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November 27, 2011 4:12 AM   Subscribe

The world’s most prestigious consultancy prides itself on its intellectual prowess and ethical standards. But this year, an insider trading scandal surrounding former McKinsey luminaries has left staff and alumni reeling
posted by infini (42 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think I speak for many people who didn't get through their interview process when I chortle and pour myself a drink.
posted by atrazine at 5:09 AM on November 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Are they reeling because they were caught and the gravy train has reached the last stop, forcing off all of the passengers?
posted by Renoroc at 5:34 AM on November 27, 2011


They have also just placed one of their cohorts at the top of the italian government -- wondering how much business that will bring them..
posted by 3mendo at 5:59 AM on November 27, 2011


My entire life I have consistently confused McKinsey and Kinsey. This has not endeared me to the few McKinsey alums I've met over the years. It has, however, made the day of a few Kinsey researchers.
posted by boonerang at 6:03 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]




As Walter Kiechel has written of consultants in general, even the best “can be fairly hermaphroditic creatures, one minute exhibiting a professor’s passion for the great clarifying concept, the next displaying sales skills worthy of a street hustler”


If the 'concept' is embedded in the 'free market' as envisioned by Management Consultants, the term you are looking for is Diphallic.
posted by lalochezia at 6:11 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Read the comments in the article: much more informative than the article itself.
PS: This is a fluff piece.
posted by lalochezia at 6:18 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


PS: This is a fluff piece.

Yes, I noticed the BusinessWeek article from 2002, the Enron time of concern, was also titled Inside McKinsey and OMG their ethics... just like the 2011 Financial Times one, except this time its Rajat Gupta they're worried about (previously Rajat Gupta worried about Skilling).

Note that little else changed, right down to the various other pieces around the "special report"... must be a plug and play "we are ethical, honest Injun" (heh) press kit
posted by infini at 6:23 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


While the emphasis is still on grabbing a large share of top Baker and Rhodes scholars, or their equivalent, the intake is, if anything, more diverse than ever, including lawyers, philosophers, 250 medical doctors, and at least two poets.
If they have all that talent, why don’t they do anything useful with it?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:34 AM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just once I would love to see a consultant recommend that top management be sacked on a wholesale basis, but the dog won't bite the hand that feeds it.
posted by mygoditsbob at 6:34 AM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would love to see a consultant recommend that top management be sacked on a wholesale basis, but the dog won't bite the hand that feeds it.

oh its even worse than that. half the job is figuring out what management wants to hear and telling them that.

and yes - total puff piece.
posted by JPD at 6:43 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My employer brought these jerks in to reorganize our benefits last year. At the time I was in a management role (it's rotating in my business) and had to attend various meetings where the much vaunted McKinsey staff members would be in attendance seeking our input.

The last one was memorable. There were two McKinsey suits, one male and one female. The male one was texting and emailing on his Blackberry the entire time, clearly not listening to anyone in the room (in what was supposed to be a chance for us to express staff concerns). The woman literally and actually fell asleep 10 minutes into the meeting and never woke up until it ended.

I don't care what their reputation was or how much they cost. That was a bunch of bush league bullshit right there. Or they already knew they'd be recommending the cuts in benefits they eventually recommended and didn't give a flying shit what the employees they were screwing over thought. More likely the latter, which upper management considers value for money.

Management consulting is the biggest crock of shit out there other than "alternative" medicine, maybe.
posted by spitbull at 7:14 AM on November 27, 2011 [21 favorites]


And agreed, this article is a whitewash.
posted by spitbull at 7:16 AM on November 27, 2011


oh its even worse than that. half the job is figuring out what management wants to hear and telling them that.

Oh hey now. Speaking as a management consultant, that's no more than 38%. Here, let me show you why using a diagram with two axes1 and cutesy names for each quadrant.

(1) Which I have called a 'matrix' for reasons known only to me
posted by atrazine at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2011 [21 favorites]


Just once I would love to see a consultant recommend that top management be sacked on a wholesale basis, but the dog won't bite the hand that feeds it.

And yet, this would usually be the best advice regarding management that finds it necessary to bring in expensive outside consultants to do their own jobs.
posted by Skeptic at 7:31 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Management consulting is the biggest crock of shit out there other than "alternative" medicine, maybe.

Unfortunately, that statement doesn't follow from their behavior. I think much of their value is exactly this: didn't give a flying shit what the employees they were screwing over thought.

Consultants provide cover and legitimacy when management needs or wants to make decisions that they can't bring themselves to do otherwise. "McKinsey said we gotta [lay off/cut benefits/close offices]" is a pretty compelling kick in the ass. Especially after you just got done paying them handsomely for that service.

The fact that they ignored you doesn't mean they did a bad job. That is their job.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:35 AM on November 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


95% of the time, consultants are hired to give legitimacy to unpopular in-house ideas. The only real work they do is internal market research to figure out the best way to spin things, and then hundreds of pages of documents carefully designed to sell the idea. The only thing your top dollars pays for when you pay for a top dollar consulting firm is really excellent suits and really beautiful powerpoints. It's all bullshit, and then you get that 5% where a company really has no idea what it needs to do so they hire a consulting firm to get answers (proving that they're total noobs, which makes consulting companies laugh, and laugh, and laugh) so the consultants stretch it out to five years instead of two and wait for the company to sort it out themselves.

It's good money if you can stomach it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:36 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I did rather like the throwaway line about describing McKinsey as being like the Jesuits during James Kondo's entrance interview. Firstly, I'm not sure that the Jesuits could be described as having been "in the background" during significant periods of their history; secondly, I'm not sure even now that McKinsey is better known than the Jesuits; thirdly, did anyone in that interview know what the Japanese did to the Jesuits?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:37 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


the other 12% is taking the blame

seriously though - they do fill a role - they allow the board and upper management to outsource some of their fiduciary responsibilities. As others have said, if the consultants are actually driving strategy rather than providing support for that strategy, then the business is well and truly fucked.
posted by JPD at 7:40 AM on November 27, 2011


Management consulting gang signs
posted by infini at 7:41 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The only thing your top dollars pays for when you pay for a top dollar consulting firm is really excellent suits and really beautiful powerpoints.

And, I guess, really credible legitimacy for your unpopular ideas.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:41 AM on November 27, 2011


So I once joked that I should be a management consultant, because I'm always telling people how they could do something better, more efficiently. And I figured, I'm smart, I've got a graduate degree, I'm a good problem solver - I could do this.

only to be informed, in all seriousness by someone who knows McKinsey types, that I didn't have the figure or fashion sense to ever be hired. Apparently, you actually do need to fit the "look".

You think you already know how corrupt and pointless the world is - then someone points out how naive you are.
posted by jb at 7:54 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


only to be informed, in all seriousness by someone who knows McKinsey types, that I didn't have the figure or fashion sense to ever be hired. Apparently, you actually do need to fit the "look".

There are ways to offer value without falling into the cookie cutter Organization Man stereotype... one of which via design
posted by infini at 8:03 AM on November 27, 2011


I think I speak for many people who didn't get through their interview process when I chortle and pour myself a drink.
That was the experience of many mates. Most didn't make the cut. Those that did -- within 3 months of joining -- almost unanimously started the clock ticking on when they could move on.

And in discussing it with them, it usually wasn't the work that was the problem; it's the attitude. You have to be fully committed, not to the best answer, but to a mutually-agreed upon outcome. Mutually agreed by the client and the firm. The stories are legion, "where exactly is the line on these labour laws?" or "what are alternative ways to measure the merger synergies so that the results meet targets?" Or, "let's move it to a jurisdiction where it is legal...".

It's corporate business, nothing more, nothing less. But many recruits seem to mistake the "best answer" as the "right answer". The "right answer" is often not the "best answer". The "right answer" supports the client's strategy, makes the client money, and therefore generates additional work for the firm. Obviously, in jurisdictions where it's legal.
posted by nickrussell at 8:08 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, that statement doesn't follow from their behavior. I think much of their value is exactly this: didn't give a flying shit what the employees they were screwing over thought.

Consultants provide cover and legitimacy when management needs or wants to make decisions that they can't bring themselves to do otherwise.


Oh I know. I mean the pretension to doing anything "objective" or "scientific" as cover for doing whatever dirty work upper management wants done while keeping their own hands clean.
posted by spitbull at 8:15 AM on November 27, 2011


I once worked at a startup that grew from four of us, to ~150 people. We brought in a CEO with a Gartner/Anderson pedigree and an HR director from McKinsey. They also went and hired Cap Gemini to help develop a methodology.
The company was dead inside 18 months later. And management screwed everybody on the way down.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:27 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm an engineer. They tried to make me a management consultant.

Fresh out of college, I hired on with the startup "internal management consultant team" for a large British conglomerate. I was there eight weeks. I spent five weeks in training in England (in the town where Bass is brewed - boy did I learn how to drink!); maybe two of those weeks were factory streamlining and other things that made sense. Two weeks were spent at a gear company that'd recently been purchased, with the instructions "Make a business plan" but no authority to ask anyone anything; not that I had any template or any more instruction than "make a business plan". The remaining week was spent following my boss around to meetings in California where they were spewing such jargon in such illogical sentence structures that I think I would have preferred that they'd done it in Czech so I'd have had better reason to not have any idea what was going on. I was given a couple management-theory books to read on the planes, the types that just pile one bad metaphor on another.

Now, I'm not stupid, but I never quite figured out *what* the fuck we were supposed to even be doing (besides wasting an inglorious amount of money on expenses) until today.

(come to think of it, my boss there had been forced to resign as Plant Manager of the company he'd come from because he required all the plant employees to attend meetings for the MLM he was starting up...I should have known it was all a sham)
posted by notsnot at 8:29 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a long-time engineer who's slowly but steadily transitioned into more strategic positions. Team lead, architect, and now I'm doing more straight-up consulting with our clients. On the one hand, i really really enjoy the work of listening to people and figuring out what their problems and pains are, and figuring out how to provide external perspective and advice based on similar scenarios.

When someone told me that I was a "Strategic Management Consulting" I wanted to take a shower. Even if it's true, this kind of thread horrifies me. Is there any room for people who actually enjoy that kind of work? And want to have souls?
posted by verb at 8:33 AM on November 27, 2011


Is there any room for people who actually enjoy that kind of work? And want to have souls?

Sure, you buy the company, fix it up and resell it for a profit. It's the only way I see to overcome the principle-agent-agent problem you have when management hires you.
posted by pwnguin at 8:45 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite classic article, Why Consultants Suck.

The boss likes you far too much. You're an institutionalized suck-up. You're there to make him look good when he shouldn't. Does he listen to the guys who are in the trenches every day? No, he does not. Instead, here comes you. You hold meetings. You're looking into things. If anybody asks Mr. Beanbag what he's doing about slow growth in sales, he can say, "Oh I've hired the McWeiner Group to look into that. They'll be giving me a report real soon, and if there's any resistance in implementing those goals, well, you can bet that blah blah blah..." Boy, doesn't he look dynamic. And what if it is, in fact, Mr. Beanbag who isthe problem? Do you tell him that? Well? Do you?
posted by jasper411 at 8:58 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sure, you buy the company, fix it up and resell it for a profit. It's the only way I see to overcome the principle-agent-agent problem you have when management hires you.

So what you're saying is that the solution is to be rich already. Awesome!
posted by verb at 9:01 AM on November 27, 2011


Is there any room for people who actually enjoy that kind of work? And want to have souls?

Find a niche that was overlooked and unserved and considered unprofitable. Laugh and point when bullshit like this emerges.
posted by infini at 9:09 AM on November 27, 2011


So what you're saying is that the solution is to be rich already. Awesome!

if you can get hired by a strategy consultant you can probably get hired by a private equity firm. Whether being an operating guy in a business that is fundamentally about buying and selling is a good job is a different question.

(also increasingly buy-out shops are outsourcing the operating part of the business to consultants)

Also there is a difference between the sort of high-level strategy consulting most of us are mocking here, and smaller specialized firms that focus on the operating side's nuts and bolts and actually are not always useless.
posted by JPD at 9:11 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Being an engineering consultancy is glorious fun. You get hired by the engineers, not the managers. I did it for almost a decade. Great money, good projects, excellent networking, and everyone loves you because you save/fix things that go south. The only soul-killing part of it is that you never get any long-term glory or satisfaction... you just get another job. Also it's hard to make lasting friends when you keep moving around, which is really hard to take for engineers.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:16 AM on November 27, 2011


Not to make this into a political derail, but when I lived in MA and Romney was running for governor, the fact that he had made his fortune in management consulting was my #1 point against him.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:39 AM on November 27, 2011


This is a shocking article to read! I had a vague idea that the Financial Times was a more reputable Wall Street Journal, but this is a stark naked puff piece. Is this normal for the FT? This reads like an article in a free weekly newspaper written by the editor about the café he goes every morning. I don't mind these pieces (in fact kinda enjoy them) when they're about small, local businesses, but when it's an article in a respected business newspaper about a company that is quite influential in global business and politics, I expect more rigor.
posted by Kattullus at 9:46 AM on November 27, 2011


Its from the FT magazine, not the paper proper. Its def not the norm for the paper. Actually even their soft weekend sections are a notch above most papers. Not sure why they did this, tho I suspect there is a lot of value in being tight with McK for journalists - quite ironic given the crux of the article.

And Romney really made his money as a Private Equity guy not as a Consultant. (Though that might make your point more sharply)
posted by JPD at 9:49 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to read this together with last week's FPP on hiring practices of elite employers.
posted by needled at 9:50 AM on November 27, 2011


Did someone say management consulting?
posted by vidur at 10:37 AM on November 27, 2011


Also there is a difference between the sort of high-level strategy consulting most of us are mocking here, and smaller specialized firms that focus on the operating side's nuts and bolts and actually are not always useless.

Yes, and speaking as a nuts-and-bolts operations consultant (hopefully even a not always useless one), it's fairly obnoxious to constantly get lumped in with these blow-dried strategy frauds who do a couple interviews and a back-of-the-cocktail-napkin benefit model, parachute in a (very well-formatted, admittedly) Powerpoint with what management wanted them to say from the beginning, and then disappear again.

And good God, I have done a project working for private equity guys, trying to untangle the operations mess left after a poorly-integrated merger, so they could go back to playing Flip This House with businesses. Never again. At least strategy consultants mostly realize, in their heart of hearts, that they're frauds - PE guys are honestly convinced they're actually smarter than everybody else, which makes them far more dangerous.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:53 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, and speaking as a nuts-and-bolts operations consultant (hopefully even a not always useless one), it's fairly obnoxious to constantly get lumped in with these blow-dried strategy frauds who do a couple interviews and a back-of-the-cocktail-napkin benefit model, parachute in a (very well-formatted, admittedly) Powerpoint with what management wanted them to say from the beginning, and then disappear again.

Interesting. I can see a lot of that in the boundary lines between what I enjoy and what gives me the willies, and currently a huge percentage of what I do is operational in nature. There's strategy involved, but reading some of the stories here I think that I'm getting needlessly creeped out.
posted by verb at 12:09 PM on November 27, 2011


The only soul-killing part of it is that you never get any long-term glory or satisfaction... you just get another job.

I did engineering-level consultancy for a while, and a decade later a couple clients will still come up to me at conferences and talk to me about how the project is still awesome and still making everybody's jobs easier and the company more effective. So there's that.
posted by hattifattener at 12:34 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]




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