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The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business Hardcover – September 10, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439190976
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439190975
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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)

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.

Customer Reviews

I found many spelling and grammar errors.
Tobias Switzer
Anyone seeking to engage management consultants should read this well-written book.
Lisa Berlinger
Very well written and complete history of McKinsey's leadership.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Alastair MacAndrew on 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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47 of 61 people found the following review helpful By James on October 22, 2013
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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30 of 42 people found the following review helpful By John Gibbs TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
McKinsey consultants, in becoming an indispensable part of government and corporate decision making at the highest levels, have helped invent what we think of as American capitalism and spread it to every corner of the world, according to Duff McDonald in this book. At the same time, McKinsey has been implicated in a striking list of failures.

The book describes how James McKinsey, an accounting lecturer, wrote an influential book on budgeting for corporations and then started up business in the mid 1920s as James O McKinsey & Company, Accountants and Management Engineers. He soon developed a General Survey Outline as a system for understanding all aspects of a company including finances, organisation and competitive positioning.

The firm subsequently grew to a position of great influence with its distinctive values and operational methods. A downturn in the 1970s led to a focus on systematic knowledge building. In the 1990s when Rajat Gupta (subsequently convicted of insider trading) was managing director, the firm focused more on money than on its core values, according to the author, but subsequent managing directors have brought a return to the core values.

A very significant percentage of the largest companies and governments in the world use the services of McKinsey and pay very handsomely for the privilege. The question which the book raises is whether the services provided are worth the cost, and the author's answer is a qualified yes. Some companies seem to have received very bad advice, and other companies seem to have been paying fees for too long a period of time, but on the whole McKinsey's clients seem to have benefited.

While the book provides interesting perspectives on the history and business of one management consulting firm, it also provides some valuable lessons for anyone involved in the management of other types of professional services firms.
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