McKinsey boss Kevin Sneader states intent for greater transparency

18 March 2019 4 min. read

McKinsey & Company boss Kevin Sneader has gone on the offensive, opening up in a series of frank interviews about the firm’s recent bad press and intent for greater transparency.

Nearly one hundred years into its history, and the world’s most prestigious – and widely considered most guarded – management consulting firm McKinsey & Company suddenly finds itself under intense public scrutiny, with a series of worldwide scandals and allegations bringing sustained media fire and denting the firm’s one-time veneer of impenetrability. Now, it’s opening the door.

“Hello. After 30 years here, I think I know this firm,” McKinsey’s global managing partner Kevin Sneader opens in a recent letter to the firm’s North American staff, later published online. Seeking to address the mounting scrutiny, Sneader speaks passionately about the firm’s people and its work, but admits to recent mistakes. While this isn’t exactly a new turn of events, the decision to open up is.

“We have a long-standing commitment to client confidentiality, shunning publicity and keeping a low public profile. The problem is that in a world of social media, distrust for business and heightened transparency, our historic approach looks evasive and secretive,” the McKinsey chief writes. “That is why likely actions include stepped up efforts to share who we are and what we do with opinion leaders, media and others.”McKinsey boss Kevin Sneader states intent for greater transparencyIn addition to rolling out a new logo and refreshed visual identity – which the firm says is a response to the evolving nature of its operations in the modern digital era – Sneader has this month embarked on a rare McKinsey press blitz to openly discuss the firm’s recent controversies and wider intent for greater institutional transparency – including frank interviews with CNCB and Fortune Magazine.

“I think people are going to see three things,” Sneader responded on CNBC when prompted on what the big changes in approach at the firm would be over the next twelve months. “One, they’re going to see us be quite thoughtful, and even more thoughtful around who we serve and who we don’t serve. Secondly, you’re going to see us be more open. I want us to be engaging with the outside world. And the third thing, I’d like us to be very explicit about the full impact of our work.”

In a subsequent interview with Fortune, Sneader, while maintaining the firm’s strong stance on client confidentiality, elaborated further on the firm’s more thoughtful approach in selecting and engaging with future and existing clients, and the steps currently being taken. “There are several criteria. And one of the things that they include is obviously being clear on whether we use this space to make a positive lasting and substantial difference.”

“We’re working right now to put together a new set of ways in which we evaluate clients,” Sneader continued. “And indeed not just clients, because it could also be the individual topic in which you’re working on. We are intent on applying that to our full client portfolio. We will apply that framework to both existing clients and new clients. Our priority is to work on this in areas where we think there are more controversial topics or geographies, and to make sure we apply it to those first.”

When questioned on whether the firm anticipates or would be comfortable with a short-term reduction in its circa $10 billion in annual revenues following the review, Sneader concludes: “Of course. Our intent is to make sure we feel comfortable and confident about the work we’re doing. And selecting the right clients is a key part of that work. And if the consequence of that is in the near-term we have to make some real changes, then we’re prepared to do that.”

Related: McKinsey hits back at New York Times accusations in Asia and beyond.