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Adrian Wooldridge

McKinsey’s Missteps Point to an Industry-Wide Mess

Once management consulting firms lose their integrity to ethical lapses and greed, they have nothing left to sell.

A tarnished brand.

A tarnished brand.

Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Management consulting is one of the world’s most successful industries. In 2021, estimates for the size of the global market ranged between almost $700 billion (£425 billion) and over $900 billion (£674 billion). Elite consultancies such as McKinsey & Company and Boston Consulting Group have their pick of the brightest graduates of the world’s top universities. (McKinsey regularly attracts 200,000 applicants and hires just 1%-2%.) IT service consultancies make up in size what they lack in exclusivity: As of this writing, Accenture was the 57th biggest company by market capitalization, ahead of familiar behemoths such as Comcast, Wells Fargo, Verizon and United Parcel Service.

Conspiracy theorists looking for the lizard people who control the world like to point to the doddering Bilderbergers or, even more implausibly, the members of the World Economic Forum. They should instead focus on the people who run the world’s biggest management consultancies — strange creatures who live on airplanes and speak an alien lizard-language (“proactive outplacement” and “cascading incentives”) that they alone understand, but which ambitious people the world over unfortunately imitate.