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Book Review: The FIRM, Duff McDonald

Author: Duff McDonald
Published: 2013
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 336

This book is about McKinsey & Company, touted as the greatest consulting organisation on the planet! ‘The Firm’ is what the employees at McKinsey like to call it; ‘employees’ themselves are known as ‘Partners’ who never negotiate anything, but only ‘make arrangements’. This word play is symbolic of the ‘Consulting Profession’ which the Firm ‘created’ back in 1926 and commercialized thereafter.

The author commendably illustrates the history of McKinsey starting from the foundation by James McKinsey in 1926 to the era of Dominic Barton, the current CEO of the Firm. It also highlights the reigns of 11 Managing Directors and how each leader impacted the Firm’s strategy, expansion, growth and value system. More importantly, the book provides a compelling description of the Firm’s powerful and visible impact on the World’s business; albeit, not all of which is worthy of applause.

The restructuring of the American and European industries in the post WWII era and propagation of the M (Matrix) form of organizational structure can be safely attributed to The Firm. The clout of the Firm is underlined by the fact that it has not only consulted close to 90% of the Fortune 500 companies, but also the elected governments in the United States and Britain. ‘Organizing’ the White House can easily be considered as an assignment that shaped the world.

On the flip side, readers also get an insight into some of the biggest corporate failures. The factors leading to the collapse of ‘Enron’ in 2001, Firm’s long term client with Ex-McKinsey ‘Jeff Skilling’ as a president leading up to that period; The decline of Swissair & AllState, long term clients of the firm; The conviction of Rajat Gupta in 2012, Firm’s MD (1994-2003) on charges of insider trading; Firm’s lackluster work with the BBC and many other unsuccessful high profile projects. Surprisingly, the Firm invariably came out unscathed from these forceful downturns and continued its reign as a superlative management consulting powerhouse in the world.

Overall, the book gives some revealing insights about the Firm. The author has made an earnest attempt to present an unbiased ‘personality’ of the Firm. One doesn’t need to be a consultant to be able to make sense of this book, but anyone with some inclination towards the business world will really enjoy it.


I will highly recommend this book if you want to know why a ‘McKinsey’ on your resume gives you the an unparalleled Launchpad for reaching the highest echelons of the business world. Don’t believe me? Ask Sundar Pichai, Sheryl Sandberg, Tom Peters, Lou Gerstner, Bobby Jindal, James Gorman or Chelsea Clinton! Happy Reading.

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