Consulting

Andrew Hill

On paper, a good idea: the 50th anniversary edition and its 50-year-old ancestor.

Dominic Barton, McKinsey’s global managing director, says he and his colleagues agreed unanimously that the 50th anniversary edition of the McKinsey Quarterly, just out, should “look forward rather than back”.

But if the consultancy’s claims for the influence of its publication are credible (Mr Barton writes that the Quarterly has helped “set the senior-management agenda” for the past half century), it is worth revisiting that first 1964 edition. It offers a few clues, not only about management trends, but about the future of consulting itself.

The first edition came clearly badged as “a review of top-management problems, published to keep our worldwide consulting staff informed on topics of common professional concern” (my emphasis). In other words, it was at first an internal newsletter. According to McKinsey, an alternative suggested title was the resolutely clunky “Practice Development Quarterly”, but it rapidly became a calling card for “the Firm” and until the 1990s, it was mostly distributed to clients by individual partners along with a personal covering letter. 

Andrew Hill

PwC/Booz's new 'amper-brand'…

Cesare Mainardi, chief executive of Booz & Company, has a ready explanation for the consultancy’s rebranding as “Strategy&”, now Booz’s takeover by PwC is complete:

It invites a discussion about what we’re about and what we’re thinking and how we can help our clients transform.

True enough. Unfortunately, the initial discussion of the new “amper-brand” – pronounced “strategy and” – is likely to start with “What were they thinking?”. People still remember PwC’s ill-fated attempt to rename its consulting arm as “Monday” in 2002, a misstep that had plenty of critics humming the Boomtown Rats’ hit “I don’t like Mondays”. (Luckily for the professional services firm, roughly by Tuesday, IBM had bought the consulting business and PwC never had to live with the consequences.) 

John Gapper

If you think lawyers are boring, I advise you to read James Stewart’s fascinating account in the New Yorker magazine of the rise and fall of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the US law firm that collapsed spectacularly last year, amid partner disharmony and financial chaos.

It has appearances from, among others, Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano, the acting head of the Bonnano crime family, and some breathtaking compensation practices. Stewart reports that Morton Pierce, then co-chairman of Dewey Ballantine, was guaranteed compensation of $35m over five years in the merger with LeBoeuf in 2007. 

Did you hear the one about the strategy consultancy that could not work out a strategy for itself? It might make chief executives being billed $500 an hour for the wisdom of McKinsey & Co or Boston Consulting Group chuckle, but it is not a joke for the industry.

Emma Jacobs

Long hours have become the norm for employees, and the demands of social media and working for global organisations mean that for many there is never an end to the working day.

There is a case that a rested employee is more productive. But should a company encourage its workers to sleep? 

In Jo Nesbo’s thriller Headhunters, “king of the heap” search consultant Roger Brown has to fund his extravagant lifestyle by stealing art from the walls of candidates’ homes while his colleagues are interviewing them.

How much sex are management consultants getting? I ask only because House of Lies, the US television series about Galweather & Stearn, supposedly the US’s number two firm, suggests they are getting a lot, and in combinations and locations that testify to the profession’s reach and ingenuity.

Andrew Hill

It was “values” day in many McKinsey offices on Friday – the annual occasion when staff take a break from client work to reflect on the principles underpinning the management consultancy. Rarely can they have had before them a case study as timely and as dramatic as that of their former head, Rajat Gupta, who was convicted that day of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud related to trading in Goldman Sachs’ stock by Raj Rajaratnam’s Galleon hedge fund.

At “the Firm”, the impact of Gupta’s decline and fall is still felt deeply. As I wrote last year in my analysis of how McKinsey was handling the scandal, “what shocks staff and alumni is that Rajat Gupta should stand accused of precisely [the] sins of self-enrichment and self-aggrandisement” that its legendary former chief Marvin Bower abhorred.

One former partner told me on Friday that “the most aggrieved groups are alumni and senior partners who knew Rajat Gupta and continue to be somewhat baffled by what led him to do this”. Another ex-McKinseyite, Roger Parry, now chairman of UK pollster YouGov, admitted to feeling “a little bit devalued and diminished” by the scandal.

But my sense is that while the trial brought punishment and humiliation for Gupta (who will appeal against the verdict), it did not add much to McKinsey’s embarrassment. The firm will not comment but no doubt it hopes the trial has drawn a line under the affair. 

Andrew Hill

Companies are woeful at strategy. How can they get better? And who should be helping them do so?

These are important questions, which Kim Warren, who has taught strategy at London Business School for 20 years, addresses in a pungent new e-book The Trouble with Strategy, published by his strategy training company. It contains a strong call to arms to the big management consultants which, he says, “have been strangely absent from the discussion of what needs to be done”. Why is that? 

Andrew Hill

European Union commissioner Michel Barnier’s proposals for tough new rules for audit firms have the Big Four professional services firms in a lather.

As the specialist journal Accountancy Age puts it:

Big Four interests are most threatened by Barnier’s proposals. At their size, they will cop the full force of regulation completely separating audit and non-audit services, potentially compelling them to split and trampling on their business model.

 

Andrew Hill

The conviction of Raj Rajaratnam for insider trading means McKinsey can breathe again. For now, the drip-drip of courtroom revelations about what Rajat Gupta, ex-head of the consulting firm, or Anil Kumar, a former partner, told the hedge fund billionaire, has stopped.

Mr Kumar has already pleaded guilty to insider trading. Mr Gupta, who denies wrongdoing, faces Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges. (A third McKinsey partner, David Palecek, who died last year, was mentioned in the trial, but his widow’s lawyer has said that he never agreed to “play ball” with Rajaratnam.)

Pending any action against Mr Gupta, the consulting world is wondering what will be the fall-out from the case – and not just for McKinsey. 

Andrew Hill

Where consulting meets academia, there is a grey area. Where consulting and academia meet regime change, the grey area can be red-hot.  Monitor Group – the management consulting firm co-founded by Harvard professors – is the latest to concede that it was burnt by work it did in Libya.