In 2019, in the magazine Current Affairs, a former McKinsey consultant wrote, “There is no secret society shaping every major decision and determining the direction of human history. There is, however, McKinsey & Company.” My guest on the program today has spent years doing a deep-dive into the prestigious consulting company — and he’s here to talk about what he’s learned about its influence around the world, including here in Canada.
Michael Forsythe is an investigative reporter for The New York Times, and co-author of When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm, which is out in paperback next week. (You can read McKinsey’s response to the book below.)
Michael Forsythe is my guest, today on Lean Out. Transcript to come for paid subscribers.
October 4, 2022 — We believe that business, when managed well and responsibly, is a force for good. Across virtually every metric, from life expectancy to income levels to educational attainment, business has spurred growth around the world, lifting more than a billion people out of poverty and driving innovations needed to confront challenges like pandemics and climate change. We have contributed to these successes through our work supporting thousands of clients each year.
A recently published book fundamentally misrepresents our firm and our work. The book also seeks to associate our firm with events — like the 2008 financial crisis, a Major League Baseball cheating scandal, or safety incidents at a theme park — that we simply had nothing to do with. Perhaps this is why the book contains more than a dozen disclaimers, across these and other issues, acknowledging that our work did not cause or was not associated with the trend or event for which the authors criticize us.
We stand by our record of helping clients accelerate sustainable and inclusive growth for their organizations and the world. In recent years, our clients contributed 20% of global GDP growth and 80% of reported reductions in CO2 emissions. We have helped clients scale up global ventilator production and deploy COVID-19 vaccines, decarbonize power generation, fund landmark investments in carbon removal technologies, and support refugees and rebuilding in Ukraine.
Despite the stereotype some have about consultants, McKinsey is typically hired to help our clients grow their businesses and expand their workforces: our clients add one million jobs per year, and we have upskilled or reskilled a million more individuals through our work and pro bono efforts. Indeed, we helped the authors’ own newspaper, The New York Times, develop the digital subscription model that has made it one of the most successful media companies.
When we have made mistakes, we acknowledged them and made changes. We apologized for our past work on opioids and were the first company to work with U.S. State Attorneys General to help communities affected by the crisis. More broadly, we have invested more than $600 million to upgrade our legal, risk, and compliance capabilities, and hired some of the world’s top experts to lead those teams. We now follow a global client selection policy more rigorous than any other in our industry.
It is telling but not surprising that in a nearly 300-page book, the authors devote few sentences to these extensive changes. Neither do they make clear to readers that virtually all the events they describe took place years and sometimes decades before our firm implemented its new client service policy and comprehensively upgraded our risk and governance teams and capabilities.
As we approach our firm’s second century, we aim to set the standard for accountability and compliance in our profession, and we welcome good-faith criticism or advice for how we can do better. We will not, however, let fear of criticism stop us from undertaking work that we believe makes a positive difference.
This means we will continue to work with clients in hard-to-abate industries like energy, shipping and agriculture, because society cannot deliver necessary carbon reductions without engaging with the industries that need to transition the most. We will keep working in the public sector, even when it brings scrutiny, because we believe our firm's expertise helps our government clients deliver better outcomes for those who depend on them. And, because global challenges do not stop at borders — and addressing these challenges will require the best, global teams — we will continue to operate as a proudly global firm, including by responsibly serving clients in geographies where some have criticized our presence.
For nearly 100 years, our firm has worked hard to put other institutions’ success before our own. Though we are not perfect, we believe this mission is as important as ever. It is why our more than 40,000 people come to work every day to help our clients — and business at large — deliver lasting value for their shareholders, employees, customers, and communities around the world.
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