McKinsey boss tries to boost staff morale amid layoffs by blasting Eminem, Bob Marley and Chumbawamba

McKinsey & Co. sought to rally its partners with upbeat declarations and blasts of rock and rap music in Copenhagen earlier this month, attempting to boost morale during a tumultuous period for the giant consulting firm. 

Global Managing Partner Bob Sternfels told his fellow partners at the mid-April event that McKinsey is expecting a good 2024 after its challenges of the past 18 months. He called it a “turn the page” moment, a person familiar with the matter said. 

Some McKinsey partners have been unhappy with how the top echelon has been managing external perceptions of the firm and its ongoing role reductions, according to other people with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

McKinsey is battling problems on many fronts while the broader industry is experiencing a slowdown in demand for consulting services. The firm has warned about 3,000 of its consultants that their performance was unsatisfactory and will need to improve. It has also been cutting hundreds of jobs in its technology and other divisions. 

At the internal event in Denmark, Sternfels told McKinsey partners to air any concerns or misgivings they had about what the firm is doing that could impair its values. “I hope we shout out. I hope we engage…I hope we wrestle with stuff together,” he said, according to the person familiar with his comments.

The musical soundtrack included a selection of hits from pop artists including American rapper Eminem and singer Bob Marley. “Tubthumping” by former British rock bank Chumbawamba was also played, with its signature lyrics: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down.” 

Sternfels said McKinsey still has opportunities to help organizations solve their most challenging issues, and that it should aim to be distinctive in what it does. He also tried to reassure colleagues. “This should be our promise: no matter how long you are in our firm, the development you get with us will be better than anywhere else on the planet,” he said. 

“As we have for decades, our partnership regularly gathers in person to build connections, strengthen our culture, discuss the firm’s strategy and reinforce our commitment to being one global firm,” McKinsey said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the internal meeting in Denmark.

McKinsey has been facing political backlash in the US over its engagement with China and Saudi Arabia, and is still reeling from its past engagements with some of the world’s biggest opioid makers. The firm has had to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in civil penalties and legal settlements to resolve allegations that it helped fuel the deadly US drug epidemic. The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into McKinsey’s past opioid-related consulting, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. 

The consultancy has about 3,000 partners all over the world, including roughly 750 senior partners — a number that has swelled over the past few years. The hundreds of McKinsey partners who attended the Denmark gathering were encouraged to support the firm’s sustainability goals by commuting to the meeting venue using electric taxis or bicycles.

During the same week, McKinsey co-sponsored an event in Copenhagen for around 700 business leaders, where Republican and former US vice president Mike Pence spoke. Others who attended or spoke at the client event included former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, and Mads Nipper, the chief executive of Danish energy giant Orsted.

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