McKinsey’s partners have chosen Bob Sternfels as their next leader, challenging him to stabilize a consulting firm shaken by a reputation crisis that has raised questions about its culture, growth strategy and governance.
The San Francisco-based 51-year-old, whose current role is similar to that of a chief operating officer, defeated Sven Smit, the Amsterdam-based co-chair of the McKinsey Global Institute, the private partnership’s research arm.
The two men shocked many McKinsey partners and alumni last month by winning enough votes to knock out Kevin Sneader, who has been running the company since 2018, from the final round of the election. The 54-year-old Scot will step down on July 1 and will become the first managing partner since 1976 to serve only one three-year term.
Sternfels has been with McKinsey since 1994, worked in Australia and South Africa before returning to his native California, and was Sneader’s number two in the 2018 leadership election.
As head of ‘client capabilities’, he oversees the company’s industrial practices and remains deeply involved in an innovation agenda that took McKinsey into new and sometimes controversial areas, such as bankruptcy advice under Sneader’s predecessor, Dominic Barton.
A former partner said before the results of the final vote were out that Smit was “ a sky-high intellectual, ” but that Sternfels was “ more of an operations manager going a few steps further ” Sneader’s efforts to impose more rigorous structures on a company where partners have had significant autonomy.
In his new role, Sternfels is expected to act quickly to assure alumni, clients and policymakers that he has listened to their concerns and is planning meaningful reforms.
Sternfels, who will be the 13th partner to lead McKinsey since its founding in 1926, indicated that he would build on the reforms made by Sneader and oppose public criticism of his work.
“I am determined to use this moment to make our partnership stronger, more inclusive and better able to help our customers thrive in a rapidly changing world,” he said in a press release announcing his appointment. “I am also committed to building on the significant changes Kevin helped launch and our partnership embraced – and the good work our company is doing with our customers and in society.”
Sneader took office as McKinsey struggled to contain the fallout of a corruption scandal in South Africa, and was voted out weeks after agreeing to pay $ 574 million to settle U.S. states’ lawsuits over his work to help the sale of highly “turbocharge” addictive opioids. .
His response was to try to strengthen internal risk management and be more selective about which customers the company hires. Some of the 650 senior partners who can vote in the leadership election were raving about the increased scrutiny imposed by Sneader, while others felt that his changes had not gone far enough.
Leading the world’s largest private partnership was not like the role of a traditional chief executive, the former partner said: “It’s much more like running a political party. There are a lot of backbenchers who don’t like having a boss.”
Sternfels is a Rhodes scholar with a master’s degree in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford University and a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Stanford. As a competitive water polo player in college, he describes himself as an enthusiastic private pilot.
He will take the reins in the midst of what Alex Liu, managing partner of rival consulting firm Kearney called “a bull market revival in consulting.”
Speaking to the The Washington City Times last week after Kearney partners elected him for a second term, Liu said the pandemic had been “an accelerator” driving corporate clients to speed up digital transformation and other structural changes and the boost infrastructure spending in the public sector.