Are management consultants losing their place as masters of the universe?

Professor Andrew Sturdy, Head of Department of Management and Chair in Management, University of Bristol

Professor Andrew Sturdy, Head of Department of Management and Chair in Management, University of Bristol

Dr Joe O'Mahoney, Reader, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University

Dr Joe O’Mahoney, Reader, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University

Management consultants are powerful beasts. They can mould businesses and guide governments, both in high-profile projects and behind the scenes. They do this largely free from any specific regulation and, if revenue is anything to go by, continue to thrive in our uncertain world.

But there are constraints and scrutiny at work too – and they are increasing. A recent studyby researchers at the universities of Bristol and Cardiff in the UK shows how one of the most powerful consultancies, McKinsey & Co., is facing up to new and threatening pressures from clients, governments, NGOs and market forces.

Consulting firms like McKinsey, Booz Allen or Boston Consulting exercise power in three main ways: they have vast resources at their disposal; they are able to intervene in decision-making processes; they can influence what their clients think. In terms of resources, McKinsey not only possesses significant economic capital but its CEO-heavy alumni network provides it with an instant sales route into the Fortune 500 list of major companies. Its knowledge resources are the envy of universities the world over. The McKinsey Global Institute, for instance, is one of the largest management research organisations.

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