McKinsey & Company is a worldwide management consulting firm. It conducts qualitative and quantitative analysis in order to evaluate management decisions across the 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 and 7,700 by the early 2000s. 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.
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 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." This statement was rejected by a number of civil society organisations and opinion makers. Eusebius McKaiser, a radio talk show host and former Mckinsey employee said, of Bartons' statement in an article headlined "Why Mckinsey is not Innocent", that "I sometimes wonder whether corporations think we are a bunch of fools incapable of seeing excrement for what it is."
The Daily Maverick published an article entitled "Curious and Curiouser: McKinsey’s astonishing attempt at self-exoneration" in which journalist Pauli van Wyk wrote that "McKinsey’s “investigation” found nothing more to say about its dealings with Eskom and the Gupta-linked company Trillian than what the firm has already admitted to.". The Financial Mail, a weekly financial magazine, published an editorial strap-lined "McKinsey's tone deaf fudge" entitled "McKinsey: Would I lie to you?" describing the list of excuses provided by Barton in his statement as improbable and that the statement did not go nearly far enough to explain how Mckinsey and Trillian earned R1.6bn in 6 months without a lawful contract. The article went on to describe Mckinsey's behaviour as being, if not corruption, then certainly greed and profiteering.
The Southern African Anglican Archbishop issued a statement saying that “Despite the intense focus on the activities of companies suspected of looting state resources, McKinsey ... took action not as a result of their own internal ethical guidelines but in response to pressure from civil society and the media,”.
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."
McKinsey is considered one of the most prestigious and most expensive management consulting firms. In Dangerous Company, journalists James O'Shea and Charles Madigan said McKinsey is the most influential, most reputable management consulting firm in the industry and that it carries the most weight with corporate boards.
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.
According to Financial Times journalist Duff McDonald, as of September 2013, the firm receives 225,000 employment applications annually and about one percent—or 2,200—of the applicants are hired. There is an ongoing debate within the firm on how fast it should grow. According to a report by WetFeet, McKinsey "offers some of the best experience, opportunity and professional development in the industry" and it is prestigious to have McKinsey on a resume. However, it said the work environment is demanding, involving extensive travel and long hours. Consulting Magazine's 2007 list of "Best Consulting Firms to Work For" ranked McKinsey as number 3.
New undergraduate McKinsey recruits are paid about $80,000 a year, while senior partners are estimated to earn $1–$3 million or more. According to Fortune Magazine, some McKinsey staff earn more than the CEOs they consult.
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. Its three horizons became adopted widely, because it gave executives a simple vocabulary about business growth.
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.
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.