McKinsey & Company, Inc. is an American global management consulting firm that focuses on solving issues of concern to senior management. McKinsey serves as an adviser to many businesses, governments, and institutions and is consistently considered the most prestigious consulting firm in the world.[3][4][5][6]


1920s and 1930s

McKinsey & Company was founded in 1926 in Chicago by James McKinsey under the name James O. McKinsey & Company.[7][8] Previously, James McKinsey served as an accounting professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and is considered the father of managerial accounting.[9] Advocates for the concepts introduced in McKinsey's book, Budgetary Control, were among McKinsey’s first clients.[9][10] The book founded the practice of managerial accounting.[9]

Mr. McKinsey hired Tom Kearney and Marvin Bower in the early 1930s.[7][11] In 1935,[12] In 1935, Marshall Field's became a client and in 1935 convinced McKinsey to leave the firm to accept a temporary position and become its Chairman and CEO, in order to help the company through a restructuring.[10][13] After McKinsey left, the remaining members of the firm agreed to merge with the accounting firm Scovell, Wellington & Company in 1935, leading to the creation of McKinsey, Wellington & Co.[12]

In 1937 James O. McKinsey died unexpectedly of pneumonia, which led to the division of McKinsey, Wellington & Company in 1939. C. Oliver Wellington returned to manage Scovell, Wellington & Company full-time and took the accounting practice with him. The management engineering practice was split into two affiliated firms: McKinsey & Company and McKinsey, Kearney & Company. McKinsey & Company was led by Guy Crockett, Dick Fletcher, and Marvin Bower.[citation needed] Guy Crockett became Managing Partner of McKinsey & Company, running day-to-day operations, while Marvin Bower handled conceptual and long-term strategy as Crockett’s deputy.[12] Bower would lead the company for 30 years with a focus on being "professional" in looks, tone, and conduct.[14]

McKinsey & Company is credited with creating modern management consulting as a professional service.[12][15] Marvin Bower is credited with shaping the firm’s values and principles.[16] Bower’s idea was to create a management consulting firm working with senior executives with the same professional standards he had witnessed as a lawyer for the firm of Jones Day Reavis & Pogue,[17] in Cleveland.[10]

In New York, Bower established the firm’s core principles in a 1937 memo.[12][18] According to Fortune Magazine:

"A McKinsey consultant is supposed to put the interests of his client ahead of increasing The Firm's revenues; he should keep his mouth shut about his client's affairs; he should tell the truth and not be afraid to challenge a client's opinion; and he should only agree to perform work that he feels is both necessary and something McKinsey can do well. Along with the professional code, Bower insisted on professional, as opposed to business, language, which is why McKinsey is always The Firm, never the company; jobs are engagements; and The Firm has a practice, not a business."[10]

1940s and 1950s

In the early 1940s, Bower placed more emphasis on persuading clients to accept and act on its recommendations. In 1945 the firm established a New Engagement and Executive Relations Guide.[12]

In 1950 Guy Crockett stepped down as managing director and Bower served as the firm’s managing director until 1967. The firm’s profit-sharing, executive and planning committees were formed in 1951.[12] In 1953 McKinsey began hiring consultants straight out of business school. Bower decided to hire and train primarily young graduates at a time when most consultants were mature executives and experienced professionals.[18] The postwar period was a time of expansion for McKinsey and the economy in general. McKinsey's client base grew to include several bluechip, defense contractors, government, and military organizations.[16]

The “up or out” philosophy, which says that consultants should find a role outside of the firm if they are not advancing, was first implemented in 1954[citation needed] after years of internal consensus building. The move was internally controversial. The McKinsey ownership plan was adopted to improve incentives in 1956 and more guidelines were formalized on profit sharing, promotions, and elections. After seven years of deliberation, McKinsey turned itself into a private corporation with shares exclusive to McKinsey employees. McKinsey’s planning committee developed a plan for international expansion and established an office in London in 1959.[12] By 1952 McKinsey & Company formally parted ways with McKinsey, Kearney & Company, which was renamed A.T. Kearney & Company.

1960 - 1990

In 1964 McKinsey started publishing the McKinsey Quarterly, a business journal written primarily by McKinsey consultants.[19] In the 1970s, McKinsey was faced with a loss of market-share[16] and began investing in what it called "systematic knowledge-building".[10]

After stepping down as managing director in 1967, Marvin Bower sold his shares back to McKinsey believing this would give young partners a sense of ownership in the firm.[10] Future consultants followed his example.[16] In 1976, Ron Daniel was elected managing director and served until 1988.[20] Daniel worked for McKinsey for almost fifty years and led the New York office.[20] From 1977 to 1981, a group of 15-20 partners organized to address the issue of clients not acting on McKinsey’s advice.[21]

Fred Gluck was McKinsey’s managing director from 1988 to 1994.[citation needed] Under Gluck’s tenure, McKinsey increased its international focus by opening 17 new offices outside the United States. He also created an internal network for sharing knowledge and experience among McKinsey consultants[22] and spent $50 million on knowledge building.[10] Over two decades McKinsey & Company grew eightfold.[17] In 1989 the firm acquired the Information Consulting Group (ICG), but a culture clash[clarification needed] caused many ICG employees to leave.[16]


In 1990, the firm established an economics think tank on globalization, corporate strategy and governance called the McKinsey Global Institute.[citation needed] Firm revenues more than doubled from 1993 to 2004 with 20 new offices and twice as many employees.[16] In 1994 Rajat Gupta became the first non-American-born partner to be elected as the firm’s managing director.[23] By the end of his tenure, McKinsey had grown from 2,900 to 7,000 consultants, who were working across 82 offices in over 40 countries.[24][25]

In the 1990s, Anil Kumar set up “accelerators” for smaller internet startups to get started, accepting stock-based reimbursement for its services.[26][25] The Business Technology Office was started in 1997 to focus on IT consulting and was growing at an annualized rate of 30% by 2003.[16]

2000 onward

Recently McKinsey has focused more on expansion in Asia and developing practices focused on the public and social sectors. In 2001, McKinsey launched several practices that focused on the public and social sector, which included taking on hundreds of nonprofit or public sector clients on a pro bono basis.[16] By 2002 McKinsey invested a $35.8 million budget on knowledge management, up from $8.3 million in 1999. As the firm rebounded from the dot-com bust, its recruiting efforts substantially expanded in 2003 with 1,600 new hires, a 60 percent increase over the prior year.[16]

In 2003, Ian Davis, the head of the London office, was elected to managing director.[27] Davis promised a return to the company’s core values, after a period in which some felt the firm had expanded too quickly and strayed from its heritage.[28] Davis was the first managing director to run the firm outside the US from his London office. By 2004, more than 60 percent of revenues came from outside the US and consultants were citizens of 95 countries. In 2003, the firm established a headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region in Shanghai.[16] By 2009 the firm had 400 directors (senior partners), up from 151 in 1993.[10][29]

Dominic Barton was elected as Managing Director in 2009 and re-elected in 2012.[29] He had previously been selected by Ian Davis to lead McKinsey’s offices in Asia.[27][30] Barton has suggested companies take a longer-term view and avoid “quarterly capitalism” he says took root before the financial crisis.[31] The firm also conducted research and advocated for a greater role for women in business during this time period.[32][33]

Organization and administration

The firm, while formally organized as a corporation, functions as a partnership in all important respects. Its managing director is elected for a three-year term by the firm's other senior partners. Each managing director can serve a maximum of three terms, a policy instituted by Gupta. At a strategic level, a number of committees are charged with the development of policies and making critical decisions. Committee memberships, senior roles, and the managing director position all rotate regularly among the firm's senior partners and directors.[34]

Former managing director Rajat Gupta explains McKinsey's structure as follows:

It is very much, in many dimensions, like an academic organization. We have senior partners who are very much like tenured faculty: they are leaders in their own right. [...] We have about 80 to 100 performance cells -- a geographic office or industry practice or functional practice. They are very much autonomous and they are not organized in any hierarchy beyond that. We don't have any regional structures or sectoral structures. So all these performance units, in a theoretical sense, report to me, which means they don't report to anybody, because nobody can have 80 or 100 people reporting to them.[34]

The firm operates under a practice of "up or out", meaning that consultants must either advance in their consulting careers within a pre-defined timeframe or leave the firm. "25% of the firm is new every year," Gupta says, "so half the people have less than two to three years' tenure in the firm, and their values need to be reinforced." All senior roles rotate among the directors (senior partners).[34][35]

McKinsey has about 9,000 consultants in 97 locations in 55 countries,[36] working with more than 90% of the 100 leading global corporations and two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 list. Forbes estimated the firm's 2009 revenues at $6.6 billion.[37] The notion of company growth has been controversial from the 1970s as the firm began its global expansion; McKinsey opened many new offices under Rajat Gupta's tenure in the late 1990s. The election of British-born Ian Davis as Gupta's successor was seen as "a return to McKinsey's heritage".[38]

This philosophy has come under increased scrutiny with the Galleon case, with some questioning whether the firm is a discreet broker of confidential or even inside information marketed as "best practices".[39]

Notable longtime McKinsey partners include: Dominic Barton; managing director, Ron Daniel; senior partner emeritus, Ian Davis; senior partner emeritus, Anil Kumar; former senior partner, Rajat Gupta; senior partner emeritus and Michael Patsalos-Fox; senior partner.

Office locations

McKinsey & Company has about 100 offices in over 50 countries.[40] Offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco were established in the 1940s.[41][42] The first international office was opened in London in 1959.[1][43] Other offices in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland were opened in the 1960s.[41] The firm also has offices across Asia, Australia, Africa, South America and the Middle East.[40]


Bower broke with then-common industry practice by hiring recent graduates from the best business schools rather than among experienced managers.[44] Today the firm is among the top recruiters of graduates of the top-ranked business programs in the US and overseas, in addition to hiring a significant number of people with other advanced degrees in science, medicine, engineering and law. The firm is notable for the number of Rhodes Scholars and Marshall Scholars it is able to attract.[45][46] McKinsey also hires undergraduates into business analyst positions, but competition for such positions is fierce and recruiting is almost completely limited to students at the very best undergraduate institutions.

The firm is organizationally divided into partners and non-partners. It is generally not possible to join the firm as a partner; instead, partners are promoted internally from the existing ranks of principals and associates. According to the Firm's career website, "successful consultants who join McKinsey early in their career can expect election to principal (the first stage of partnership) within five to seven years. ... There is no limit to the size of our partnership."[47] Successful partners are sometimes elected director (senior partner) after at least seven years as partner, though there are fast-rising exceptions: Daniel, Gupta, and Kumar became directors approximately 10 years after joining the firm as associates.

Officially, "director" is the highest position (other than the rotating managing director) at McKinsey, though top directors are distinguished by reputation and influence. The firm's mandatory retirement age is 60, after which directors become "director emeritus."[48]


As a private firm, McKinsey is not required to disclose compensation figures. Unlike the financial services sector, consultants are not paid proportional to the business they bring in; top senior partners and the managing director have similar compensation. This was estimated to be $2–4 million in 1994 dollars ($3–5 million today),[49] and has at least doubled ($6–12 million) today given the Firm's growth over the last 15 years.[citation needed] Other estimates place the managing director's compensation between $5 and 10 million.[50]

Former managing director Rajat Gupta's McKinsey retirement salary the year after he retired from the firm was $6 million, followed by $2.5 million a year for at least the next three years (though the article does not specify if this applied to all top senior partners or only former managing directors.)[51]

Junior directors were said to earn at least $1 million a year in 1994 dollars ($2 million in 2009).[49] There were over 400 directors at the Firm in 2009, up from 150 in 1994.[52][53]

A 1993 Fortune profile says, "The Firm places itself above discussing money as a motivation, yet senior partners often earn as much, or more, than the CEOs they advise",[53] though over the last 15 years CEO compensation has increased disproportionately.[54]


McKinsey is one of the market leading "Big Three" in management consulting services to the Fortune 500 set, along with Bain & Company and The Boston Consulting Group, consistently recruiting top talent globally from elite colleges, professional schools, and graduate schools.[55]

Although these firms compete directly across all major sectors and geographies, each firm possesses its own unique profile that defines its sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace. McKinsey & Co., on account of its experience, deep board/C-level relationships and scale, is currently a strong player in general strategy, financial services, operations and IT. McKinsey holds the highest market share among the firms globally with geographic strength across the Americas, Europe and Asia. BCG displays competitive strength in general strategy and holds the second-highest market share globally after McKinsey.


McKinsey publishes several journals, most notably McKinsey Quarterly.[56] It also publishes McKinsey on Business Technology, McKinsey on Payments, McKinsey on Corporate and Investment Banking, and McKinsey on Finance. Several business books have been authored by McKinsey consultants, including Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies, The Alchemy of Growth, Creative Destruction, and The War for Talent. Former consultant Tom Peters co-authored, with less-flamboyant colleague Bob Waterman, the well-known book In Search of Excellence based on a project initiated by Ron Daniel in 1977.

Knowledge management system

McKinsey invests significantly in its knowledge management system to support field consultants. The system includes generalist researchers, industry- and function-specific experts and librarians, and access to journals and databases. McKinsey maintains an organisation called the McKinsey Knowledge Centre (McKC) that provide rapid access to specialized expertise and business information.[57] In addition, consultant-authored internal "practice development" documents capture generalizable insights from client engagements. There are also methods to access individual consultants with expertise from previous client studies or previous employment, for background assistance (competitive information is not shared).

This system was created and chaired by former senior partner Anil Kumar as an early example of knowledge process outsourcing.[58]

Asset management

McKinsey maintains a secretive and low-profile family of hedge funds and private equity firms collectively known as the McKinsey Investment Office (MIO Partners) for its own exclusive use. MIO is a wholly owned subsidiary of McKinsey and Company and reports to its finance and investments committee, which is chaired by a top senior partner (formerly William Meehan).[59][60]

These funds have had over $5 billion in assets under management (AUM).[59]

From the firm's website:

This firm manages a wide array of investment vehicles for the Firm’s Partners and pension plans, with significant expertise in alternative strategies including hedge funds and private equity. A principle objective of the Investment Counseling Function is to help our investing partners create long term wealth by constructing appropriate investment portfolios and avoiding expensive and/or inefficient products. At the same time, the products and services offered must save Partners time relative to those which are available externally. This firm’s role is to provide investment education, counseling and select products to Partners.[61][62]

MIO is "responsible for pension and discretionary partner investments, with a particular focus on alternative investments."[63]

Notable alumni

McKinsey has produced more CEOs than any other company and is referred to by Fortune magazine as "the best CEO launch pad".[64] More than 70 past and present CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are former McKinsey employees. Among McKinsey’s most notable alumni are:


According to firm policies, firm members may not discuss specific client situations. The firm also maintains a deliberate and low-profile external image. Maintaining client confidentiality protects client interests and allows McKinsey continued license to operate. However, it also blocks public scrutiny and assessment of its client base, success rate, and profitability.[65] This confidentiality also helps conceal McKinsey's fee structure.

The policy of client confidentiality is maintained even among former employees; as a result, journalists and writers have had difficulty developing fully informed accounts of mistakes which McKinsey employees may have made. It naturally also prohibits quantifying the benefits that good advice may have delivered. Despite this difficulty in attributing mistakes to McKinsey employees and alumni, some suggestions have been put forward:

  • In June 2011 McKinsey & Company created some controversy by releasing a study on the effects on small businesses of the US Administration’s health care bill.[66] The study’s findings contradicted most previous estimates made by renowned research institutes and the independent Congressional Budget Office.[67] McKinsey’s initial decision not to disclose any information regarding its methodology, the questionnaire used and the target group that was polled, caused widespread criticism. This lack of transparency led to accusations of partisanship and cast serious doubts upon the company’s claim to independence and objectivity.[68] McKinsey finally bowed to the pressure by the media and the White House and released the questionable survey, arguing that “[t]he survey was not intended as a predictive economic analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act”. They furthermore admitted having used suggestive language by saying “[w]e understand how the language in the article could lead the reader to think the research was a prediction, but it is not.”,[69][70] The company's decision to stand by the findings was met with additional criticism. The New York Times quoted the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee as saying that “[t]his report is filled with cherry-picked facts and slanted questions. [...] It did not provide employers with enough information for them to make honest choices and fair evaluations. Rather than correct the major deficiencies in their report, McKinsey has chosen to again stand by their faulty analysis and misguided conclusions.”[67]
  • In 2010 Rainforest Foundation UK released a report revealing the poor quality of the recommendations McKinsey had given to developing countries on how to reduce deforestation. The NGO pointed out that the company’s work has serious methodological flaws and as a result systematically underestimates the destructive impacts of industrial agriculture while exaggerating those of subsistence farming.[71] Adding to this, a Greenpeace investigation brought to light that McKinsey’s advice does not only fail to address some of the main drivers of deforestation such as logging and mining, but that the company’s proposals would actually reward those industries. Greenpeace pointed out that if McKinsey’s recommendations were followed, large-scale monoculture plantations would expand into ecologically important areas.[72] Discussing McKinsey’s decision not to publish the data and assumptions underlying their recommendations, senior personnel at the World Bank has criticized the company’s lack of transparency, noting ‘that the blackbox is a problem for everybody’.[73] Potential conflicts of interests could arise from the fact that if McKinsey’s policy recommendations were implemented, they would heavily benefit industries like logging, mining and paper with whom McKinsey maintains close business relations.[74] McKinsey’s refusal to disclose its business clients has added to those concerns. The firm’s work was subsequently criticized by think tanks and in academic reviews. Researchers from the University College London called attention to the fact that by not considering highly relevant implementation barriers such as forest governance and the costs of enforcement and the installation of sufficient institutional frameworks, McKinsey promotes an overly simplistic view of environmental policy-making.[75] A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute which was granted access to McKinsey’s data set found considerable discrepancies between the company’s estimates of the costs for reducing deforestation rates and those assumed by most renowned scientific models.[76] While the quality of the company’s advice has become a widely discussed question at the World Bank and in United Nations meetings on climate change, McKinsey is reported to continue its work in rainforest nations such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), where the company has ‘refused to comply with PNG laws and register with the Investment Promotion Authority and Internal Revenue Commission’.,,[77][78][79]
  • Enron was headed by McKinsey alumni and was one of the firm's biggest clients before its collapse.[80] In particular, McKinsey's "deep-seated belief that having better talent at all levels is how you outperform your competitors", a HR program implemented at Enron with McKinsey's knowledge, resulted, in the opinion of one author, a workplace culture of prima donnas that "took more credit for success than was legitimate, that did not acknowledge responsibility for its failures, that shrewdly sold the rest of us on its genius, and that substituted self-nomination for disciplined management."[81] Jeff Skilling, sentenced to 24 years in federal prison as the CEO of Enron, was formerly a partner at McKinsey and "loyal alum."
  • Another notably troubled company associated with McKinsey is Swissair, which entered bankruptcy twelve years after McKinsey recommended the Hunter Strategy.[82]
  • Several civil suits have been filed against home insurance and vehicle insurance companies after the insurers were advised by McKinsey, and allegedly paid the insured parties significantly less than the actual value of the damage.[84] McKinsey was cited in a February 2007 CNN article with developing controversial car insurance practices used by State Farm and Allstate in the mid-1990s to avoid paying claims involving soft tissue injury.[85]
  • General Electric's CEO Jeff Immelt in defending GE Capital's poor performance, maintained that no one had foreseen the crisis. He maintained that he had sought external opinions from McKinsey in 2007 before the global financial crisis which suggested that that "money from nations with a trade surplus, like China, and sovereign wealth funds, among other investors, would provide enough liquidity in the financial system to fuel lending and leverage for the foreseeable future."[86]
  • Concerns from teachers and parents regarding their consultation for public school districts. Recently, McKinsey worked for the Minneapolis Public Schools, where the firm recommended that the district cut "high costs" such as teacher health care, and recommended converting the 25 percent of schools that scored the lowest on standardized tests to privatized charter-school status. Teachers in Seattle passed a resolution of non-compliance with McKinsey's study of the Seattle Public Schools in protest.[87]

Among other books and articles, The Witch Doctors, written by The Economist editor-in-chief John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, presents a series of blunders and disasters alleged to have been McKinsey's consultants' fault. Similarly, Dangerous Company: The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin by James O'Shea and Charles Madigan, critically examines McKinsey's work within the context of the consulting industry and Vijay Prashad argues that McKinsey has worked to promote private interests against the public good.[88]

Galleon insider trading scandal

McKinsey senior executives Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar were among others convicted in an ongoing government investigation into insider trading for sharing inside information with Galleon Group hedge fund owner Raj Rajaratnam. Gupta and Kumar were close friends of each other and of Rajaratnam, as well as the co-founders of the Indian School of Business and (with Rajaratnam) of New Silk Route.[89][90] Though McKinsey was not accused of any wrongdoing, the convictions were embarrassing for the firm, for which integrity and protecting client confidentiality is a major premise of its business.[91][92][93] Following the initial allegations McKinsey no longer maintains a relationship with either senior partner,[94][95] though the manner in which it severed ties attracted controversy.[96]

Senior partner Anil Kumar, described as Gupta's protégé,[97] left the firm after the allegations in 2009 and pleaded guilty in January 2010.[98][99] 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.[100]

During Raj Rajaratnam's trial, a wiretap recording showed Rajaratnam and his brother had also contacted McKinsey junior partner and Kumar protégé David Palecek (now deceased), saying he was "a little dirty."[24][101] Palecek's widow claimed he was approached but refused to be a part of the incident.[24]

Former managing director (CEO) Rajat Gupta was convicted in June 2012 of four counts of conspiracy and securities fraud, and acquitted on two counts, resulting from his board memberships at Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble while a senior partner emeritus of McKinsey.[102] In October 2011, he was arrested by the FBI on criminal charges of sharing insider information from these confidential board meetings with Rajaratnam.[103][104] Among other crimes, Gupta was convicted of passing information to Rajaratnam within 4 minutes of the completion of a special Goldman Sachs board meeting to approve a capital injection by Warren Buffett during the height of the financial crisis in 2008. He stood to profit as the chairman of Galleon International and as the chairman of New Silk Route.[105] 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[51] — as a senior partner emeritus.[106]

After the scandal McKinsey performed an independent review of its policies and procedures, including investigating other partners' ties to Gupta.[107][108] There is no evidence of any damage to McKinsey's brand, though the firm has came under controversy for having former leading senior partners (Gupta and Kumar) as well as a junior partner (Palecek) all implicated with the Galleon Group and insider trading.[109] The firm's revenues grew 10% during the same period, though its long term impact remains unknown.[101][103]


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