McKinsey & Co.’s reputation as the most prestigious management consulting firm is dealt a major reputational blow from a tough commentary, "McKinsey & Co: Capital's Willing Executioners," written by one of its former consultants and posted Feb. 5 on Current Affairs.org.
As champion of unbridled capitalism, according to “Anonymous,” McKinsey has done more direct harm to the world in ways that are hard to measure and hard to know, thanks to its intense secrecy.
The firm’s “willingness to work with despotic governments and corrupt business empires is the logical conclusion of seeking profit at all costs. Its advocacy of the primacy of the market has made governments more like businesses and businesses more like vampires,” according to the ex-consultant.
The consultancy’s “we only do execution, not policy” mantra provides a certain amount of cover.
“This categorical claim was meant to assuage our fears. We weren’t the one steering the ship towards the cliff, we were merely tasked with keeping the ship afloat until it reached its destination,” he or she wrote.
The former consultant believes McKinsey’s “no policy” line of reasoning “would not have prohibited them from helping Bayer optimize its production of Zyklon B, adding a grim double meaning to the partner’s promise to only focus on execution.”
The Current Affairs author wrote about McKinsey’s extensive work for Saudi Arabia, which may be its biggest client, running about 600 engagements from 2011 to 2016.
After the torture, murder and dismemberment of Saudi dissident and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, McKinsey (along with other management consultants) remained a “knowledge partner” to the Saudi Arabia Future Investment Initiative (e.g., “Davos in the Desert).
“It will take more than the assassination of a journalist (to say nothing of the brutal year in Yemen) to undermine that thought partnership,” wrote Anonymous.
McKinsey’s work for Saudi Arabia has received some pushback from consultants at the firm. However, “In the repressive regimes the firm serves, client norms tend to dominate whatever liberal values McKinsey might initially attempt to smuggle in.”
The author believes the consulting firm legitimizes its unsavory clients in the eyes of the world by lending them its sterling reputation. “Even if McKinsey’s advice improves practices that help ordinary people, they sustain despotic regimes,” wrote Anonymous. “A competent authoritarian is more dangerous than an inept one.”