When I started business school at Columbia, I hadn’t heard of McKinsey. The Firm recruited heavily there, so I found out about them, but little, since they were so secretive. I learned more from my classmates, that the business world held them in high regard. People wanted to work there.
I interviewed and learned I got high reviews there, but I had entered business school to improve as an entrepreneur and stayed on my path. Several friends worked there and at its peers Boston Consulting Group and Bain, as well as other consulting firms like Deloitte.
I heard about Michael’s book while I was reading books on colonialism, especially Heart of Darkness and King Leopold’s Ghost. Leopold crafted a public persona of a benevolent philanthropist helping end the Arab slave trade in the Congo while creating a huge, cruel slave state he profited from. Given what I knew about McKinsey, I read several reviews and watched videos of the authors. They showed a company crafting a benevolent philanthropic image while profiting from others’ suffering—promoting tobacco, opiates, dictatorships, and, most relevant to sustainability, oil and petroleum states.
Maybe I was looking for patterns that weren’t there, but they made me wonder how much McKinsey and its peers had become a modern King Leopold. The book presents some devastating finds. It’s well researched, as you can imagine how anything it revealed wrongly could prompt lawsuits. Beyond McKinsey’s work with the world’s most polluting corporations and nations, many McKinsey people transitioned to help run some of the world’s most polluting companies, including previous guest and three-time Global Managing Director Dominic Barton.
In our conversation, Michael reviews some of the book and shares back stories into how he and his coauthor Walt worked. We treated many areas of McKinsey’s work, but focused on sustainability-related ones.