New York Times investigative reporters blast McKinsey in campus visit

The authors of “When McKinsey Comes to Town” exposed the dealings of the world’s largest consulting firm

A group of people sits at a table.

Lily Mott

Swasy’s Reporting on the Economy class read “When McKinsey Comes to Town” and discussed the book with Bogdanich and Forsythe in class on Jan. 25.

Lily Mott, Staff Writer

Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe, investigative reporters at The New York Times and the authors of “When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm,” discussed the dark side of the consulting industry with Washington and Lee students, faculty and other community members on Jan. 24.
Bogdanich and Forsythe spent four years writing their book about McKinsey & Company, which they consider to be the most powerful consulting firm, as well as the most secretive company, in the world.
“It advises the FBI, CIA, Pentagon, autocracies, democracies and everything in between,” said Bogdanich, a three-time Pulitzer Prize recipient, in a discussion at Stackhouse Theater on Jan. 24. “They affect our lives in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.”
Bogdanich and Forsythe investigated McKinsey’s work with pharmaceutical companies selling opioids, tobacco and vape companies, oil companies, repressive governments, and other organizations
Bogdanich said their book includes information that business schools need to pass onto their students. Many schools haven’t asked the authors to come and speak.
“Why aren’t they asking us to come? We’re willing. We’re not afraid,” said Bogdanich. “We solicit these invitations, but nobody’s asked us to go to the dance.”

Two men and a woman sit in chairs on a stage, facing each other and conversing.
Professor Alecia Swasy hosted the conversation with Bogdanich and Forsythe, who discussed their experience writing “When McKinsey Comes to Town.” (Lily Mott)

In fall term this year, Washington and Lee Professor of Business Journalism Alecia Swasy did ask them to the dance. Three months later, the New York Times reporters came to campus to host a conversation in Stackhouse Theater. They also spoke to Swasy’s Reporting on the Economy class and eat lunch with journalism and business students.
Swasy said their book is incredibly important for learning about the darker side of capitalism and how money is made in ways that trickle down to average American paychecks, their health and their welfare.
“I thought it was also very important for the W&L community as a whole, to hear this, because McKinsey and other consulting firms do hire a lot of our students,” Swasy said.
Alex Vaught, ’23, accepted an offer to work at McKinsey as a business analyst after graduating this spring. He said that Bogdanich and Forsythe’s book and their talk on campus inspired him to learn from the mistakes made by the firm.
“One of McKinsey’s core values is to ‘uphold the obligations to engage and dissent,’” Vaught said. “I hope, if anything, that this talk taught students about the immense responsibility that lies in our future and the ways we can avoid making mistakes like those made in the past.”
Forsythe offered advice for future consultants, like Vaught, as they begin to navigate the consulting industry.
“We’re not saying to people, ‘you shouldn’t be consultants,’” Forsythe said. “But you need to know. You need to go in with your eyes wide open.”
Both reporters encouraged future graduates who are interested in working at McKinsey to read their book and ask questions of the firm, including about the potential harm to people and to society that could come from their work.
As far as the consulting firms themselves, Bogdanich and Forsythe said they need to be more transparent and accountable.
“The government should be doing a better job of monitoring these centers of power and demanding accountability,” Bogdanich said. “Sunlight disinfects a lot of things, and McKinsey needs a lot of sunlight.”