McKinsey analysis shows the shifting career paths of its own alumni

26 September 2019 4 min. read
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McKinsey & Company has run a comparison on its most common current alumni career paths to that of 2009, with the results serving as a fair reflection of the evolving business world. 

Commonly described as the ‘CEO factory’, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s alumni chief executive strike-rate has been fairly widely publicised – the odds of a US publically-listed company head featuring the firm on their resume was once famously calculated at one in 690. By the consultancy’s own numbers at least, McKinsey in 2015 had around 450 of its alumni leading billion-dollar-plus organisations around the world.

But is this still the case today? Also by its own admission, the make-up of McKinsey’s business has changed drastically in the just the past five years (let alone from a decade ago) – highlighted in the firm’s recent brand makeover – with half of its advisory work now in emergent areas such as digital, analytics and design. As such, the more common career paths of its alumni – now totaling more than 35,000 worldwide – might be expected to have changed as well.

Still number-crunchers by heart, the firm itself set out to answer just such a question. “We were looking for new ways to understand and share what our alumni network was doing,” says McKinsey’s Alumni Relations Manager Mike Roberto, who has been with the firm for the best part of two decades, no doubt seeing numerous colleagues go on to conquer various corners of the business world during that time.

Roberto’s archival research led him to a McKinsey data-set from 2009 – around the time of the one in 690 calculation by USA Today. “Since that time,” he says, like a true McKinseyite, “the alumni tech infrastructure has been upgraded three times, each with a different industry / functional taxonomy and data schema. That posed some challenges, but after processing, mapping, and tying everything together, we got a pretty complete picture.”Most common industries for McKinsey alumni 2009 - 2019The research team notes that when a McKinsey consultant left the firm ten years ago the likelihood was that they would be joining a bank. That largely remains true, with one fifth of McKinsey alumni still moving into financial services, up one percentage point since 2009. But whereas before the next most common options were a private equity group or rival consultancy (at about 10 percent each and steady), nowadays 17 percent pick the tech industry.

This represents a seven-point jump in just one decade – “whether it’s joining tech behemoths such as Google and Apple, running departments or divisions in mid-size companies, or launching startups of their own.” To drive the message home, the analysts note the alumni who are developing technologies that were yet to exist a decade back; Andras Forgacs for example, who co-founded Modern Meadow, which uses bio-fabrication to produce sustainable leather.

The example itself provides a further reminder of the shifting global landscape. According to its calculations, close to a tenth of McKinsey alumni are today working in careers which allow them to make a positive contribution to society: “choosing government and social sector organisations where they are working to improve education, economic development, agriculture and public health on national and local levels.”

While their positive social contributions may be debatable, the political aspirations of McKinsey alumni certainly seem to be gathering steam. Democratic US presidential hopeful Peter Buttigieg is a noted McKinsey alumnus, while (depending on how things pan out) his potential opponent could well be Mitt Romney, formerly of the Boston Consulting Group (who was once quoted as stating he would probably bring in McKinsey to help select a cabinet).

Meanwhile, during the course of just this month alone, Japan’s Shinzo Abe has promoted ex-McKinsey consultant Toshimitsu Motegi to the position of foreign minister, while former McKinsey global managing partner Dominic Barton was announced as Canada’s new ambassador to China. Current Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis however achieved a first among McKinsey alumni in July, beating out other hopefuls to be the first elected as the outright leader of their country.