Reputation Recovery at McKinsey

December 01, 2011

Reputation Recovery at McKinsey

Took me a few days but finally found a chance to read a fascinating review in the Financial Times of the impact of the insider trading scandal at management consultant McKinsey & Company and its impact on their reputation. Andrew Hill did a fine job providing a historical review of McKinsey’s ups and downs over the many years of its storied existence and finding former partners and employees to offer their perspectives. As you already know from the trial of Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon Group, the hedge fund CEO is accused of insider trading using tips from former McKinsey partners’ Anil Kumar and Rajat Gupta, global managing partner who left after several terms in 2003.  What intrigued me of course was how McKinsey was recovering from this reputation catastrophe and how it fit with the best practices in my book on reputation recovery. This is not just a bruise but a serious injury to McKinsey’s reputation. Here is what they did so far:

  • Communicated regularly with employees and former employees
  • Initiated an independent inquiry with the help of a law firm
  • Improved processes over protecting confidential client information
  • Reviewed its ethics policies and standards
  • Redefined what constitutes “material non-public informtion”
  • Built a formal “stop-list” of client stocks that no McKinsey person can trade (not just those assigned to the account)
  • Added new training procedures
  • Strengthened governance

True to its highly analytical way of attacking corporate challenges (they work for 90 of the top 100 companies in the world, among others), they looked back at how they handled prior problems. Coincidentally, the article points out that they had been putting together a comprehensive internal history of the firm which luckily offered them insights on how they have historically dealt with challenges to their reputation and livelihood. The latter best practice is one I highly recommend to others. In my book, I talk about the importance of the Rewind period where companies study their mistakes to from the past to create a better future. Lord John Browne of BP did so after the refinery fire in Texas City and asked the question of how they did not see the pattern of errors that turned deadly sooner. Looking in the rearview mirror may take time that leaders do not think they have but critical warning signs are often present. Retromining is a critical piece of recovering reputation. As the new McKinsey global managing director, Dominic Barton, also did, he studied other thriving cultures that failed. As Barton said in the article, he had been “thinking what happened with the suppression of the Jesuits in the 1700s. This may seem strange, but [it was] an organisation that was thriving and doing well and all of a sudden was severely challenged.”

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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