Media roasts, skewers McKinsey over Gupta

Published: Mar 03, 2011


A deluge of bad press for McKinsey & Company continued to flow late this week following the SEC's announcement that Rajat Gupta, the firm's longtime managing director (or "high priest", as Bloomberg put it), would likely face charges for his involvement in several massive insider trading schemes. As reported earlier, Gupta, who helmed McKinsey from 1994-2003 (and stayed on as senior partner until 2007), was recently named as the tipster behind the huge windfall that Raj Rajaratnam ("Raj Raj") and his hedge fund, Galleon Group, enjoyed after Warren Buffett invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs in 2008. Gupta was a member of Goldman's board of directors at the time.

While publications like the Economist and CNBC examined the potential fallout from the scandal—specifically, the extent to which McKinsey's all-important reputation was damaged—others preferred all-out abuse (some justified, some not) to sensible debate.

McKinsey: Disemboweled and served with fruit.

Yesterday, for example, the New York Times linked to Wall Street analyst Barry Ritzholtz's blog The Big Picture, which ran a story entitled "Is McKinsey & Co. the Root of All Evil?" Of course, the piece isn't actually an examination of whether or not McKinsey is morally virtuous; Ritzholtz admits that "vampire squid" Goldman Sachs remains (for now) in a league of its own in terms of questionable morality (see the two "evil empires" go head-to-head). Instead, it's a hit-list of McKinsey's greatest failures. Ritzholtz goes straight for the jugular. "McKinsey," he writes, "has created dubious strategies for all manners of companies ranging from Enron to General Electric. Indeed, where ever there has been a financial disaster in the world, if you look around, somewhere in the background, McKinsey & Co. is nearby." His hit-list:

• Advocating side pockets and off balance sheet accounting to Enron, it became known as "the firm that built Enron"
• Argued that NY was losing Derivative business to London, and should more aggressively pursue derivative underwriting
• General Electric lost over $1 billion after following McKinsey’s advice in 2007 — just before the financial crisis hit.
• Advising AT&T (Bell Labs invented cellphones) that there wasn’t much future to mobile phones
• Allstate reduced legitimate Auto claims payouts in a McK & Co stratagem
• Swissair went into bankruptcy after implementing a McKinsey strategy
• British railway company Railtrack was advised to "reduce spending on infrastructure"—leading to a number of fatal accidents, and a subsequent collapse of Railtrack.

Ritzholtz continues his honest, poetic streak. "No consulting firm that has been around as long as McKinsey has a blemish free record. But the total number of clusterf*cks and McKinsey foibles they are associated with goes on and on."

Comment-writers only piled on the misery for McKinsey, suggesting that Ritzholtz add Nortel, Qwest, Unilever, and a handful of other cock-ups to the list. "I've heard that there's a joke at Unilever," one writes, "that goes, 'Once you call in McKinsey it takes 2 years to regain profitability.'"

Not the funniest joke I've ever heard, but hey—I get it.

For more information:
The Big Picture