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  • Toby Sinclair

Summary: When McKinsey Comes to Town by Michael Forsyth and Walt Bogdanich

⭐ Rating: 8/10


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3 Big Ideas from When McKinsey Comes to Town 💡


Here are three big ideas that business leaders can apply to lead their business and team more effectively:


  1. The hidden impact of consultancies, like McKinsey, on the world: When Mckinsey Comes to Town’ uncovers Mckinsey's significant influence on both corporate and government sectors worldwide. The book argues that McKinsey was actively involved and at the root of several crises. This includes the US opioid crisis and 2008 financial crash. For leaders driving change in large organizations, this serves as a critical reminder of the far-reaching impact of consultancies. McKinsey might have “just been an advisor” but this advice had serious consequences. It's essential to recognize how strategies, especially in areas of restructuring and efficiency, can ripple through the global economy, affecting lives and shaping industries.

  2. Who is accountable? The person giving the advice, or the person who takes action: Consultancies “consult”. They give strategic advice and direction. But ultimately it is the company receiving that information who takes the action. Therefore, you could argue that McKinsey is off the hook for what happens next. If it results in an opioid crisis or financial crash, it was “not our fault”. The authors argue that McKinsey can better consider the ethical and social consequences of their decisions, ensuring that strategies for growth and efficiency do not come at an unacceptable societal cost.

  3. The Role of Internal Culture in External Outcomes: ’When Mckinsey Comes to Town’ delves into McKinsey’s unique internal culture, characterized by its ‘up or out’ policy and a relentless focus on data and efficiency. This serves as a lesson for leaders on how internal culture can significantly influence the nature of the strategies deployed and their subsequent impact on the world. This is challenging when compensation is incentivized on performance. If your client account is growing, you earn more and get promoted. Even if what the client is doing is far from ideal for broader society.


2 Best Quotes from When McKinsey Comes to Town 💬


"McKinsey’s advice to Purdue on selling more OxyContin, even amidst a national opioid crisis, raises serious questions about the firm’s moral compass."

This quote is a stark reminder for leaders that the pursuit of business objectives must be balanced with ethical considerations, especially when public health and welfare are at stake.


“Management consultants mainly serve to legitimize the goals of their clients. “Clients like to be told they are doing the right thing,” Management techniques viewed as best practices “are very often propagated by consulting firms and thus these techniques become largely institutionalised in the business world.”

This quote highlights the influence McKinsey can have on large organizations. Tell someone powerful they are doing the right thing, and they will go onto do big things.


Tobys Top Takeaway


’When Mckinsey Comes to Town’ serves as an eye-opener on the complex relationship between corporate consultancy, ethical responsibility, and societal impact. As a leader driving change in a large organization, it's imperative to balance the pursuit of efficiency and growth with deep consideration for the ethical implications of our decisions.


Whilst reading the book, I reflected on this question:

  • What happens when I come to town?


Going further:

  • How do people feel when I show up?

  • What impact do my decisions have on those around me?

  • What about even broader? How are they impacting society at large?

  • What legacy will I leave?


The story of McKinsey & Company is a cautionary tale about the potential repercussions of overlooking this balance. It encourages leaders, to adopt a holistic approach to change, one that encompasses not only business success but also a commitment to positive societal impact and ethical responsibility.


What happens when you come to town?



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Viola Gray
Viola Gray
Apr 04

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