Rethinking McKinsey

Disrupting the management priesthood

WHEN BUSINESSMEN talk to partners of McKinsey, the high priests of management consultancy, it is like Catholics going to confession. They reveal all. They expect confidentiality. And whether or not it changes behaviour, the act itself is good for the soul. In this era of corporate unease, over everything from the next recession to climate change, executives are lining up at the confessional. But McKinsey, too, has some soul-searching to do. Its industry, estimated to be worth $300bn, is, like those of its clients, being transformed. And as its most revered—and hermetic—standard bearer, it is under more scrutiny than ever before.

Kevin Sneader, who took over as global managing partner last year, has lots on his plate. Recent years have been uncomfortable. Until a decade ago no McKinseyite had ever been sued for securities-law violations. In 2012 its former managing partner, Rajat Gupta, was convicted of insider-trading committed after he left the firm. Then in 2016 McKinsey was embroiled in a scandal in South Africa after it worked with Trillian, a local consulting firm owned by an associate of the controversial Gupta family (no relation to Mr Gupta). Mr Sneader has repeatedly apologised.

More recently it has faced allegations that its work on behalf of companies in bankruptcy in America represents a conflict of interest, because its $12.7bn investment affiliate,…