McKinsey & Company is a management consulting firm, founded in 1926 by University of Chicago professor James O. McKinsey, that advises on strategic management to corporations, governments, and other organizations. McKinsey is the oldest and largest of the "Big Three" management consultancies (MBB), the world's third largest strategy consulting firms by revenue. It has consistently been recognized by Vault as the most prestigious consulting firm in the world.
Under the leadership of Marvin Bower, McKinsey expanded into Europe during the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, McKinsey's Fred Gluck—along with Boston Consulting Group's Bruce Henderson, Bill Bain at Bain & Company, and Harvard Business School's Michael Porter—transformed corporate culture. A 1975 publication by McKinsey's John L. Neuman introduced the business practice of "overhead value analysis" that contributed to a layoff trend that eliminated many jobs in middle management.
/ref> and was one of the first management consultancies to recruit a limited number of advanced candidates (e.g. physicians, lawyers, PhDs) with deep field expertise and who have demonstrated business acumen and analytical skills.
McKinsey publishes a business magazine, the McKinsey Quarterly, and its consultants have authored many books. The firm has been associated with a number of notable scandals including the collapse of Enron in 2001 and the 2007–2008 financial crisis. It has also drawn controversy for involvement with Purdue Pharma, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and authoritarian regimes.
Marvin Bower is credited with establishing McKinsey's values and principles in 1937, based on his experience as a lawyer. The firm developed an "up or out" policy, where consultants who are not promoted are asked to leave. In 1937, Bower established a set of rules: that consultants should put the interests of clients before McKinsey's revenues, not discuss client affairs, tell the truth even if it means challenging the client's opinion, and only perform work that is both necessary and that McKinsey can do well. Bower created the firm's principle of only working with CEOs, which was later expanded to CEOs of subsidiaries and divisions. He also created McKinsey's principle of only working with clients the firm felt would follow its advice. Bower also established the firm's language.
In 1932, the company opened its second office in New York City. In 1935, McKinsey left the firm temporarily to serve as the Chairman and CEO of client Marshall Field's.
Also in 1935, McKinsey merged with accounting firm Scovell, Wellington & Company, 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.
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 1975, John L. Neuman, then a McKinsey consultant, published "Make Overhead Cuts That Last" in Harvard Business Review, in which he introduced new rules for scientific management such as "overhead valuation analysis" (OVA)
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.
In 1994, Rajat Gupta became the first non-American-born partner to be elected as the firm's managing director. By the end of his tenure, McKinsey had grown from 2,900 to 7,700 staff and 58 to 84 locations. He opened new international offices in cities such as Moscow, Beijing and Bangkok. Continuing the structure developed by prior directors, Gupta also created 16 industry groups charged with understanding specific markets and instituted a three-term limit for the managing director. McKinsey created practice areas for manufacturing and business technology in the late 1990s.
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 to 2000 alone.
An October 1, 2000 article in the New York Times described the compulsory mini-courses that McKinsey—and its two largest rivals Boston Consulting and Bain—offered their "hyper-educated" young new recruits. Once completed, these newly certified management consultants would begin their work of "advising the executives of multibillion-dollar companies" on "projects" not related to their academic backgrounds"—"lawyers would help packaged-foods companies develop new products, and physicists would tell Internet start-ups how to stand out from the crowd."
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.
In 2003, Ian Davis, the head of the London 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. 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.
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 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.
In February 2018, Kevin Sneader was elected as Managing Director. He is serving a three-year term that began on July 1, 2018.
McKinsey has consulted for multiple cities, states and government organizations during the 2019 coronavirus pandemic. During the first four months of the pandemic, McKinsey obtained in excess of $100 million in consulting work, including no-bid contracts with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and Air Force. The reopening guidelines for Florida's Miami-Dade County, produced with McKinsey's input, were criticized by local media and officials for complexity and lack of clarity.
By 2013, McKinsey was described as having a de-centralized structure, whereby different offices operate similarly, but independently.
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).
By 2009, less than half of the firm's recruits were business majors; by 1999, recruits had advanced degrees in science, medicine, engineering or law.
According to a 1997 article in The Observer, McKinsey recruited recent graduates and "imbued them with a religious conviction" in the firm, then culled through them with its "up-or-out" policy. The "up or out" policy, which was established in 1951, meant that consultants that were not being promoted within the firm were asked to leave. By 1997, about one-fifth of McKinsey's consultants departed 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.
In their 1997 book Dangerous company : management consultants and the businesses they save and ruin, authors James O'Shea and Charles Madigan said that McKinsey's culture had often been compared to religion, because of the influence, loyalty and zeal of its members. The firm has a policy against discussing specific client situations. A September 1997 The News Observer story said that McKinsey's internal culture was "collegiate and ruthlessly competitive" and has been described as arrogant. Ethan Rasiel's 1999 book entitled The McKinsey Way, described a culture at McKinsey's whereby members were not supposed to "sell" their services.
The Sunday Times wrote that McKinsey was a pioneer in the industry— the "first firm to hire MBA graduates from the top business schools to staff its projects, rather than relying on older industry personnel." They were still trying to keep a "very low profile public image" in 2005. That year, an article in The Guardian said that McKinsey "hours are long, expectations high and failure not acceptable". According to an October 2009 Reuters article, the firm had a "button-down culture" focused on "playing by the rules". In his 2013 book, The Firm: the Story of McKinsey and its Secret Influence on American Business, Duff McDonald, described how McKinsey's consultants were expected to become a part of the community and recruit clients from church, charitable foundations, board positions and other community involvements. McDonald wrote that McKinsey calls itself "The Firm" and its employees "members". BusinessWeek summarized The Firm's description of McKinsey's as a "fading empire, where hubris and changing times have diminished the firm's statures."
In his February 2020 in-depth article in The Atlantic, Daniel Markovits argues that McKinsey promotes "intellect and elite credentials" and "Meritocrats" over "directly relevant experience".
The firm responded that "MIO and McKinsey employ separate staffs. MIO staff have no nonpublic knowledge of McKinsey clients. For the vast majority of assets under management, decisions about specific investments are made by third-party managers".
In his 2010 publication, , business journalist Walter Kiechel traced the roots of a profound change in corporate management to "four mavericks" in the 1960s—Fred Gluck at McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group's Bruce Henderson, Bill Bain at Bain & Company, and Harvard Business School professor, Michael Porter.
McKinsey has been either directly involved in, or closely associated with, a number of notable scandals, involving Enron in 2001, Galleon in 2009, Valeant in 2015, Saudi Arabia in 2018, China in 2018, ICE in 2019, an internal conflict of interest in 2019 and Purdue Pharma in 2019, among others. By 2019, major news outlets, including The New York Times and ProPublica, had raised concerns about McKinsey's business practices.
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). Thirty 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.
Since 1990, McKinsey has been publishing , a textbook on valuation.
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.
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.
In the 1980s, AT&T reduced investments in cell towers due to McKinsey's prediction that there would only be 900,000 cell phone subscribers by 2000. According to The Firm this was "laughably off the mark" from the 109 million cellular subscribers by 2000. At the time cell phones were bulky and expensive. The firm helped the Dutch government facilitate a turnaround for Hoogovens, the world's largest steel company as of 2013, through a $1 billion bankruptcy bailout. It also implemented a turnaround for the city of Glasgow, which had problems with unemployment and crime. McKinsey created the corporate structure for NationsBank, when it was still a small company known as North Carolina National Bank. McKinsey was hired by General Motors to do a large-scale re-organization to help it compete with Japanese auto-makers. The book The Firm said it was an "unmitigated disaster" because McKinsey focused on corporate structure, whereas GM needed to compete with Japanese automakers through manufacturing process improvement. A McKinsey consultant said GM did not follow their advice.
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 and even bankruptcy for Swissair.
As part of a lawsuit against Allstate, 13,000 McKinsey documents were released, showing that McKinsey recommended that Allstate 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.
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. The Wall Street Journal questioned McKinsey's "liability" and its "close relationship with Enron", and a 2002 BusinessWeek article suggested that they had ignored warning signs.
In his July 2002 in-depth BusinessWeek article on the aftermath of the Enron scandal, John Bryne wrote that McKinsey had been a "key architect of the strategic thinking that made Enron a Wall Street darling. In books, articles, and essays, its partners regularly stamped their imprimatur on many of Enron's strategies and practices, helping to position the energy giant as a corporate innovator worthy of emulation. The firm may not be the subject of any investigations, but its close involvement with Enron raises the question of whether McKinsey, like some other professional firms, ignored warning flags in order to keep an important account." BusinessWeek described how McKinsey's culture had changed, as the "number of partners grew from 427 to 891" making it a "less personal place". According to the article, "some current and former McKinsey consultants" said that McKinsey had lost their "ingrained values" that used to guide the firm. Citing the example of the dot-com bubble, McKinsey had begun to have "less prestigious companies" as clients and had allowed "its focus on building agenda-shaping relationships with top management at leading companies to slip." As well, "there was a noticeable tilt toward bringing in revenue at the expense of developing knowledge." McKinsey denied this.
The consultancy's alleged failings included not soliciting the views of inmates or clinic staff; using an encrypted messaging app that deletes messages, allegedly to avoid transparency; initiatives involving the expanded use of Tasers, shotguns and K9 patrol dogs; replacing troublesome inmates with more accommodating ones in the test area, which skewed the data in favor of the project; the use of ineffective data-analytics software; and spreadsheet errors that inflated the baseline rate of violence, against which the project was measured.
On February 12, 2019, the European Parliament Greens/EFA group presented a motion for a resolution on the situation on women's rights defenders in Saudi Arabia denouncing the involvement of foreign public relations companies in representing Saudi Arabia and handling its public image, particularly McKinsey & Company.
Corruption Watch, a South African non-governmental organization, 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.
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 payment for the overseas trips alone would 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." On 11 October 2019 the United States Treasury department announced that it had imposed wide-ranging financial sanctions on three Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh (aka Tony) and their business associate Salim Essa under the United States Magnitsky Act.
The Economist reported in November 2019, that McKinsey's scandals, such as the 2016 South Africa scandal and the allegations of conflict of interest tied to its $12.7bn investment affiliate, McKinsey Investment Office (MIO), are relatively recent in terms of its long history. The article said that McKinsey's legal challenges facing McKinsey's new global managing partner, Kevin Sneader, may be related to the company's fast-paced growth with an increase of 2,200 partners compared to 2009. During that same time period, the number of employees increased to 30,000 worldwide from 17,000.
In 2020 McKinsey representatives giving testimony to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture placed blame for the firm's involvement in the corruption scandal on former McKinsey partner, Vikas Sagar.