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What’s next for McKinsey? A conversation with new global managing partner Kevin Sneader

Kevin Sneader

Today marks the first working day in the office for Kevin Sneader, our new global managing partner. We sat down with Kevin to get a sense of his priorities, his leadership style, and how he sees the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Will you lead McKinsey differently from Dominic Barton?

Gosh, what will I do differently from Dom? That presumes I want to do a lot differently. I don’t. Dom was a terrific leader, is a terrific leader.

I’m very fortunate in that I arrive [in the office] at a time when McKinsey is really firing on all cylinders. We’ve got a remarkable track record on recruiting. We’ve got a terrific set of clients. And I think we have real momentum in terms of how we’re performing across the globe.

But as Dom always taught me as a member of his operating committee, we should be restless. We should be constantly looking to change. I was elected on February 24—a date I won’t forget in a hurry—and here we are in July. And in those 100 days, I’ve had a chance to announce a leadership team, to announce some changes to the way the firm is structured, and to announce some priorities.

One of the areas we’ve not made as much progress as any of us would like is diversity. I think there are a number of things we can do. First, all of us need to see it as an absolute priority. It’s one of my top priorities, something I’m talking about a lot. The good news is I think it’s broadly embraced [as a priority] in our firm. We get that it’s important.

The second thing is that we need to put resources and leadership into tackling the challenge. That’s why I’ve asked Lareina Yee, from our San Francisco office, to step into a leadership role solely focused on what we’re calling All-In, which is what we call our efforts on women, and also inclusion and diversity more broadly. It’s not a symbolic appointment. We’re putting real resources, targets, and goals behind her and our efforts collectively to make progress. We won’t rest until 51 percent of the people who join our firm are female. We won’t rest until we have female representation in our partnership that’s at least above 40 percent.

The third and perhaps the most important thing we can do is to take our own medicine. We’ve written a lot about the power of parity, women in the workplace. We’ve written about diversity. Whenever we write about something, we need to make sure we’re acting on it. I really want us to live up to everything we write about, and make sure we’re putting it into practice.

How will McKinsey change over the next 3 to 5 years?

One of the things that Dom has regularly said, and rightly said, is that 50 percent of what we do today didn’t exist even 5 years ago. I’m pretty confident this will be true, and even more true, let’s say 3 years from now.

We’re going to continue to have a different set of clients. We’re now working in areas we never worked in before. The amount of technology work we’re doing, the kind of clients we’re serving, both large and small, is very different than [who] we served before. I think this will continue.

Importantly, I think the people of our firm will change. We’ve been attracting huge numbers of talented colleagues from very different backgrounds than we ever had before. It was just a start to bring in people who’ve got creative backgrounds. The number of people who bring non-MBA capabilities [to McKinsey] has been progressing over many years. I think, again, over the next 3 years, that’s going to accelerate. We’ll have new people joining us with completely different backgrounds to those we’ve recruited before.

The other thing that will change is the way we work. I think the days of handing clients an answer are over. Today it is much more about how we work together [with clients] to bring about change. The word “transformation” may be overused, but it is true that we’re increasingly working on efforts to transform our clients through the combination of technology, new ways of organizational thinking, and classic strategy.

We’re building our capabilities in digital and analytics by bringing together those areas, and also our design capability. We’re building capabilities in transformation by bringing together the many different transformation approaches we’ve been applying with our clients. We’re looking at new ways to help build our clients’ capabilities with the McKinsey Academy and McKinsey Implementation.

As we put these together, and we’re calling them growth platforms, that’s a whole new set of capabilities that I think could power a lot of our ability to really make a difference for our clients.

What lessons have been learned from events in South Africa?

South Africa has been a wake-up call for all of us. I think there’s a lot we have to learn from what went wrong there.

If we get things wrong, I think we should admit it. We need to find a way to engage with those who bring to our attention the things we get wrong. One of the challenges in South Africa is the reality that we didn’t realize quickly enough how badly things had gone, and therefore we didn’t engage with civil society to really work together to make sure we’re on the right side of change in a country that we care deeply about.

We did make some mistakes in our governance, too. And so we’ve gone back and looked hard at how we think about who we serve [as clients] and how we partner with other organizations. We’ve looked hard at how we enforce the decisions made by our committees, because we did actually conduct very effective diligence in South Africa that said we should not be partnering with this third party. It just took too long to act on that. That can never happen again. So we’re making changes to our governance.

I’m confident we’ll learn from South Africa. But the one other thing I think is really important is that we’ve made a commitment to stay in South Africa, to make sure we’re on the side of good, to help the country develop. That’s my real hope: that we can still be a positive force in Africa, and in South Africa in particular. We’re very committed to doing this. But there’s a lot to learn, and we’re taking the lessons very seriously.

What are the biggest challenges facing McKinsey?

The reality is we face many challenges. The challenges range from the amount of scrutiny there is externally on our firm. I think we need to embrace this, understand that we are in the public arena, and if we’re in that arena, be as open and transparent as possible about ourselves—while also protecting and maintaining the confidentiality that our clients rightly expect about how we treat their information and what we do for them. That’s one challenge.

A second challenge is the war for talent. It’s incredibly hot. The good news is that our recruiting proposition seems to be stronger than ever. We’re ranked number one in terms of how we’re seen by prospective employees in North America, Europe, and Asia–Pacific. Nobody’s ever done that before. I’m not going to be so complacent as to assume that’s ours forever. We’re going to work very hard to keep that position.

A third challenge is that we face competition. There are new firms coming in to try to do what we do. These are organizations that come from hard-technology backgrounds as well as more traditional competition. We’re not going to rest on any laurels. We’re going to be constantly looking to innovate on top of the very strong base we have in top management consulting and the ways in which we think about solving problems. But add to that technology, and new organizational approaches. The last thing we should be doing is trying to stand still and pretend that the answer we had a few years ago will be the answer for tomorrow.


Learn more about Kevin’s background and career in this interview from February 2018.

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