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18

Career at McKinsey given the scandals

Hi everyone,

I received offers at McKinsey and Bain and I am struggling on which offer to accept.

I initially had a strong preference for McKinsey because of their prestige and global staffing model, even though they have had many scandals in the past (work with ICE, authoritarian governements, corruption in South Africa, etc...). I have worked for other F500 in the past and they all had their fair share of scandals. But the recent news about McKinsey's involvement in the opioid crisis has put everything in perspective for me.

I don't have an utopic view of consulting but I also don't want to work on engagements (or at a firm) that contradicts with my values. Profit shouldn't be everything. So my question is: given McKinsey's long list of scandals, are they due to a culture problem at the firm?

I would be coming in as an Associate so I'm afraid I won't have enough influence to change recommendations or be asked to be staffed on another engagement. I'm curious to hear about experiences of other (ex)consultants who have faced moral/ethical dilemmas and how they have dealt with them.

Edit: I don't mind working for companies that churn out a profit. But I don't feel comfortable with the idea that I might get pressured to make recommendations I don't agree with (turbocharge opioid sales and fuel an opioid epidemic? hard pass). That's why I asked if the scandals were due to a culture problem at McKinsey. McKinsey says on their website that their purpose is "To help create positive, enduring change in the world" and "observe high ethical standards" yet the scandals seem to point to a different picture. Many of the answers state that "unethical practices are inevitable" in the consulting industry, maybe I had a more utopic view of consulting than I thought I did.

Hi everyone,

I received offers at McKinsey and Bain and I am struggling on which offer to accept.

I initially had a strong preference for McKinsey because of their prestige and global staffing model, even though they have had many scandals in the past (work with ICE, authoritarian governements, corruption in South Africa, etc...). I have worked for other F500 in the past and they all had their fair share of scandals. But the recent news about McKinsey's involvement in the opioid crisis has put everything in perspective for me.

I don't have an utopic view of consulting but I also don't want to work on engagements (or at a firm) that contradicts with my values. Profit shouldn't be everything. So my question is: given McKinsey's long list of scandals, are they due to a culture problem at the firm?

I would be coming in as an Associate so I'm afraid I won't have enough influence to change recommendations or be asked to be staffed on another engagement. I'm curious to hear about experiences of other (ex)consultants who have faced moral/ethical dilemmas and how they have dealt with them.

Edit: I don't mind working for companies that churn out a profit. But I don't feel comfortable with the idea that I might get pressured to make recommendations I don't agree with (turbocharge opioid sales and fuel an opioid epidemic? hard pass). That's why I asked if the scandals were due to a culture problem at McKinsey. McKinsey says on their website that their purpose is "To help create positive, enduring change in the world" and "observe high ethical standards" yet the scandals seem to point to a different picture. Many of the answers state that "unethical practices are inevitable" in the consulting industry, maybe I had a more utopic view of consulting than I thought I did.

(edited)

18 answers

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I left McK because of the issue you're pointing out. I worked in the healthcare practice with a PhD in pharmacology and some of the recommendations of the leadership teams were just appaling. There was way too much focus on the bottom line instead of patient outcomes and societal impact. In my opinion, there is truly a lack of governance at McK, and the incentivization structure (especially at partner level) adds fuel to the fire.

I joined McK as an associate too and left 2 years later to join another MBB. It was a hard decision but now my conscience is clear, in a healthcare practice led by partners who truly want to do good and not just rackup fees.

As another poster said, it's best that you talk with McK alumns, they are more likely to give you an honest, unbiaised picture.

I left McK because of the issue you're pointing out. I worked in the healthcare practice with a PhD in pharmacology and some of the recommendations of the leadership teams were just appaling. There was way too much focus on the bottom line instead of patient outcomes and societal impact. In my opinion, there is truly a lack of governance at McK, and the incentivization structure (especially at partner level) adds fuel to the fire.

I joined McK as an associate too and left 2 years later to join another MBB. It was a hard decision but now my conscience is clear, in a healthcare practice led by partners who truly want to do good and not just rackup fees.

As another poster said, it's best that you talk with McK alumns, they are more likely to give you an honest, unbiaised picture.

(edited)

Which firm did you move to? — Anonymous B on Feb 06, 2021

Thank you for the honest answer! — Anonymous on Feb 06, 2021

What a great thoughtful question! As a McKinsey alumni, I am ashamed of the firm's involvement in such scandals especially since I know one of the senior partners who was fired due to the Purdue Pharm case. Is it a cultural problem? I personally don't think so but is there a governance issue? Absolutely yes and it's no excuse but it is the limitation of a large growing global partnership model that is incentivised by growth (i.e., client billables) - outlined below.

1. Partnership: being a partnership means that there is no/less centralised governance of the firm. McKinsey has been growing tremendouly over the past few years yet individual partners are essentially CEOs of their own clientele and group. It is something McKinsey has been working on over the past year or two, but there is a need for stronger governance around ethics as well as the corresponding risks

2. Commercial incentive: McKinsey's mission is a great one that is underpinned by clear values which the Firm holds strongly. That isn't to say that the Firm and its partners (even consultants if they want to be successful over time) are not commercially incentivised to try and serve their own needs beyond the clients. McKinsey rewards "client impact at scale" which is a synonymn for clients paying large sum of fees over a continuous period of time (i.e., years). This creates unethical behaviour where partners will agree to doing work because it pays well, have their own agenda in order to maintain their client, etc. of which these large scandals are an extreme outcome of some of those behaviours

It doesn't excuse what has happened but the reason why there has been so much attention on McKinsey alone is partly driven by it's reputation (i.e., global leading management consultancy) where certain media (largely New York Times) has been strongly attacking McKinsey over the past few years. It would not suprise me if you found similar incidents at other consultancies or frankly, for as well as non-profit organisations. At the end of the day I think it comes down more to the micro-choices you make with a good organisation, which I would still argue McKinsey is, then to find a "perfect" organisation. In my case, I decided from day 1 that I would not serve tabacco and alcohol companies, public sector, and any clients paying huge amounts of fees (e.g., banks, pharmaceuticals, etc.) where I felt it went against my principle of "wanting to serve clients in the least self-serving way when they need McKinsey most".

What a great thoughtful question! As a McKinsey alumni, I am ashamed of the firm's involvement in such scandals especially since I know one of the senior partners who was fired due to the Purdue Pharm case. Is it a cultural problem? I personally don't think so but is there a governance issue? Absolutely yes and it's no excuse but it is the limitation of a large growing global partnership model that is incentivised by growth (i.e., client billables) - outlined below.

1. Partnership: being a partnership means that there is no/less centralised governance of the firm. McKinsey has been growing tremendouly over the past few years yet individual partners are essentially CEOs of their own clientele and group. It is something McKinsey has been working on over the past year or two, but there is a need for stronger governance around ethics as well as the corresponding risks

2. Commercial incentive: McKinsey's mission is a great one that is underpinned by clear values which the Firm holds strongly. That isn't to say that the Firm and its partners (even consultants if they want to be successful over time) are not commercially incentivised to try and serve their own needs beyond the clients. McKinsey rewards "client impact at scale" which is a synonymn for clients paying large sum of fees over a continuous period of time (i.e., years). This creates unethical behaviour where partners will agree to doing work because it pays well, have their own agenda in order to maintain their client, etc. of which these large scandals are an extreme outcome of some of those behaviours

It doesn't excuse what has happened but the reason why there has been so much attention on McKinsey alone is partly driven by it's reputation (i.e., global leading management consultancy) where certain media (largely New York Times) has been strongly attacking McKinsey over the past few years. It would not suprise me if you found similar incidents at other consultancies or frankly, for as well as non-profit organisations. At the end of the day I think it comes down more to the micro-choices you make with a good organisation, which I would still argue McKinsey is, then to find a "perfect" organisation. In my case, I decided from day 1 that I would not serve tabacco and alcohol companies, public sector, and any clients paying huge amounts of fees (e.g., banks, pharmaceuticals, etc.) where I felt it went against my principle of "wanting to serve clients in the least self-serving way when they need McKinsey most".

(edited)

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Hi,

Will the scandals impact McKinsey growth?

I doubt. The company has a lot of capacity and can manage this. It is also good at reinventing itself.

Is McKinsey doing anything with it?

Definitely. You can google recent Kevin Shneider e-mail to alums with a list of initiatives.

Can these situations impact you?

Indeed, while working at McKinsey you might face such a situation. I personally have friends who worked with related CSTs in the Middle East or in Boston. The fact that partners were actually trying to destroy the related documents makes it even worse. There is another scandal that happened recently in my home office in Moscow, that is vastly covered in media.

One thing to keep in mind that the average tenure at McKinsey is just 2 years. So you can perceive it as a school and stay away from any suspicious projects.

If you want to build a career at McKinsey and grow to the partner - that's a completely different story.

Best

Hi,

Will the scandals impact McKinsey growth?

I doubt. The company has a lot of capacity and can manage this. It is also good at reinventing itself.

Is McKinsey doing anything with it?

Definitely. You can google recent Kevin Shneider e-mail to alums with a list of initiatives.

Can these situations impact you?

Indeed, while working at McKinsey you might face such a situation. I personally have friends who worked with related CSTs in the Middle East or in Boston. The fact that partners were actually trying to destroy the related documents makes it even worse. There is another scandal that happened recently in my home office in Moscow, that is vastly covered in media.

One thing to keep in mind that the average tenure at McKinsey is just 2 years. So you can perceive it as a school and stay away from any suspicious projects.

If you want to build a career at McKinsey and grow to the partner - that's a completely different story.

Best

To be honest, I think this is the wrong forum to ask this quesiton, as most of the comments will tell you to still consider McKinsey, as they have the same mindset that led to such scandals - pure focus on growth, profit and prestige where values and essential rightness are far back in the priority list. I would rather recommend talking to alumni, as C mentioned, who will give you an honest opinion.

All the best! :)

To be honest, I think this is the wrong forum to ask this quesiton, as most of the comments will tell you to still consider McKinsey, as they have the same mindset that led to such scandals - pure focus on growth, profit and prestige where values and essential rightness are far back in the priority list. I would rather recommend talking to alumni, as C mentioned, who will give you an honest opinion.

All the best! :)

Quite a wild extrapolation but it’s worth noting that most coaches commenting here are alumni too... — Anonymous B on Feb 06, 2021

In fact 100% coaches are alumni. I would be surprised id not — Vlad on Feb 07, 2021

This is a great question, very relevant given the recent news but I don't think you'll get honest answers here. In addition to talking to alumni, you might want to try Fishbowl or Reddit. There were a few threads already on Fishbowl talking about the scandals, you might want to check them out.

This is a great question, very relevant given the recent news but I don't think you'll get honest answers here. In addition to talking to alumni, you might want to try Fishbowl or Reddit. There were a few threads already on Fishbowl talking about the scandals, you might want to check them out.

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Hi A,

I have the highest respect of McK. Yes - scandals always suck but do not forget that McK and MBB produce high-class resilient powerful leaders and managers. This fact will not go away quickly.

Regarding your choice, it more comes down to your specific office than anything else. If I were you, I d try to speak as many ppl as possible from your office and take that into account. I did the same after my MBB recruiting was done and decided mostly on that. Where do I get along with ppl the best and where can I likely generate promoters more easily?

However, you have a nice choice there, nothing you can do wrong if you go for Bain or McK. Make it also more dependent on your speficic next steps (MBA, PE etc).

Best,
Denis

Hi A,

I have the highest respect of McK. Yes - scandals always suck but do not forget that McK and MBB produce high-class resilient powerful leaders and managers. This fact will not go away quickly.

Regarding your choice, it more comes down to your specific office than anything else. If I were you, I d try to speak as many ppl as possible from your office and take that into account. I did the same after my MBB recruiting was done and decided mostly on that. Where do I get along with ppl the best and where can I likely generate promoters more easily?

However, you have a nice choice there, nothing you can do wrong if you go for Bain or McK. Make it also more dependent on your speficic next steps (MBA, PE etc).

Best,
Denis

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You will have this issue in any profit driven organisation and more so in consuting, banking, PE companies. With profit and value maximisation at the core of doing business, unethical practices are inevitable. So if you feel very strongly about this, please stay away from Consulting in general. Otherwise, plunge in now, focus on doing your best, maintain highest possible standards for yourself and strive to make a positive impact on people around you. Life will work just fine for you.

Remember, whatever you choose, its your decision. In every situation in life, you have the choice to pick one over the other. So the consequences (good or bad) must be yours to deal with as well.

All the best and congrats on two amazing job offers :).

You will have this issue in any profit driven organisation and more so in consuting, banking, PE companies. With profit and value maximisation at the core of doing business, unethical practices are inevitable. So if you feel very strongly about this, please stay away from Consulting in general. Otherwise, plunge in now, focus on doing your best, maintain highest possible standards for yourself and strive to make a positive impact on people around you. Life will work just fine for you.

Remember, whatever you choose, its your decision. In every situation in life, you have the choice to pick one over the other. So the consequences (good or bad) must be yours to deal with as well.

All the best and congrats on two amazing job offers :).

Disagree, some "smaller" consultancies such as Kearney are rarely involved in such scandals. — Anonymous D on Feb 06, 2021

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Hi there,

First of all, if you're looking for a job that is the moral high road, you need to decline both offers and go into a non-profit. You will be jaded after working at any strategy consulting firm.

"Profit shouldn't be everything". Sorry, but it generally is (how else do you think you get paid such a high salary as you rise up the ranks?)

Also, no matter what level you are, you'll learn quickly that you don't have influence on a company's culture (mid-to-large sized companhy).

Sorry for the jaded (realist) view, but you've got to learn this ahead of time!

In terms of McKinsey vs Bain, go McKinsey. Bain focuses on PE, so you're not exactly going to get a better moral compass than McKinsey either. The scandal will pass. McKinsey will implement controls. McKinsey will continue to have the reputation as the best strategy consulting firm worldwide.

Disclaimer: I am by no means implying these companies are inherently evil. There are some incredible initiatives led by incredible people at these firms to enact change. Many of the Partners have strong moral compasses and really care a lot about leaving the world better off. That said, you cannot escape the fact that the work you do will, 9 times out of 10, be about profit.

Hi there,

First of all, if you're looking for a job that is the moral high road, you need to decline both offers and go into a non-profit. You will be jaded after working at any strategy consulting firm.

"Profit shouldn't be everything". Sorry, but it generally is (how else do you think you get paid such a high salary as you rise up the ranks?)

Also, no matter what level you are, you'll learn quickly that you don't have influence on a company's culture (mid-to-large sized companhy).

Sorry for the jaded (realist) view, but you've got to learn this ahead of time!

In terms of McKinsey vs Bain, go McKinsey. Bain focuses on PE, so you're not exactly going to get a better moral compass than McKinsey either. The scandal will pass. McKinsey will implement controls. McKinsey will continue to have the reputation as the best strategy consulting firm worldwide.

Disclaimer: I am by no means implying these companies are inherently evil. There are some incredible initiatives led by incredible people at these firms to enact change. Many of the Partners have strong moral compasses and really care a lot about leaving the world better off. That said, you cannot escape the fact that the work you do will, 9 times out of 10, be about profit.

Thanks for the dose of reality. It honestly baffles me that a firm can be involved in so much shady work and still have a reputation as the best strategy firm but here we are. I guess I have some thinking to do. — Anonymous A on Feb 05, 2021

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Hi there,

In terms of the choice between McK and Bain based on culture, I believe the best to give answers are Alumni for your target office. Consulting companies' offices are very different worldwide, and you may find a very different environment in different locations.

If you can talk with someone who is not working there anymore and have a private conversation, that will help you to have 10x the clarity that a current consultant or anyone who is publicly writing in this post can provide you.

Best,
Francesco

Hi there,

In terms of the choice between McK and Bain based on culture, I believe the best to give answers are Alumni for your target office. Consulting companies' offices are very different worldwide, and you may find a very different environment in different locations.

If you can talk with someone who is not working there anymore and have a private conversation, that will help you to have 10x the clarity that a current consultant or anyone who is publicly writing in this post can provide you.

Best,
Francesco

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Hi there,

first of all, congrats on the offers!

Second, bear in mind that a moral dilemma is not that rare in consulting in general, independent of the company.

Both offers are great, so I would go with the company that is a better fit for you personally.

Cheers,

GB

Hi there,

first of all, congrats on the offers!

Second, bear in mind that a moral dilemma is not that rare in consulting in general, independent of the company.

Both offers are great, so I would go with the company that is a better fit for you personally.

Cheers,

GB

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Hello!

Congrats for the offers.

Good news is that you won´t make a mistake, whatever you choose.

I would 100% go for McKinsey in your shoes. Despite the scandals, they are the biggest and with the best alumni network, whick is the most important KPI in my opinion.

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

Hello!

Congrats for the offers.

Good news is that you won´t make a mistake, whatever you choose.

I would 100% go for McKinsey in your shoes. Despite the scandals, they are the biggest and with the best alumni network, whick is the most important KPI in my opinion.

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

What does "best alumni network" mean? — Anonymous A on Feb 05, 2021

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Hi, first of all congratulations on the offers! I would go for McKinsey

Best,
Antonello

Hi, first of all congratulations on the offers! I would go for McKinsey

Best,
Antonello

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A few years back I was in exactly the same spot as yours. Eventually I made my decision based on where I felt best with the people. I'm not saying there is an objectively better culture in any firm, but I'm saying that culture fits or it doesn't fit your personal style. Try to talk to as many folks from both companies as possible - they will set up all the calls you're asking for, especially if they find out your a candidate with both offers.

The one question that helped me the most was "Can I see myself working with these people and in this environment for a few years?". This helped me made the decision I made and I didn't regret it ever since.

Hope this helps

A few years back I was in exactly the same spot as yours. Eventually I made my decision based on where I felt best with the people. I'm not saying there is an objectively better culture in any firm, but I'm saying that culture fits or it doesn't fit your personal style. Try to talk to as many folks from both companies as possible - they will set up all the calls you're asking for, especially if they find out your a candidate with both offers.

The one question that helped me the most was "Can I see myself working with these people and in this environment for a few years?". This helped me made the decision I made and I didn't regret it ever since.

Hope this helps

Going anonymous here, just in case :)

Honestly the comments and dismissals from the coaches are a bit surprising ("yeah the scandals suck but oh well"). If no one in the firm questions working for Purdue, totaliarian governments, ICE, there is a serious problem.

At Bain, we recently had projects with a client that we felt was likely doing good but was in a position to inadvertently do a lot of harm. Our office had debated long and hard on whether or not to take the work, the leadership team had to explicitly explain why the work would lead to doing good. AND anyone who was unsure/uncomfortable had the option to opt out. This type of dialogue is necessary in order to maintain the culture and values that we like to tout on our website.

One thing I would like to add is that every single case we work on, every single recommendation we give, every piece of advice has its risks. Part of our work is estimating what those risks are and mitigating them. There is a reason why, when we teach candidates how to crack a case, we tell them in their recommendation to include risks and next steps. You have to think of the bigger picture, the days of thinking of only the bottom line are over.

Going anonymous here, just in case :)

Honestly the comments and dismissals from the coaches are a bit surprising ("yeah the scandals suck but oh well"). If no one in the firm questions working for Purdue, totaliarian governments, ICE, there is a serious problem.

At Bain, we recently had projects with a client that we felt was likely doing good but was in a position to inadvertently do a lot of harm. Our office had debated long and hard on whether or not to take the work, the leadership team had to explicitly explain why the work would lead to doing good. AND anyone who was unsure/uncomfortable had the option to opt out. This type of dialogue is necessary in order to maintain the culture and values that we like to tout on our website.

One thing I would like to add is that every single case we work on, every single recommendation we give, every piece of advice has its risks. Part of our work is estimating what those risks are and mitigating them. There is a reason why, when we teach candidates how to crack a case, we tell them in their recommendation to include risks and next steps. You have to think of the bigger picture, the days of thinking of only the bottom line are over.

I don’t know enough McKinsey partners to know if they’re bad people. I’m sure most of them are not. They recruit from the same talent pool and hire the same people we all do, so they can’t be that different. But what Purdue, and Valeant, and Eskom, and Galleon, and Enron tell me is that McKinsey as a partnership doesn’t have that kind of culture. Partners at McKinsey don’t police each other, don’t hold each other accountable. I don’t know for sure that none of my staff would have come up with the Purdue opioid strategy — I understand how those ideas got to be floated. I do know for 100% sure that if someone came up with that idea, a partner would shoot it down.

As partners, we are responsible for the culture — it comes from the top down. McKinsey has shown, over and over for the last 20 years, that their partnership doesn’t feel that way.

I don’t know enough McKinsey partners to know if they’re bad people. I’m sure most of them are not. They recruit from the same talent pool and hire the same people we all do, so they can’t be that different. But what Purdue, and Valeant, and Eskom, and Galleon, and Enron tell me is that McKinsey as a partnership doesn’t have that kind of culture. Partners at McKinsey don’t police each other, don’t hold each other accountable. I don’t know for sure that none of my staff would have come up with the Purdue opioid strategy — I understand how those ideas got to be floated. I do know for 100% sure that if someone came up with that idea, a partner would shoot it down.

As partners, we are responsible for the culture — it comes from the top down. McKinsey has shown, over and over for the last 20 years, that their partnership doesn’t feel that way.

Bumping up so others can post answers, there are really insightful perspectives from McK alumni that I haven't seen anywhere.

Bumping up so others can post answers, there are really insightful perspectives from McK alumni that I haven't seen anywhere.

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Hey there,

The other coaches already had some excellent points. I'd like to add one point from my perspective.

Consider that McK is running several thousand engagements in parallel at any given time and is highly decentralized. Of course, there will be bad apples and bad players, which in turn leads to some bad outcomes every now and then. And it is exactly those that are reported on in the media (for all the correct reasons). However, this is far from the norm and in general, the internal control mechanism work and as I read will be improved.

The people I worked with, the experience I made, and the exit opportunities that theoretically would have presented themselves are unparalleled. I'd highly recommend you to accept the offer and see for yourself :-)

Cheers,

Florian

Hey there,

The other coaches already had some excellent points. I'd like to add one point from my perspective.

Consider that McK is running several thousand engagements in parallel at any given time and is highly decentralized. Of course, there will be bad apples and bad players, which in turn leads to some bad outcomes every now and then. And it is exactly those that are reported on in the media (for all the correct reasons). However, this is far from the norm and in general, the internal control mechanism work and as I read will be improved.

The people I worked with, the experience I made, and the exit opportunities that theoretically would have presented themselves are unparalleled. I'd highly recommend you to accept the offer and see for yourself :-)

Cheers,

Florian

Have to disagree with this sort of argumentation. So at VW there were also allegedly only a few people responsible for Diesel-Gate, so it's not really a big deal? Why do you need "internal control mechanisms" to decide whether such engagements are morally wrong? It's in my opinion a culture and mindset problem, that such mechanisms won't fix. — Anonymous on Feb 06, 2021

I don't think this is a valid argument. The shier number of scandals that came up in recent years shows it's not just a few apples. It's a culture of being too arrogant and too numb to moral implications. Yes, McK has more engagements than BCG or Bain, yet we hear much less such stories - if at all - from those firms. — Anonymous E on Feb 07, 2021

Hey, I just saw the reply now. The sheer number (how many was it: 5? 8? 10?) over the last few years out of 10s of thousands of projects per year? — Florian on Feb 23, 2021

Florian, we only know what journalists were able to uncover from such a secretive firm, the reality could be much worse. Unfortunately that kind of information is only know by senior people in the firm, an ex- analyst probably has no idea of what happens behind closed doors. When a firm has so many scandals in so many different parts of the world, it's fair to question whether it's really just a few bad apples. Also, the full saying is "a few bad apples spoil the bunch", so what appears to be far from the norm could actually be a systemic issue within McK. — Anonymous on Feb 24, 2021 (edited)

OP what did you end up doing? Did you go for the McKinsey offer?

OP what did you end up doing? Did you go for the McKinsey offer?

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