McKinsey: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the oldest and largest management consulting firm: McKinsey & Company.
McKinsey: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 14
Aired on October 22, 2023

Main segment: McKinsey & Company
Other segments: October 2023 Speaker of the United States House of Representatives election, Bob Menendez corruption case
Guests: Matt Barats, Ronny Chieng, Desi Domo, Vin Knight, Freddie Kuguru, Marla Mindelle, and Michael Torpey as McKinsey employees

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thanks so much for joining us. It’s been a busy week. Sidney Powell pled guilty in the 2020 election interference case in Georgia, and Joe Biden flew to Israel to offer his support amid the ongoing hostage crisis. In Gaza, conditions are horrendous, following brutal airstrikes, and a blockade of food, fuel and water, which some commentators are just way too comfortable with. Just listen to this exchange between a retired senior military official and an anchor on CNN.

I think what they need to do is encircle it, they need to continue to apply the pressure of the brigade, of this blockade that they’ve established. The people are going to suffer, but they’re going to come up on the net and say, “look, get us out of here.”

But does that mean — you say say — does that mean starve the Palestinian people? Continue to, because they will be so hungry, and will be so desperate for water, and medicine, that then they will give up Hamas?

It sounds callous, but I mean, this is a war.

John: What?! It is a war. You’re describing a war crime. One thing does not justify the other. Just a thought for that anchor, who probably didn’t get up that morning thinking he’d have to genuinely explain “you can’t starve people” to a former us military official.
But, we’re going to focus on Washington this week, where republicans still haven’t managed to elect a new speaker. Jim Jordan went through three votes, enjoyably losing slightly more each time. And at one point, was photographed coming out of a closed-door meeting with a handwritten note reading, “what is the real reason?” Which looks less like a bid to be speaker and more like an early draft of a suicide note. This is a humiliating situation for republicans, although one member did his best to spin the chaos as a positive.

Our democratic colleagues will not work with us on a single thing to secure the border, not one thing-

You’re the ones who can’t get behind a candidate here.

We are laying this all out in public view, and the American people can see it, it is the sausage getting made, it is the worst system except for all the others.

You think this looks good?

John: No, it definitely doesn’t look good. Do not claim that you’re “laying this mess out in public to be transparent about how the sausage is made.” It’s getting laid out because you’re incapable of making a sausage at all. When people go to the grocery store, they expect Oscar Meyer Weiners, not Oscar Meyer “a pig anus and other assorted animal parts.”
And to be fair, republicans aren’t alone in dealing with some public embarrassment. Democratic new jersey senator Bob Menendez is facing federal charges for allegedly accepting bribes to help, among others, the Egyptian government, in forms including gold bars and stacks of cash. And, the story just keeps developing.

Bob Menendez is facing new charges, accusing the new jersey democrat of plotting with his wife and an associate to make the senator an agent of Egypt, while he was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The new indictment showing Menendez and his wife hosting one Egyptian official in his senate office and dining with another at a Washington, D.C. steakhouse. At that dinner, Nadine Menendez allegedly asking, “what else can the love of my life do for you?”

John: I don’t like that at all. That sounds less like a request for bribes and more like a couple in an open relationship, coming on a little too strong to you at a bar. “What else can the love of my life do for you this evening?” Absolutely nothing! Leave me alone. And, the weird details don’t stop there.

Federal prosecutors say senator Menendez lifted a block on U.S. military aid to Egypt, texting his wife, “tell Will I am going to sign off this sale to Egypt today, 10,000 rounds tank ammunition.”

John: Oh that sounds fine, just some normal couple stuff, texting about thousands of rounds of tank ammunition. According to the indictment, that text eventually got forwarded to Egyptian officials, one of whom replied simply with a “thumbs up” emoji. And, come on. You’re confirming the receipt of tank ammunition with a thumbs up? Have some panache! Wheres the dollar handshake or the moneybag bomb champagne shhh or the flying money and the truck, making the other guy go “what is the truck for?” Only to get the response, “they don’t have tanks, that was the biggest truck,” getting the reply, “okay, got it, cool.” And then, and only then, is the thumbs-up emoji appropriate.
Now, Menendez — along with everyone else charged in this case — has denied wrongdoing, and said this week “nothing has changed in this indictment except the new charge.” Though, that new charge is a pretty gigantic one. And it’s not a great sign that politico ran the actual headline, “is it legal for a senator to work as a foreign agent? The answer won’t surprise you.”
And if you’re noticing that Menendez’s wife, Nadine is featuring a lot in this story, it’s because she’s actually been charged, too. According to the indictment, some of the items of value that Menendez received were for her benefit. It mentions that at one point, she totaled her car — something that happened, incidentally, when she hit and killed a man in 2018 — which I don’t even have time to get into. Google that yourselves. And, the indictment alleges that this businessman helped her pay for this new $60,000 Mercedes in exchange for favors from Menendez. And when the car turned up, Nadine seemed very happy.

Prosecutors say that after Nadine Menendez got the new car, she texted the senator, quote, “congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,” along with a heart emoji.

John: Wow, say what you want about Nadine Menendez — and that pedestrian she ran over certainly can’t — but she loves that car. And, by the way, not a great look for Mercedes there. Now, are the Menedezes the worst political figures that Mercedes, as a brand, has ever been associated with? No, that would probably be this guy. Although, to be fair, it’s not like Mercedes is the car of choice for Nazis anymore. These days, that’s really more of a Tesla thing.
The Menendezes have clearly gotten themselves into an impressive amount of shit for a couple that apparently only met five years ago. And in some pretty strange circumstances.

The couple told the New York Times they met in December 2018 at an IHOP in Union City, New Jersey. She told the New York Times she thought Menendez was “very intelligent,” and “very, very hot.”

John: Okay, I’ll be completely honest — if someone told me they found this man to be “very, very hot,” I think my only logical response would be, “you mean like, to the touch? Is he okay?” Because, he looks like a Keebler Elf became a tax accountant. He looks like what would happen if you combined the old man and the little boy from “Up” into a single person. And, let’s not skip over their meeting place — an IHOP in Union City, New Jersey. That’s not a meet-cute. That’s a meet-clinically-depressed. “An IHOP in New Jersey” is not where you expect a senator to meet his wife. It’s where you expect a customer to meet “their own personal rock bottom.” And I’d say “meeting at a union city IHOP” is the most Jersey thing about this couple, but it isn’t. Not only does Nadine have multiple pictures with cast members of the real housewives of New Jersey and mob wives, but perhaps the photo of her that screams “new jersey” the most is this one. Look at these jeans. They are in Italy in this photo. Italy. Home of Prada, Gucci, and Armani, yet she looks like she’s on the Disney channel red carpet in 2005. This is a chaotic relationship. They got engaged on a trip to India, and there’s actually video of the proposal, where you’ll see Menendez serenading Nadine with a number from “the greatest showman” before popping the question.

♪ Towers of gold are still too little ♪
♪ these hands could hold the world ♪
♪ and it will never be enough ♪
♪ never be enough for me ♪

Oh my god!


John: Yeah, wow! It doesn’t look great now to hear the world’s oldest theater kid sing about how “towers of gold” will never be enough for him, given the multiple gold bars that were found in his house. I don’t care how much you like a song, if it sounds that much like a confession, maybe don’t sing it in public. It’s one of the many reasons the new Sweeney Todd revival on Broadway stars Josh Groban and not O.J. Simpson. Because regardless of how good juice would be in the role, the knife crimes happening on stage wouldn’t be the ones I’d be thinking about. Now, Menendez has stepped down as chair of the senate foreign relations committee, but is facing increasing calls from within his own party to step down as senator altogether — a move that apparently 70% of New Jerseyans support. Which is striking. It’s hard to think of someone that New Jerseyans hate more than Menendez. Not impossible. Just hard. The point is: Bob Menendez is clearly in a lot of trouble. And while I don’t know where his case is going legally, if you were to ask me if he should resign from congress, I and the people of New Jersey would give you a very strong thumbs up emoji.


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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns business. A word that somehow describes the front part of a mullet, the second-nicest seats on an airplane and the single saddest room in any hotel. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the businesses that make other business’s business, their business: management consultants. There’s three big firms, and tonight, we’re going to focus on the oldest and largest one: McKinsey & Company. It’s been around for nearly a century, advising both big companies and government agencies on how to fix their most complex and urgent problems.

McKinsey was founded in 1926 by James O. McKinsey. He was a professor at the University of Chicago and an expert in management accounting. By the 1950s, the firm was assisting the White House with staffing organization, which, according to the company, would lead to the creation of the chief of staff role. In 1970, McKinsey helped create the barcode. Yes, that bar code.

John: That’s true! McKinsey did help invent the bar code. And I know that’s disappointing. Maybe you thought it was invented by a grocer in the 60s who dreamt of a way for computers to taste fruit. Maybe, you thought the beeps were just how the program says “yum.” But, I’m afraid you’re imagining a better world than the one we live in. But, it’s not just bar-code innovation. Firms like McKinsey sell themselves as can-do experts who can come in, provide an outside perspective, and fix whatever ails a company — whether it’s re-engineering an organizational chart, working on digital strategies, or deciding whether to sell off part of their business — you name it, they’ll advise you on what to do. And, McKinsey’s worked with everyone, from companies like Coca Cola, Best Buy, and AT&T to government agencies, like the Department of Defense and ice. McKinsey is massive, and ubiquitous — it has offices in at least 65 countries, and an annual revenue estimated at $15 billion. But, McKinsey doesn’t see itself as just a bunch of Powerpoint-slinging, power-suit-wearing micromanagers. As you can tell from their recruitment videos, they see themselves as operating as a force for good in the world.

Our purpose is to create positive enduring change in the world.

The work you do with McKinsey will matter.

What we are doing on a day to day basis is really impacting the lives of thousands of people, sometimes more.

What’s really great about McKinsey is it provides you with an opportunity to work on really hard problems that are also really interesting, and also really actually matter

John: Right. McKinsey consultants are encouraged to see themselves as world-changers. As a humble McKinsey partner once put it, “there are only three great institutions left in the world: the marines, the catholic church, and McKinsey.” Which is a hell of a group to put yourself in. “Look — there’s just three cool guys left in the world: Henry Kissinger, Kevin Spacey, and me.” And the truth is, McKinsey’s reputation has taken a bit of a knock in recent years. It’s found itself under scrutiny for everything from exacerbating income inequality, to helping market dangerous products, to enabling authoritarian regimes. And, former employees have pointed out that for all its talk of making the world a better place, it’s worked for some of the planet’s biggest polluters, while getting hundreds of millions of dollars in return. In fact, one of those disillusioned employees paints a pretty damning portrait of what the company is at its core.

They serve a lot of clients with really harmful effects. They know exactly what the repercussions are going to be and then they say “we’re going to do it anyway.” And, that tells you all you need to know about the firm.

John: Right, that’s an inherently alarming thing to hear about a business. Generally, you want companies to mitigate harm, not actively seek it out. It’s why Lego has a choking hazard warning on its packaging, instead of one that says, “now with blue raspberry flavor!” So if it’s that influential, that ubiquitous, and is behind so much harm, tonight, let’s take a look at McKinsey. And, if this is the first time you’re hearing McKinsey’s name — don’t be embarrassed. Because, for a company with so much reach, it’s gone out of its way to try and keep a low profile. It doesn’t publicize its client list, and even its offices can be hard to spot.

We stopped by McKinsey’s headquarters at 3 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. It’s such a powerful company, and yet you would never know they were here. There’s not a single McKinsey sign anywhere. Why is that?

They don’t want anyone to know anything about them. They want everything done in secret, and if that includes where they work, then so be it.

John: That’s not innately suspicious at all! You’ve built yourself an expensive, glass-fronted nameless lair that’s completely invisible to anyone, unless they simply type McKinsey into “Google Maps” or happened to hear that journalist say “3 World Trade Center” while she literally showed you their address. Kudos. That was a dick move and I appreciate it.
But, discretion is only part of McKinsey’s brand. They’ve also cultivated a reputation for hiring the best and brightest, fresh out of elite colleges and MBA programs. And young, high-achieving types often use a stint at McKinsey as a springboard to bigger things — former employees include Pete Buttigieg, senator Tom Cotton, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandburg, and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai. And, McKinsey picks its consultants through a notoriously rigorous interview process, asking candidates challenging, slightly unconventional questions.

One of the interview questions I was asked in my final rounds was, “how many pigs are in china?” Which sounds like a very silly question, but it’s a really good question to test how you think because, it’s not only – the answer doesn’t matter. It’s, how can you structure a problem? Can you take a very nebulous situation and put structure around it in a way that makes sense, and then logically deduce things in order to get to an answer that’s meaningful.

John: Sure, that’s one way to describe it. Another way might be to say that they’re just trying to see how good you are at bullshitting your way to a plausible-sounding answer. Because, if a business “really” needs to know how many pigs are in China, there are ways to find that out. Like call Chinese pork magnate Qin Yinglin, or just google “how many pigs in China.” Or if you’re on your phone, Google “howkany oigsnchina,” because that’s still enough for it to go on. What do I have to do, draw it a map? I’m in a hurry. My thumbs are fat and I’ve got places to be. But, once they’re hired, McKinsey consultants work insanely long hours, while being schooled in “the McKinsey way” of doing things — something the firm itself can be pretty insufferable about. A partner once said, “we don’t learn from clients. Their standards aren’t high enough. We learn from other McKinsey partners” — a sentence so smug that, even if you just read it, you’d have automatically heard my accent in your head. Because that’s not just smug: that is British Empire smug. And the thing is, that level of swagger might make some sense if McKinsey’s advice was consistently novel and brilliant. But, it’s had some big misses — famously, in the early 1980s, its client AT&T asked McKinsey to estimate how many cell phones would be in use in the world by the turn of the century, and McKinsey concluded that the total market would only be about 900,000 phones, total, which persuaded AT&T to pull out of the market. And, to be fair, McKinsey were only off by about $739 million, and, to be fair, McKinsey were only off by about 739 million, or 82,000%. But, even when they’re troubleshooting existing problems, their “bespoke” solutions can be blindingly obvious. Watch as one McKinseyite brags in a promotional video about the firm’s ability to come up with unique solutions.

We were serving an energy client, and their problem was that they have offshore drilling rigs, and they had stacks and stacks of paper invoices that they would fly out to these rigs in the middle of the gulf coast — in hurricane weather — to have to get somebody to sign off and then helicopter back to headquarters. We brought in a team that had partners who were experts in the energy sector, we had partners who were experts in procurement as a function, and they were able to get together with our digital team, and say “actually, we don’t know if signatures are really required for this.”

John: Yeah, no shit! I’m not sure it speaks well of you that you needed the digital team and experts in the energy sector and “procurement as a function,” whatever the fuck that means, to get to the conclusion “why not send an email instead of a fucking helicopter?”
And that’s not a one-off — over the years, there have repeatedly been grumbles that McKinsey oversells its brilliance. In the words of one fortune story, while “some of its work can be highly sophisticated, much of the time the firm merely reorganizes sales forces or designs by-the-numbers downsizing to reduce overhead.” And, those are just obvious, first-thought ideas. Essentially, McKinsey is a firm that projects a huge amount of confidence to sell a frequently unremarkable product at sky-high prices, making them truly the Salt Bae of companies. “You’ve had Salt before, but have you had it from a douche?” And, let’s talk for a minute about downsizing. Because, there is a long history of companies bringing in consulting firms like McKinsey, and very soon after, aggressively cutting costs. This gets dressed up with fancy terms like “finding efficiencies” and “organizational streamlining,” but what that often amounts to is mass layoffs. And look: layoffs are sometimes necessary, but they’re always painful — and much more painful than some mid-20s ivy leaguer who fancies himself a business genius might realize. 24 Years ago, McKinsey allowed a documentary crew rare access to film a training session for young consultants, going through an exercise where they role-played advising a real-life client. Here they are, joking about how they’d break the news that layoffs were going to be necessary.

We’ve got a very simple strategy. Just
♪bom, bom, bom, bom bom♪
♪ bom, bom, bom, bom♪
♪ hit the road, Jack♪
♪ and don’t you come back♪
♪ no more, no more, no more, no more♪
♪ hit the road, Jack♪
♪ and don’t you come back no more, no more♪
that’s not our communications strategy.

John: Cool. Now, I’m not a violent person, but if all those dickheads exploded, I would absolutely spin around singing “it’s raining men.” But, that’s emblematic of a major role consultants like McKinsey play: essentially, allowing executives to say, “I know job cuts are bad news, but it’s what McKinsey told us to do. As one book on the company put it, “they are, without question, the go-to consultants for mangers seeking justification for savage cost cutting, as well as a convenient scapegoat on whom to blame it.” Though, there’s one area where McKinsey has historically advised the exact opposite of cost-cutting, and that’s executive pay. Starting in 1950, a consultant of theirs named Arch Patton started advising corporate leaders they were underpaid — writing books like, “men, money and motivation: executive compensation as an instrument of leadership.” His advice was so wildly popular that, for a time, Patton personally accounted for almost 10% of the firm’s billings, and later came to be seen as a major contributor to skyrocketing executive pay. In fact, when he was asked in the ’80s about how he felt about the effect of his work, his reply was simple: “guilty.” And while it’s hard to gauge tone from that, I’m going to hope it was a sober, reflective “guilty,” and not — as seems more likely — a naughty, mischievous “guil-ty!” Like you’d use to respond to “who spiked the punch?” So, to recap: McKinsey’s advice can be expensive but obvious, its predictions can be deeply flawed, and it’s arguably helped supercharge economic inequality in this country. All of which is pretty striking, coming from a company whose leader you’ve already seen sum up its fundamental mission like this.

Our purpose is to create positive, enduring change in the world.

John: Yeah, is it, though? Because, let’s talk about that. A quick look at McKinsey’s client list shows a bunch of companies going out of their way to do the exact opposite of “positive enduring change.” Because, it’s not just those oil and gas companies I mentioned earlier. The firm also began counseling the tobacco industry in 1956, well after we knew smoking caused cancer. You might be thinking, “well, c’mon, it was the ’50s, lots of people were okay with smoking back then.” But, you should know, McKinsey only “stopped” working with tobacco companies in 2021. Which is, and this is true, too late. That would be like finding out subway dropped Jared’s contract “today.” Wait: he was still in commercials? From prison? How could anyone think that was okay? And, if you think that was damaging, McKinsey also worked with Purdue pharma. They actually made nearly $84 million in fees from Purdue, for advice on how to, quote, “turbocharge” sales of oxycontin. In fact, listen to the AG of Massachusetts explain just how intimately McKinsey was involved in Purdue’s sales process.

McKinsey consultants actually rode along with, went with Purdue sales reps to doctor’s offices here in Massachusetts to critique them on how effective they were at selling oxycontin.

John: It’s true, they did ride-alongs! And honestly, I didn’t think I could have any sympathy for Purdue sales reps, until I learned that they were trapped in a car with a McKinsey consultant for hours. “Yeah, you mentioned you went to Harvard. Can we please just be quiet and go sell some poison?”
But, it’s not just private companies — remember, McKinsey’s frequently hired by government agencies, too, where, again, their advice has not brought universally positive change. For instance, in 2014, New York City brought McKinsey in to figure out how to reduce violence at Rikers — a project whose cost ballooned to $27 million. People asked questions at the time about whether that was a good use of money, but the head of the city’s corrections back then insisted McKinsey was worth every penny.

If we made any progress, it was because of McKinsey’s help in areas that we needed help in.

John: Wow, that’s high praise! To claim that McKinsey was the “sole” reason for any progress made at Rikers would be a pretty impressive compliment, if you didn’t know anything about the state of Rikers. So, what imaginative strategies did McKinsey try to implement? Oh, I dunno, just fun things like expanding the use of tasers, shotguns, and aggressive dogs. It’s some “very” outside the box thinking, for people literally trapped inside boxes. But, its big project was an anti-violence program called “Restart.” It claimed that violence had dropped more than 50 percent in the Restart facilities. Which sounds great! Unfortunately, it turned out, that number was bogus, because jail officials and McKinsey consultants had reportedly jointly rigged the Restart program, by stacking the units with inmates they believed to be unlikely to get into fights or to attack staff in the first place. And, while McKinsey, to this day, defends that program and denies skewing the results, it’s notable that when Propublica later crunched the numbers for Rikers overall, they found that, jailhouse violence there had actually risen nearly 50% since McKinsey began its assignment. And honestly: you’ve kind of got to hand it to McKinsey there. Not many firms could get paid $27 million of taxpayer money to leave Rikers somehow worse. \

And, it’s not just jails: McKinsey’s government clients also include regulators. Which can get a little weird, when you consider that McKinsey also represents corporate clients. For instance: remember how it worked with Purdue pharma? While it was working for them, it was also working with the FDA. That sure seems like a clear conflict of interest. And, it was one that even mr. “Positive and enduring change” here found a little hard to explain to Congress after the fact.

Okay. So, let me ask you, did you disclose to the FDA your — McKinsey’s work at the same time — did you disclose to the FDA that McKinsey was working at the same time it was working for the FDA, that it was working for Purdue? Did you disclose that to the FDA?

We made clear in multiple instances that the individuals involved had experience in both pharmaceuticals and opioids.

Reclaiming my time. Mr. Sternfels, they didn’t have experience. They were the identical humans working for both at the same time.

John: Exactly, and there’s a big difference between having experience working for both, and actively working for both at the same time. It’s the same difference between telling your wife about your ex-girlfriend, and telling your wife about your current girlfriend. One is dramatically worse than the other. And, Katie Porter was right — there were multiple instances of McKinsey consultants working for both Purdue and the FDA at the same time. At one point, four consultants working on an FDA contract to enhance drug safety were simultaneously working for Purdue, on projects designed to persuade the FDA of the safety of Purdue’s products. One project even had them writing scripts for Purdue to use in a meeting with the FDA, on the safety of pediatric oxycontin. Pediatric oxy! Oxy for kids. Y’know, just like in that episode of “Dora the explorer” when backpack is getting a bit too heavy and boots gives her a little something to take the edge off.
Now, McKinsey claims there was no conflict, and that the nature of their work for FDA and Purdue was different. Which is hard to take, considering they sold themselves to Purdue at the time, with the notion that they had special insights into the FDA. They told Purdue in 2014 that they brought an “unequaled capability based on who we know and what we know,” including “the FDA, who we have supported for over five years.” So, hold on McKinsey, which is it there? Was the work you did for the FDA “totally different,” or did it help you bring an “unequaled capability” to purdue? It can’t be both. This isn’t Schrödinger’s contract. You don’t get to claim it’s both relevant and unrelated depending on who the fuck you’re talking to. And at this point, I could stop. Tobacco, opioids, Rikers. Those are already some pretty unpleasant stains on a company’s record. But, here’s the thing: all the examples so far are just from the US. And remember — McKinsey now has offices all over the world. And from them, they’ve cozied up to some truly terrible clients. They’ve worked for a Russian defense contractor, and are so deeply entrenched in the government of Saudi Arabia that Saudi Arabia’s planning ministry has been dubbed “The ministry of McKinsey.” And, it’ll loudly defend its work there, saying that it feels it’s making the country a better place. But, that feat of mental gymnastics got a little trickier after Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated. Just a few months later, McKinsey’s head at the time was on CNBC, trying to defend its work in the country, and reassuring everyone it had a strict moral code.

The work that we do — and we think very hard about the work we do — needs to be work that does make a positive difference.


And, that’s what I’m — — making sure we —

But just straight up and down, doing business with a murderer is okay by you?

No, it’s absolutely not.

Okay, and you — and when — when you find out that your client is a murderer, you do what?

You walk.

You walk.

John: Oh, you walk, do you? That sounds good! Except here’s the thing: they didn’t walk. Their client killed and dismembered a journalist, and McKinsey responded by participating in a major Saudi investment conference that same month, even as other companies pulled out. So unless “you walk” is short for “you walk to the front of the line and pick up your lanyard for another fun weekend at the journalist-choppin’ business jamboree,” you are full of shit! But wait — it gets even worse. Because it later emerged that in one of McKinsey’s reports, it highlighted three people who “drove negative conversation on Twitter” about Saudi government policies. This is that slide — featuring names, pictures, criticisms and follower counts. And subsequently, some of those people were — you’re not gonna believe this — targeted by the Saudi government. In fact, one of their phones was hacked, revealing communications with, you guessed it, Jamal Khashoggi. At this point, I have to tell you McKinsey consists “there is no evidence the slide deck was connected to the death of Jamal Khashoggi or exposed dissidents.” And, that it wasn’t prepared for the Saudi government. In fact, when this story initially came to light, they said the report’s intended primary audience was “internal,” and that they were horrified by the possibility, however remote, that it could have been misused in any way. But, come on. It’s Saudi Arabia. Even if that report didn’t fall into their hands — and “please” — what part of the way Saudi Arabia operates made you think that “a McKinsey-curated list of shit-talking dissidents” would be a good thing to put together? You’re working in one of the rootinest, tootinest, journalist shootinest regimes in the Middle East, and you figured it was fine to draw up a list like this, because the potential for misuse was “remote?” What are you talking about? This is a government led by Mohammed Bin-Salman, a man who, and this is true, once detained his own mother. Do you think if MBS were to stumble across a list of his haters, he’d just send them a big “no hard feelings about all the dissident stuff” edible arrangement? The fuck is wrong with you?
And for what it’s worth, a former McKinsey consultant has called that whole “internal document” excuse “utter horseshit.” And look: McKinsey will claim that all the examples I’ve mentioned tonight are isolated cases, not representative of their work overall. What’s more, they’ll say they’ve revamped their policies on client selection, and that “if a client or proposed project falls short of our standards, we will not do the work.” Although, they’re still working in Saudi Arabia, so those standards seem, at best, fucking flexible.
They also want me to tell you they do a lot of projects like helping clients deploy vaccines, or supporting refugees and rebuilding in Ukraine, which is very nice. But, think of it like this: how many uplifting McKinsey projects like “more snuggles at the puppy factory” or “make grandma live forever,” would you need to hear about to effectively counterbalance “turbocharge the opioid epidemic,” “help fuck up Rikers even more,” and “make a Saudi Arabian snitch list?” And look, it’s not just McKinsey with these issues: their main competitors have had them too. BCG was also deep in with the Saudis, and Bain was banned from state contracts in South Africa for a decade, thanks to its role in a massive corruption scandal.
And, I’m not even saying the consulting industry should be abolished. Getting outside feedback on best practices can make a lot of sense for an organization. We certainly need to preserve a career path for high-achieving type-a bullshitters who don’t want to commit to law school and want to spend their prime years flying business class to Dallas. Companies can feel free to hire as many fresh-faced dork sociopaths as they want to take the heat for whatever layoffs and-or atrocities they were already launching in the first place. It’s a free country, or not, depending on where the McKinsey office is. But, if their work, as they claim, really does impact the lives of millions of people, they shouldn’t get to be invisible and they should expect much more accountability for their mistakes. And, until such time as that happens, the very least they can do is be a bit more transparent with their recruiting videos going forward.

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Hi there. Here at McKinsey, we are an elite group of strategists, thinkers, innovators, guys named Braden, and delta platinum skymiles rewards members, here to drive success at any business venture. We are proud to say McKinsey alums include many of the most powerful people on earth. And also, Pete Buttigieg.

We at McKinsey genuinely believe great consultants can come from anywhere. That’s why our workforce features an incredibly diverse array of graduates from all over the Ivy league, even cornell.

So, if you are an ambitious college senior or an MBA graduate who needs to be told “you’re special” or you will die, we would like you to consider a career at McKinsey.

The best part of my Harvard education was the look on people’s faces when I said “I go to Harvard.” I’m really passionate about belonging in groups that oppress people, and so to be able to continue that at McKinsey has been very fulfilling.

One of the interview questions I was asked in my final round was “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” Sounds like a silly question. It’s a smart way to test your approach to partners and how many billable hours you can talk for. In my case, a lot.

Here at McKinsey, you’ll have the opportunity to change the world, by serving a surprisingly wide array of clients.

But, not just anyone. For instance, we proudly don’t work for tobacco clients, and haven’t since the start of this sentence.

We have got clients who appeal to every interest: local interests, foreign interests, and even conflict of interests.

I work for the FDA and Purdue pharma. At the same time. I can’t believe I was allowed to do that. My mom did say “shouldn’t that be illegal?” That made me really worried, until I remembered she’s not a consultant, of course she wouldn’t understand. I was basically talking to an ape.

We hold our employees and our clients to a higher personal and ethical standard. Core McKinsey values will always —

Sorry, you have a phone call?

Not now?

It’s the Saudis.

Actually, I do have to take this. I think it might be about — the thing.

You’ve got Braden Beat.

The point is, you will be using your big, special, early ’20s brain unencumbered by practical experience to develop bespoke tailor solutions to address companies’ specific needs.

What we are recommending is finding significant efficiencies, by laying off the people at the bottom of the company and paying more to the people at the top.

Hey, that’s me! The money signs!


That’s me at the top! [Laughs]

Look: We believe there are three great institutions left in the world: the marines, the catholic church, and McKinsey.

That’s because the mark of any good institution is matching outfits, evasion of responsibility through institutional secrecy, and the misplaced belief that you are saving the world. Because at the end of the day —

We’re McKinsey.

We’re McKinsey.

We’re McKinsey.

We’re McKinsey.

And, we are capable of anything.

And culpable for nothing. [Laughs]

I love that line.

I mean it’s true, they can’t touch us.

It’s true.

John: That’s our show, thanks so much for watching. We’ll see you next week. Good night.

[Cheers and applause]

♪ ♪

Just traditional firing songs. Of course, Nsync. The verb, for any gen x people you might be firing.

You would have to take the diamond out of the woodchuck’s mouth, time the volume, so you could get an average bite, passing size, and then you have to multiply that with the total wood consumption in America, which they woodchuck has made, and just off the top of my head, about 3.4 billion volumes of wood — so, the forest and devastation, climate change. I would say a woodchuck could probably chuck about 2 billion cubits of wood per year.

Wait, I’m sorry, he did another one. Oh, my god. Which newspaper?


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