When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm by Walt Bogdanich & Michael Forsythe - review by Peter Smith

Peter Smith

An Expensive Way to Save Money

When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm


The Bodley Head 368pp £20

So now we know. The Illuminati, the New World Order and shape-shifting lizard aliens aren’t responsible for the ills of the world. Totalitarianism in China, the decline of the NHS, opioid and tobacco addiction in America, carbon emissions, state corruption in South Africa – they’re all down to the consulting firm McKinsey.

Despite the firm publishing fine words about ethical behaviour, it is (allegedly) a largely amoral operation, a place of high-powered intellectual guns for hire, available to anyone who pays the eye-watering fees. Staff advised Purdue Pharma on how to persuade doctors to prescribe more opioids. They worked with the tobacco industry while simultaneously advising the FDA, who were trying to get to grips with the risks of vaping. In some cases, staff clearly stepped over the line. In the Purdue case, McKinsey sacked two senior executives and have paid out ‘about $641 million to settle claims from states and US territories’.

Every chapter of When McKinsey Comes to Town lays out another disturbing case in which McKinsey worked against the public interest. The authors should be congratulated for excellent investigative work and their clear descriptions of events. The fifty pages of footnotes show great diligence.

However, real analysis is lacking. We are told about a memorial commemorating 513 people who died in one Indiana steel mill, then that McKinsey’s new approach to plant maintenance was responsible for two further deaths. But accidents were clearly already a regular occurrence. Did fatalities actually go up after McKinsey came to town? We aren’t told.

McKinsey told their US government client that they were paying more than twice the benchmarked rate to a firm running an immigrant holding centre. They suggested that cuts could be made in such areas as staffing, food and supplies. The cuts were never made, but according to the

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