Whether they stay for just a couple of years or more than a decade, nobody ever really leaves McKinsey & Co. It's just one of those places, ex-McKinseyites say, that leaves an indelible imprint on people and their careers. Enduring friendships are commonly forged. Business values are etched. And above all, the connections last forever.
That's no accident. McKinsey nurtures its network of high-powered alumni in ways that the finest universities would be hard-pressed to duplicate. Indeed, many alums and competitors believe that a good deal of McKinsey's clout in the marketplace derives from the firm's well-cultivated alumni network.
Consider the careers of IBM's Louis V. Gerstner Jr. and Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s Michael H. Jordan. Both earned their stripes at McKinsey in the late 1960s and 1970s. Both left the firm to work for McKinsey clients, Gerstner at American Express and Jordan at PepsiCo. Both alums not only hired their old firm to do consulting studies but also turned to McKinsey for executives. "It's still a bit of a fraternity," says Jordan, who worked at the firm from 1964 to 1974. "A lot of my close friends are people I worked with at McKinsey."
The backbone of the McKinsey network is the firm's alumni directory. It lists the work and home addresses and phone numbers for 3,500 ex-McKinseyites and is more up-to-date than the alumni rosters at Princeton or Harvard. It's "an invaluable resource," says Peter A. Kreisky, a McKinsey alum now a vice-president at Mercer Management Consulting Inc. He often queries alums before starting a project in an unfamiliar industry. "I know less than 25% of the people in the directory, but 80% to 90% will pick up their phone or respond to a letter," he says.
Unlike the alumni directories that exist for other companies, such as Procter & Gamble Co., McKinsey's isn't an underground publication: The firm foots the bill. In addition, it sponsors two alumni events each year in New York: a cocktail party at the Yale Club on the first Monday in December and a luncheon at the Harvard Club every spring. There are also a spate of regional and local alumni gatherings.
NO HARD FEELINGS. Although primarily intended for clients and current staff, alums also receive the McKinsey Quarterly, a journal on the latest thinking by the firm's consultants, and McKinsey Press Summary, a monthly distillation of articles written by McKinsey consultants and press clippings that mention the firm or its allums.
McKinsey plays down the commercial value of the network, but it obviously plays an important role in keeping the firm ahead of its competitors. "McKinsey gets a very large portion of business from its alumni," says consultant Kreisky. In fact, the system works so well that other firms, including Arthur D. Little Inc., have begun mimicking it. Last year, Little began financing reunions for former employees.
The alumni network is hardly a club of embittered casualties of the firm's up-or-out policy. "McKinsey does a very good psychological job of handling people," says James M. McCormick, president of First Manhattan Consulting Group and an alum. "You know it's only one in five who make junior partner, so you don't feel that bad." It helps, too, that McKinsey partners assist colleagues in job searches.
When an alumnus is up for a key position, of course, a couple of McKinsey references often go a long way to clinch the position--or to lose it. "That network works throughout your business career," says one ex-McKinsey man. "If you get on the wrong side of that, it's very easy for McKinsey people to damn you with faint praise."