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Scrubbing myself of The Firm

∙ 4 min

I woke up to the news on Friday 4 February 2021 that McKinsey & Co struck a settlement. This related to their work for Purdue Pharma L.P. to “turbocharge” their sales of OxyContin, a powerful opioid painkiller.

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Dipping my feet in the water

Turn back the clock to 2014. I was an MBA student at the IESE Business School. The buzz around summer internships and the proverbial “foot in the door” to elite consulting firms was unmistakable. A recruiter at McKinsey proactively contacted and urged me to apply for a summer internship. Flattered by the attention of the most elite management consulting firm on Earth, I applied with intrigue. After the recruitment test and four interviews, I was in.

Bad fit, plain and simple

My time at McKinsey isn’t the point here, so I’ll keep this short. I moved to Munich in the summer of 2014 to try things out with the internship. It wasn’t for me and I wasn’t for them. No full-time offer followed and there were no hard feelings.

Nonetheless, spending any time (even a summer internship) at McKinsey is a badge nearly everyone wears with honor. It’s hard to get in and “The Firm” has unparalleled influence in the corridors of power of global commerce and government.

Lines crossed

I was aware of McKinsey’s apparent role in a number of controversies when I accepted the internship in 2014 (namely the Enron scandal). Was I really going to let that stand in the way of such an opportunity? The answer was no.

I suppose it took something that touched my life deeply and personally to wake me from my slumber.

My younger brother Tom passed away of an opioid overdose in 2017. He was 31 years old. It’s not something I often talk about. But it’s not something I shy away from talking about either. It happened. Every day since I wish it hadn’t happened. You can probably imagine how deep this cut into my family and how truly shattering such a thing can be.

The United States and Canada have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic. In 2017, my family joined the ranks of countless others to lose their loved ones to this miserable scourge. A scourge that starts in broken healthcare systems with warped incentives and the flashy and morally-bankrupt world of opioid pharmaceutical sales. And it trickles down to the streets with scummy dealers spiking drugs with fentanyl.

I read the news on 4 February 2021 with utter disgust and contempt. The spin being put on the settlement is clear with statements like this on McKinsey’s https://www.mckinseyopioidfacts.com.

We chose to resolve this matter in order to provide fast, meaningful support to communities across the United States. We deeply regret that we did not adequately acknowledge the tragic consequences of the epidemic unfolding in our communities. With this agreement, we hope to be part of the solution to the opioid crisis in the U.S.

Cynical hypocrisy

Even searching for opioid on McKinsey’s website today yields articles like these.

“Why we need bolder action to combat the opioid epidemic”. To publish such articles and take such positions while consulting for Purdue Pharma to “turbocharge sales of OxyContin” is the height of money-grubbing, heartless hypocrisy.

A small gesture

I reflected on this following the news. The calculated ruthlessness of the actions of these McKinsey partners is of such a degree that I have trouble comprehending it. I am wiping any mention of McKinsey from my profiles.

Did I spend much time there? No. Could I have returned after the internship? No. But the mention of McKinsey on my profiles and resume was obviously out of some sense of pride. That pride has turned to disgust. And so I turn the page and hope that the next generation of McKinsey consultants (or any management consultant, for that matter) have enough of a moral compass to walk away from meetings chalked with sales and marketing strategies designed to sell more narcotics.

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