McKinsey & Company is the most prestigious consulting company in the world, earning billions of dollars in fees from major corporations and governments who turn to it to maximize their profits and enhance efficiency. McKinsey's vaunted statement of values asserts that its role is to make the world a better place, and its reputation for excellence and discretion attracts top talent from universities around the world. But what does it actually do?
In a masterpiece of investigative journalism, Bogdanich and Forsythe pierce McKinsey’s 'culture of secrecy' — a process they describe as 'akin to chasing shadows' — to expose conflicts of interest, corruption, hypocrisy. and strategic blunders that read like a prosecutor’s indictment ... The fact that neither the regulators, the public, nor most of McKinsey’s employees were aware of these sordid episodes until the media threw them into the limelight is testament to the authors’ prowess as investigative reporters ... The main thing missing from this great book is context. Determining whether these violations represented a minor part of McKinsey’s commitments or played a central role in McKinsey’s operations would have provided a better understanding of the magnitude of the wrongdoings. With only passing references to Boston Consulting Group and other competitors, it’s also hard to gauge whether these ethical flaws have made McKinsey an outlier in the industry.
... deeply reported ... the authors of When McKinsey Comes to Town are not subtle about their views. The portrait this book creates is one of a company chasing profits, spreading the gospel of downsizing and offshoring, its leaders virtually unmoored from any guiding principles or moral code. If there is a pro-McKinsey case to be made — one imagines it would be based on arguments about promoting 'efficiency' in the economy — it won’t be found here ... Yet laying out McKinsey’s most morally compromised assignments, like a series of damning Harvard Business School case studies, creates a clear and devastating picture of the management philosophy that helped drive the decline of a stable American middle class over the last 50 years.
It’s a pleasure to see a couple of serious journalists set about giving McKinsey a good kicking, for the firm is so irritatingly smug ... The thrust of the book’s attack on the firm, though, is not just that McKinsey has made individual mistakes, but that while claiming to make the world a better place, it has made it a worse one. The argument doesn’t quite persuade. Certainly, McKinsey has worked for some companies, such as tobacco and fossil-fuel companies, that harm people and the planet; but since the authors claim that its customers include most of America’s Fortune 500 that’s not really surprising. Certainly, it has encouraged firms to cut costs, but there are no smoking guns to establish its responsibility for the deaths at US Steel, Disney or anywhere else. Certainly, plenty of its customers have sacked lots of workers after it has given them advice. But many firms are inefficiently managed and need to fire people. McKinsey’s job is not to tell them to be nice to their workers and generous to their customers but to help them beat the competition ... To accept the book’s argument, the reader must buy into the notion that modern capitalism is bad, and therefore a firm that makes it work better is making the world worse ... The authors’ politics lead to selective reporting ... the line that McKinsey is a force for evil precludes examination of another, possibly more fruitful, argument: that it doesn’t make much difference, either for good or for ill. Bosses and governments hire it to justify things they wanted to do anyway ... Given its vast fees, the question of whether McKinsey is a waste of money would reward investigation. It might also provide some detail, which the book lacks, about what goes on inside the firm. After 300 pages, McKinsey remains a bit of a mystery to the reader. Had the book concluded that the firm’s expensive consultants are pointless rather than wicked, it would be just as damning and far more annoying to its target.