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The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business [Kindle Edition]

Duff McDonald
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The story of McKinsey & Co., America’s most influential and controversial business consulting firm, “an up-to-date, full-blown history, told with wit and clarity” (The Wall Street Journal).

If you want to be taken seriously, you hire McKinsey & Company. Founded in 1926, McKinsey can lay claim to the following partial list of accomplishments: its consultants have ushered in waves of structural, financial, and technological change to the nation’s best organizations; they remapped the power structure within the White House; they even revo­lutionized business schools. In The New York Times bestseller The Firm, star financial journalist Duff McDonald shows just how, in becoming an indispensable part of decision making at the highest levels, McKinsey has done nothing less than set the course of American capitalism.

But he also answers the question that’s on the mind of anyone who has ever heard the word McKinsey: Are they worth it? After all, just as McKinsey can be shown to have helped invent most of the tools of modern management, the company was also involved with a number of striking failures. Its consultants were on the scene when General Motors drove itself into the ground, and they were K-Mart’s advisers when the retailer tumbled into disarray. They played a critical role in building the bomb known as Enron.

McDonald is one of the few journalists to have not only parsed the record but also penetrated the culture of McKinsey itself. His access puts him in a unique position to demonstrate when it is worth hiring these gurus—and when they’re full of smoke.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

McDonald is a contributing editor at Fortune magazine and the New York Observer; he has also written for Vanity Fair, New York, Esquire, Business Week, GQ, WIRED, and other publications. His first book, Last Man Standing (2009), delved into the 2008 financial crisis through a profile of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase. In his new one, he examines one of the world’s most influential companies that you probably never heard of, the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company. Ranked among the top-rated consulting organizations for decades, McKinsey & Company has been a top-brass advisor to most of the Fortune 500 corporations at one time or another, though its client list has always been a well-guarded secret. This is a company that has prided itself as having the highest standards in the industry yet has contributed behind the scenes to severe cost cutting and downsizing, acted as enablers to the Enron and General Motors bankruptcies, and seen a former CEO hauled off to jail for insider trading. McDonald’s reporting reveals how and why this Teflon firm has continued to thrive through the years. --David Siegfried


“[T]hought-provoking . . . a fascinating look behind the company’s success. . . . [The Firm] chronicles McKinsey’s rise but also raises an important question about it that is applicable to the entire netherworld of consultants, advisers and other corporate hangers-on: ‘Are they worth it or not?’” (Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times DealBook)

“There have been other books about this American icon, but The Firm is an up-to-date, full-blown history, told with wit and clarity.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“[T]hrough an expert accretion of damning detail, McDonald builds a convincing case that, for better and (mostly) worse, McKinsey became the quintessential American business of the 20th century.” (Bloomberg Businessweek)

“[An] admiring book that nevertheless asks hard questions about the organization’s future.” (The Economist)

“[The Firm] is a book that fits one McKinsey colleague’s description of former managing director Ron Daniel – ‘so smooth he could skate on your face and not leave a mark. … very readable.’” (Financial Times)

“Duff McDonald’s book on McKinsey, one of the world’s biggest consulting firms, should be made mandatory reading for every management education aspirant around the globe.” (Business Standard)

"A fascinating account of the rise of McKinsey. If you want to know what it is about the culture of the firm that sets it apart and has made it so successful, read this book." (Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance)

“In this highly readable history, Duff McDonald brings us deep inside one of the smartest and most important firms doing business today – a place where no other journalist has taken us before. With his straightforward storytelling and thoughtful analysis, McDonald demystifies the secrets behind McKinsey’s successes and offers concrete lessons on changing companies and practices for the better.” (Jamie Dimon)

"In his superb examination of one of the most powerful, secretive, and least understood organizations on the planet, Duff McDonald finally solves the mystery, in elegant prose, of how McKinsey can be well known without anyone knowing anything about it. Thanks to McDonald, now we do." (William D. Cohan, bestselling author of The Last Tycoons, House of Cards, and Money and Power)

“I read it. It’s a good book.” (Dominic Barton)

"Duff McDonald's new book about the people who built McKinsey, the consulting firm that has quietly influenced American business for decades, explains the firm's tremendous accomplishments—and its equally stunning failures. As McDonald shows, the firm's greatest success may well be itself. This is critical reading for anyone who wants to understand how the world of business really works." (Bethany McLean, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller All the Devils Are Here)

"McDonald has written the definitive history of McKinsey, and through McKinsey of the entire multibillion-dollar industry that is management consulting. It's a heartbreaking tale of wasted talent." (Felix Salmon, finance blogger, Reuters)

“Timely.… A fast-paced account of a key business institution, its deeds and misdeeds.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Revealing… McDonald combines a lucid chronicle of McKinsey’s growth and
boardroom melodramas.” (Publishers Weekly)

“[A] highly readable and thoughtful history . . . Duff McDonald offers a lucid and engrossing narrative as he considers the question of the effects and value of McKinsey.” (

“Duff McDonald has written a breezy, entertaining book about McKinsey’s glorious past . . . . refreshingly light on buzz words and heavy on personalities. . . . A fascinating tale, deftly told.” (Globe & Mail)

Product Details

  • File Size: 2015 KB
  • Print Length: 401 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1439190984
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A287PG2
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,375 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very informative and enjoyable read October 13, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book documents well the beginnings and evolution of McKinsey as a consultaing firm: from providing generalist advise to clients on implementing the multi-divisional and conglomerate structures, from the 1940s to the 1970s, and later, changing its focus to knowledge-based and highly specialized consulting to business, government and other organizations from the 1980s onwards. The author points out the changing strategies but the relatively constant cultural values which drove them: an unrelenting and self-effacing devotion to client needs,selectivity in human resources and clientele, adaptability to changing demands, prizing teamwork over individual achievement, continuous culling of the workforce, and a capacity to bring rigorous analytic thinking to customer's decision-making processes. Side-effects of the company's success have been a large dose of hubris, uber self-confidence and a penchant for seeing themselves as Masters of the Universe.
He also points out that McKinsey managed to deftly balance the two opposing facets of a professional service organization, which are to maintain the professional values of providing sound and objective advise to clients, and at the same time, ensure the economics of the business itself are optimized. This balance was seriously compromised during the 1990s and early noughties, when under the leadership of Rajat Gupta the firm shifted its focus in favor of more commercial goals, and growth at any cost. Quaity was compromised and discontent flowed within its ranks. According to McDonald, these aberrations have since been corrected, although management is still struggling to hone its vision of itself and its future.
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57 of 78 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars lacks insight October 22, 2013
By James
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book makes clear that there is no such thing as McKinsey. It changes so quickly that to work there is to touch a moving train. First it's all strategy and no numbers from Harvard Business School, then computers and engineers from all Ivy schools, then scientists and experts of any sex, color or nationality are fine. This is what is known in the trade as dancing between the raindrops. And the storm is getting stronger. It's important to note that as the focus shifts, the people change as well.

In this respect the book was an eye opener and expanded impressions I gathered from my employment there. There wasn't much in the book about how consultants actually work or what the day to day work is like. The perspective of the writer seems to be to blend hero worship with hero dislike. The result is a mishmash of mischaracterizations, probably of little interest to outsiders.

Here is a little peek from my years. You can compare this with what you find in the book to see if it expands your understanding.

I entered the "Firm" as an associate in the early to mid 1970's, a time of turmoil outside and weakness within. As the director of the Washington D.C. office of a minor competitor, I had recently beat McKinsey out of two prestigious assignments in real estate, a field where McKinsey had no credible capability but wanted to establish a foothold. I was also a consultant to the National Academy of Sciences in new town development feasibility. But my employer was sinking fast.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I learned a lot of small things about McKinsey about this book: the early history of the firm, personalities of some Managing Directors, numbers on revenue growth, a little bit about recent scandals, and lots about the firm's consultants' high regard for themselves.

But what I was hoping to learn, and didn't, was what McKinsey actually DOES. The book listed different client engagements, and provided brief descriptions of what was accomplished (recommended cutting costs, revamping organizational structures, etc.). But there was no substantive discussion of how McKinsey uses its expertise and accumulated knowledge to acquire information, analyze it, and translate it into recommendations that clients value (or don't). Several hundred pages later, McKinsey's success remains as much a mystery to me as it was before.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worth the read February 4, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is a useful history of McKinsey, who, true to form, have recommended lots of layoffs at my employer. It's weakness comes when the author tries to second guess what has been a v successful firm. He s clearly not a fan of management consulting, but McKinsey is the biggest and most successful, so people are buying what they sell. I enjoyed the book, and would hire McKinsey, but only for specific roles. They don't have all the answers, but if you ask the right questions, they can definitely help.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Firm November 6, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great Book. I study and analyze management, leadership, and organizations. This product would be an excellent choice to add to a management and or leadership graduate course programs syllabus.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read and Fairly Balanced
I really enjoyed reading book, covered a lot of history, transition, flaws and provided an interesting insight into the firm.
Published 1 month ago by Christopher Steiner
4.0 out of 5 stars A great story. I'm surprised he's sharing it but he's ...
A great story. I'm surprised he's sharing it but he's written several books now so I guess he's good with it! Read more
Published 3 months ago by Nancy Parker
4.0 out of 5 stars balanced!
Looking forward to more in depth analysis of discrepancies in income McK has helped create by helping executives above all, or more about how their solutions' short term outlook... Read more
Published 3 months ago by David Minehart
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative History of McKinsey and More Recent Consulting Industry...
For this reviewer, "The Firm" provides a good overview of McKinsey history as well as the changing nature/challenges of the consulting business more broadly in recent years. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Fred Cheyunski
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great review of the firm and of american business in the 20th century
Published 4 months ago by John E Philbin Jr
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Poorly written.
Published 5 months ago by Bill M
5.0 out of 5 stars The Inside Story
This book was so well written and the voice over was perfect. The book went through the history of the McKinsey Firm in enjoyable and meticulous detail. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Brian
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 6 months ago by Kwadjo Wordie
2.0 out of 5 stars A so so book
Not upto the expectations as repeated many issues known and elaborated by other books. No firm statement how to evaluate this firm
Published 7 months ago by Wu Chun Pang
4.0 out of 5 stars Good history of what has become an institution.
I found McDonald's writing somewhat "choppy" because frequently he changed subjects in mid-paragraph with no warning. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Leslie A. Hubbard
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More About the Author

Duff McDonald is a New York-based journalist. A contributing editor at The New York Observer, he has also written for Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, New York, Esquire, Fortune, Business Week, Conde Nast Portfolio, GQ, WIRED, Time, Newsweek, and others.

In 2004, he was the recipient of two Canadian National Magazine Awards--Best Business Story (gold) and Best Investigative Reporting (silver)--for Conrad's Fall in National Post Business.

The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business, was published by Simon & Schuster in September 2013.

Last Man Standing, his biography of Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was published by Simon & Schuster in October 2009.

He is also the co-author, with Owen Burke, of The CEO, a satire.

He lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, Marguerite.

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