In a deeply researched longread, New York Times investigative reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe document in fine detail the role played by the ubiquitous McKinsey and Company in legitimizing, coordinating, and supercharging the world's most notorious human-rights-abusing regimes, from Saudi Arabia to China to Russia.
In these countries, McKinsey consultants confer with ex-McKinsey consultants who ascend to high ranks in government ministries and para-governmental entities (such as Russia's VEB bank, which operates as a not-very-secret arm of the Kremlin), and the McKinsey company hires the scions of local power-brokers to work in their ranks. McKinsey worked alongside Paul Manafort to legitimize and guide Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych; they were one of the few "Western" countries to attend the "Davos in the Desert" event thrown by the Saudis after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; they had their fingers deep in the embezzlement scandal that brought down the Malaysian government.
McKinsey insists that they are working to reform these countries from within, providing advice that uplifts the people living under the yoke of oppression and there's some truth to this, but they're also prolific rationalizers, according to insiders and former McKinseyites, who describe how this rubric is deployed to cover working for terrible people who want to do terrible things — so long as they are profitable.
Other consulting companies serve similar clients, but none have the stature to confer credibility quite like McKinsey, a confidant for 92 years to many of the world's most admired companies.
In China, it has advised at least 22 of the 100 biggest state-owned companies — the ones carrying out some of the government's most strategic and divisive initiatives, according to a review of Chinese-language material by The Times.
While it is not unusual for American corporations to work with China's state-owned companies, McKinsey's role has sometimes put it in the middle of deeply troubled deals. In Malaysia, the company laid out the case for one of Asia's most corrupt leaders to pursue billions of dollars from China at a time when he was suspected of funneling vast sums of public money into his own pocket, drawing tens of thousands into the streets to protest against him.
McKinsey defends its work around the world, saying that it will not accept jobs at odds with the company's values. It also gives the same reason that other companies cite for working in corrupt or authoritarian nations — that change is best achieved from the inside.
How McKinsey Has Helped Raise the Stature of Authoritarian Governments [Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe/New York Times]
(via Naked Capitalism)