The story of McKinsey & Co., America’s most influential and controversial business consulting firm, “an up-to-date, full-blown history, told with wit and clarity” (The Wall Street Journal).
If you want to be taken seriously, you hire McKinsey & Company. Founded in 1926, McKinsey can lay claim to the following partial list of accomplishments: its consultants have ushered in waves of structural, financial, and technological change to the nation’s best organizations; they remapped the power structure within the White House; they even revolutionized business schools. In The New York Times bestseller The Firm, star financial journalist Duff McDonald shows just how, in becoming an indispensable part of decision making at the highest levels, McKinsey has done nothing less than set the course of American capitalism.
But he also answers the question that’s on the mind of anyone who has ever heard the word McKinsey: Are they worth it? After all, just as McKinsey can be shown to have helped invent most of the tools of modern management, the company was also involved with a number of striking failures. Its consultants were on the scene when General Motors drove itself into the ground, and they were K-Mart’s advisers when the retailer tumbled into disarray. They played a critical role in building the bomb known as Enron.
McDonald is one of the few journalists to have not only parsed the record but also penetrated the culture of McKinsey itself. His access puts him in a unique position to demonstrate when it is worth hiring these gurus—and when they’re full of smoke.
The celebrated management consulting company exerts an influence that varies from benign to malign, according to this revealing, if conflicted, history. Financial journalist McDonald (Last Man Standing) traces McKinsey's rise to the pinnacle of corporate advice peddling and its unique pretensions and privileges: its elitism, decades-long engagements and lucrative open-ended contracts; its symbiosis with the Harvard Business School, whose newly minted grads dole out wisdom to experienced executives under its auspices; its aura of intellectualism, which sometimes amounts to vague buzz phrases and invocations of "change"; its reliance on alumni who helm other companies and steer business its way. McDonald, a contributing editor at Fortune, can't quite decide whether this is all good or bad, or whether he's indifferent. He credits McKinsey with rationalizing business practices and forestalling corporate mistakes, but charges it with standing behind blunders and bankruptcies from Enron to GM; he wonders if the firm is less about helping companies make better products more efficiently than giving doctrinal cover to CEOs' impulses to slash payrolls. McDonald combines a lucid chronicle of McKinsey's growth and boardroom melodramas with a serviceable, if sometimes cursory analysis of evolving or at least retreaded management theories. But the larger import remains, like that of the corporate world it symbolizes, a contradictory muddle.
A good historical summary, not particularly penetrating
Good historical summary of McKinsey. Not particularly revelatory. The reader doesn’t need to be continually reminded of how influential McKinsey is.