For several decades, McKinsey has been the world’s leading management consulting firm. McKinsey has consistently been named the most influential private company around the globe and its alumni run the most powerful institutions in the world. It currently has 30 Rhodes Scholars and 6 Olympians on its staff. Hopefully that’s a taster of the sort of quality the firm looks for.
But what actually makes it better than the other firms? In most industries and financial services, there isn’t a single company that leads the way by such a large margin.
In this article, we look at some of McKinsey’s specific attributes that make it such a successful company and appealing pace to work.
1. The Firm
The aura of the “firm”. Those who have worked for McKinsey often refer to the “firm” when discussing it with other alumni. This captures something very important about the company’s culture.
The culture starts with Marvin Bower, the father of consulting. He was one of James McKinsey’s very first employees. Bower focused on an idea, that rather than eeking out profit, McKinsey & Co. would do things a certain way because it was the right way. His idea was that consulting could be pure; it would be done correctly because this was what was best. If done in this way, profit would naturally follow.
This has filtered through into the approach of the modern company. It has espoused a culture in which all employees want to do right by Bower. This is why McKinsey has so many reporting systems in which employees rate how well their colleagues performed. Everyone wants to encourage everyone else to do things the Bower way.
It also means that McKinsey can do all types of projects because their methodology is transparent and transferable. Remember, it started off at the White House in the 1950s, with one of its biggest projects, which created the role of “Chief of Staff”.
For more on this, check out Ethan Rasiel’s The McKinsey Way.
2. The Graduates
For a long time, McKinsey has been the creme de la creme of graduate opportunities. Indeed, it pips even Goldman Sachs for its range of exit opportunities. After working at McKinsey, you can literally do anything.
Therefore, it has had no problem attracting the best, after both undergraduate and MBA programmes. It has never faced the issue of offer holders choosing other firms or not being interested in applying. This is proved above all by its recent scandals in Saudi Arabia and Angola. Even these potentially era-defining moments have scarcely dented its prestige among graduates.
It is worth mentioning that McKinsey’s application process is miles ahead of its competitors. McKinsey interviews more candidates and has a larger scope of vision over the graduate pool. Perhaps most importantly, it has two bespoke tests. The digital assessment and PST truly sort the best from the good.
One reason that McKinsey has been able to keep its perch atop the consulting community is via its alumni.
Firstly, the training, bonding and general experience of working at McKinsey means that very few people will have a bad word to say about the place.
Secondly, of all professional services firms that are deemed great training grounds, McKinsey has the highest number of high profile alumni and in the widest range of careers.
From world leaders like Binyamin Netanyahu and Pete Buttigieg, to Chairmans of banks like Jane Fraser (CitiGroup) and Stephen Green (HSBC), to high-flyers in tech and start-ups like Sheryl Sandberg and David Sacks. 30% of Fortune 500 companies are led by Ex-McKinsey employees.
This short list doesn’t even begin to touch on all the incredible social initiatives and various ‘different’ things alumni have done. McKinseyites have led auction houses like Sotheby’s, fashion brands like Levi’s and journalism outlets like BBC and ITV.
4. Knowledge Capital
McKinsey has a vast wealth of informational power. This is due to the vast experience of their employees.
McKinsey is totally unique in how they achieve this. After two years at McKinsey, you will be asked to leave. No matter how good you are, McKinsey will suggest that you experience something else. An MBA, a year in a government’s civil service or perhaps other business experience.
Lots of people obviously never return. However, those who do bring back their knowledge and internalise it in the company. For example, it was by this process that McKinsey actually founded the barcode in 1970.
Of course, McKinsey does other things too. It has a strict system of post-project reporting, a unique method of intra-company consulting on specialist areas and an outstanding ‘Global Institute‘ which examines issues exceeding the business world in an academic capacity.