Africa's business press with Sikonathi Mantshantsha, deputy editor of South Africa's Financial Mail magazine writing in an open letter to Mckinsey that "...I find it rich — too rich, in fact — for McKinsey to lecture anyone about the truth, principles and fairness. Let me tell you that the highest standards of ethics, truth and fairness begin with never taking that which does not belong to you in the first place. The second is to not pretend you are helping a client when you clearly are not. The third point is to acknowledge, however hard that may be, when you have done all and any of the above." This was in response to an unpublished email from Mckinsey which Mantshantsha described as making the "baseless and arrogant claim about there being no evidence presented to support the accusations of unethical conduct — possibly also thieving and corruption — that has financially crippled not only SA's electricity provider Eskom, but also the rail and pipeline firm Transnet. And possibly others." Mantshantsha went on to say "as is now common cause, McKinsey has readily admitted that there is no legal basis on which to hold on to the funds."
Information relating to allegedly corrupt practices by McKinsey at Transnet in 2011 and 2012 came to light in late July 2018. The weekly Mail & Guardian newspaper reported that a "...new forensic treasury report shows how controversial former Transnet and Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh enjoyed overseas trips at the expense of international consulting firm McKinsey, which scored multi-billion rand contracts at the state owned entities." The "...report reiterates treasury’s recommendations that Singh’s conduct with regards to McKinsey should be referred to the elite crime-fighting unit, the Hawks, for investigations under the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (Precca). Under Precca, Singh would be investigated for allegations of corruption as the overseas trips alone constitute a form of gratification, which is illegal." The Sunday City Press reported that the forensic report in turn reported that "multinational advisory firm McKinsey paid for Singh to go on lavish international trips to Dubai, Russia, Germany and the UK, after which their contract with Transnet was massively extended.". Mckinsey issued a statement that the allegations were incorrect. Mckinsey stated that "based on an extensive review encompassing interviews, email records and expense documents, our understanding is that McKinsey did not pay for Mr. Singh’s airfare and hotel lodgings in connection with the CFO Forum and the meetings that took place around the CFO Forum in London and elsewhere in 2012 and 2013."
In early August 2018 McKinsey admitted to helping Transnet Group Chief Executive Siyabonga Gama prepare a part of his thesis to obtain an MBA degree from TRIUM, a collaborative MBA programme jointly run by the NYU Stern School of Business, the London School of Economics and Political Science and HEC School of Management. Several researchers at McKinsey’s Johannesburg office were assigned to help outline and prepare Gama’s submission to a joint thesis to which he had to contribute at least two chapters. Despite multiple earlier denials that any corrupt activities had been discovered, a McKinsey’s spokesperson said "... we believe this matter passed the threshold of reasonable suspicion that an offence may have occurred under South African law. As such, we reported it last year to relevant authorities under Section 34(1) of Precca.". The TRIUM Global EMBA official twitter account was reported to have tweeted that "We have been made aware of recent allegations about academic integrity involving a TRIUM alumnus. TRIUM and its three Alliance Schools...take academic integrity issues very seriously."
McKinsey has a de-centralized structure, whereby different offices operate similarly, but independently. Each office is expected to put the overall organization's best interest before the office's, which McKinsey refers to as the "one firm" principle. Consultants and engagements are often shared across offices.
McKinsey consultants are either industry experts, functional experts, or generalists that cover specific geographic regions. The firm has 23 industry practices focused on individual industries, nine functional practices that work in areas like finance, marketing or risk, and five Capabilities and Solutions areas related to technology consulting.
Bower also established the firm's language. McKinsey calls itself "The Firm" and its employees "members". McKinsey says its consultants are not motivated by money. McKinsey & Company tries to keep a "very low profile public image". The firm has a policy against discussing specific client situations. The firm says it does not advertise, though it did advertise allegedly for recruitment purposes in TIME Magazine in 1966. Members are not supposed to "sell" their services. McKinsey's consultants are expected to become a part of the community and recruit clients from church, charitable foundations, board positions and other community involvements.
A 1993 profile story in Fortune Magazine said McKinsey & Company was "the most well-known, most secretive, most high-priced, most prestigious, most consistently successful, most envied, most trusted, most disliked management consulting firm on earth". According to BusinessWeek the firm is "ridiculed, reviled, or revered depending on one's perspective".
McKinsey's culture has often been compared to religion, because of the influence, loyalty and zeal of its members. Fortune Magazine said partners talk to each other with "a sense of personal affection and admiration". An article in The News Observer said McKinsey's internal culture was "collegiate and ruthlessly competitive" and has been described as arrogant. The Wall Street Journal said McKinsey is seen as "elite, loyal and secretive". According to Reuters, it has a "button-down culture" focused on "playing by the rules". According to BusinessWeek, some consultants say the firm has strayed from its original values as it increased in size. The Guardian said at McKinsey "hours are long, expectations high and failure not acceptable".
Enron was the creation of Jeff Skilling, a proud McKinsey consultant of 21 years, who was jailed after the falldown. The Independent states that McKinsey had ‘fully endorsed the dubious accounting methods that caused the company to implode in 2001’, and that ‘the processes and principles he Jeff allowed were very McKinsey. The consultants used Enron as their sandbox.' McKinsey does not disclose the nature of its relationship with Enron other than to confirm it was a client. The Guardian reported that Enron used McKinsey on 20 different projects. However, it must be noted that McKinsey has consistently denied to have given Enron advice on financing issues or that it had suspicions the company was using improper accounting methods. Nor has it been summoned before the Department of Justice to explain its role. Nevertheless, according to the Guardian, ‘Enronitis is virulent’.
McKinsey is said to have played a significant role in the 2008 financial crisis by promoting the securitization of mortgage assets and encouraged the banks to fund their balance sheets with debt, driving up risk, which ‘poisoned the global financial system and precipitated the 2008 credit meltdown'.Ben Chu, McKinsey: How does it always get away with it? Independent, 7 February 2014 Furthermore, McKinsey advised Allstate Insurance to purposefully give low offers to claimants. The Huffington Post revealed that the strategy was to make claims "so expensive and so time-consuming that lawyers would start refusing to help clients." Next to this, 2016 McKinsey partner Navdeep Arora was convicted for illegally depleting State Farm of over $500.000 over a period of 8 years, in collaboration with a State Farm employee.
The most recent case of indirect involvement constitutes Valeant. A Canadian pharmaceutical company, investigated by the SEC. Valeant has been alleged of improper accounting, and that it used predatory price hikes to boost growth. The Financial Times states that ‘Valeant’s downfall is not exactly McKinsey’s fault but its fingerprints are everywhere.’ Three out of six senior executives were recent ex-McKinsey employees, as well as the chair of the ‘talent and compensation’ committee.
Nevertheless, it must be kept in mind that McKinsey didn’t single-handedly cause the credit meltdown or the Enron scandal. The Independent says that McKinsey ‘just partly facilitated them, and blessed the actions of incompetent and greedy managements with their slick charts and beguiling jargon.' Furthermore, other defenders of McKinsey claim that the firm merely advises, and is not a decision-maker.
McKinsey & Company has traditionally charged approximately 25 percent more than competing firms with an average project of one million dollars. Prices were reduced in the economic slump following the dot-com bubble. According to The Globe and Mail, McKinsey clients estimate that the firm's advice turns out to be poor in retrospect about 10 to 20 percent of the time.
A typical McKinsey engagement can last between two and twelve months and involves three to six McKinsey consultants. An engagement is usually managed by a generalist that covers the region the client's headquarters are located in and specialists that have either an industry or functional expertise. Unlike some competing consulting firms, McKinsey does not hold a policy against working for multiple competing companies (although individual consultants are barred from doing so). This has sometimes led to accusations of sharing confidential information or re-packaging a competitor's tactics as best practices.
McKinsey's curve predicts negative cost abatement strategies, which has been controversial among economists. The International Association for Energy Economics said in The Energy Journal that McKinsey's cost-curve was popular among policymakers, because it suggests they can take "bold action towards improving energy efficiency without imposing costs on society."
In a 2010 report, the Rainforest Foundation UK said McKinsey's cost curve methodology was misleading for policy decisions regarding the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program. The report argued that McKinsey's calculations exclude certain implementation and governance costs, which makes it favor industrial uses of forests while discouraging subsistence projects. Greenpeace said the curve has allowed Indonesia and Guyana to win financial incentives from the United Nations by creating inflated estimates of current deforestation so they could demonstrate reductions in comparison. McKinsey said they had made it clear in the cost-curve publications that cost curves do not translate "mechanically" into policy implications and that policymakers should consider "many other factors" before introducing new laws.
According to The Observer, McKinsey recruits recent graduates and "imbues them with a religious conviction" in the firm, then culls through them with its "up-or-out" policy. The "up or out" policy, which was established in 1951, means that consultants that are not being promoted within the firm are asked to leave. About one-fifth of McKinsey's consultants depart under the up or out policy each year. McKinsey's practice of hiring recent graduates and the "up-or-out" philosophy, were originally based on Marvin Bower's experiences at the law firm Jones Day in the 1930s, as well as the "Cravath system" used at the law firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore.
A McKinsey book, In Search of Excellence, was published in 1982.
A 1997 article and a book it published in 2001 on "The War for Talent"
prompted academics and the business community to start focusing more on talent management.
McKinsey consultants published Creative Destruction in 2001. The book suggested that CEOs need to be willing to change or rebuild a company, rather than protect what they have created. It found that out of the first S&P 500 list from 1957, only 74 were still in business by 1998. The New York Times said it "makes a cogent argument that in times of rampant, uncertain change ... established companies are handcuffed by success." In 2009, McKinsey consultants published The Alchemy of Growth, which established three "horizons" for growth: core enhancements, new growth platforms and options.
In February 2011, McKinsey surveyed 1,300 US private-sector employers on their expected response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 30 percent of respondents said they anticipated they would probably or definitely stop offering employer sponsored health coverage after the ACA went into effect in 2014. These results, published in June 2011 in the McKinsey e-Quarterly, became "a useful tool for critics of the ACA and a deep annoyance for defenders of the law" according to an article in TIME Magazine. Supporters of healthcare reform argued the survey far surpassed estimates by the Congressional Budget Office and insisted that McKinsey disclose the survey's methodology. Two weeks after publishing the survey results, McKinsey released the contents of the survey including the questionnaire and 206-pages of survey data. In its accompanying statement, McKinsey said it was intended to capture the attitude of employers at a certain point in time, not make a prediction.
McKinsey was a major player in the efficiency boom in the 1920s, the postwar gigantism of the 1940s, the rationalization of government and rise of marketing in the 1950s, the age of corporate influence in the 1960s, the restructuring of America and rise of strategy in the 1970s, the massive growth in information technology in the 1980s, the globalization of the 1990s, and the boom-bust-and-cleanup of the 2000s.
McKinsey & Company's founder, James O. McKinsey, introduced the concept of budget planning as a management framework in his fifth book Budgetary Control in 1922.
In the 1940s, McKinsey helped many corporations convert into wartime production for World War II. It also helped organize NASA into an organization that relies heavily on contractors in 1958.
In the 1970s and 1980s, McKinsey helped European companies change their organizational structure to M-form (Multidivisional Form), which organizes the company into semi-autonomous divisions that function around a product, industry or customer, rather than a function or expertise.
A 2002 article in BusinessWeek said that a series of bankruptcies of McKinsey clients, such as Swissair, Kmart, and Global Crossing, in the 1990s raised questions as to whether McKinsey was responsible or had a lapse in judgement. McKinsey recommended that Swissair avoid high operating costs in its home country by developing partnerships with airlines based in other regions. In order to attract partners, Swissair acquired more than $1 billion in shares of other airlines, many of which were failing. This led to huge losses for Swissair.
Prior to the Enron scandal, McKinsey helped it shift from an oil and gas production company into an electric commodities trader, which led to significant growth in profits and revenues. According to The Independent, there was "no suggestion that McKinsey was complicit in the subsequent scandal, but critics say the arrogance of Enron's leaders is emblematic of the McKinsey culture." The government did not investigate McKinsey, who said they did not provide advice on Enron's accounting, but some questioned whether McKinsey knew about Enron's accounting problems or ignored warning signs.
Former Financial Times journalist Duff McDonald said McKinsey's confidentiality policy often prevents the public from becoming informed about the firm's work, except after it is exposed through lawsuits or investigations. 13,000 McKinsey documents were released as part of a lawsuit against Allstate, which showed that McKinsey recommended the company reduce payouts to insurance claimants by offering low settlements, delaying processing to wear out claimants through attrition, and fighting customers that protest in court. Allstate's profits doubled over ten years after adopting McKinsey's strategy, but it also led to lawsuits alleging they were cheating claimants out of legitimate insurance claims.