Responding to COVID-19: Adi Kumar

On a Sunday in early March, a client phoned Adi Kumar, a partner based in Washington, D.C., and asked him to join a call with the CEO of a hospital association that very night. “I’d been tracking what was happening with COVID-19,” Adi says. “But I did not expect to hear what I heard.”

Across the state, hospitals and health systems lacked the necessary supplies to fight the health crisis. “That was the first call with a frontline institution that was looking just a couple weeks into the future and feeling really scared,” he says. “From that weekend on my life—like everyone else’s—changed.”

Over the next few weeks, Adi, a leader in our Public and Social Sector Practice who also served in the Obama administration, began to support governments on their COVID-19 emergency response, particularly focusing on building resiliency among state health systems. Many of these organizations were facing both a surge in patients and shortage in medical supplies, including personal protective equipment.

Social-distancing measures and other health protocols meant health system employees had to adapt their ways of working to best take care of patients. “A large part of our work in the early days of the pandemic was answering a basic but complex question: How do we best support health systems so they can fight this significant crisis?” Adi says. “Many of these government agencies face challenges in ordinary times, and COVID-19 exacerbated those issues.”


This philosophy of helping others, especially when you’re in a privileged place to do so, is inspired by Adi’s childhood. Born in India, he grew up in five different countries, including Indonesia, Singapore, Canada, and the U.S. “In India, my family was always lucky, but I would see the poverty that is a reality for so many in the country,” he says. “A lot of my desire to help people resides in the fact that I grew up witnessing a lot of inequality—and I think inequality is one of the biggest problems plaguing our country and our world.”

Adi began his career at McKinsey as a business analyst after college. After a couple years, he left to pursue various roles in public service, most notably working on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and later in the president’s administration overseeing the implementation of the Recovery Act. “This was an act that spanned 29 government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Energy. I became passionate about how governments can do a better job of fundamentally delivering services for citizens,” he says. “It is incredibly difficult for governments to do that in times of crisis. Often what happens is budgets go down, and they have to deliver the same amount of services—or budgets go up massively, but there are no additional people to administer those services.”

It was his experience in the White House that motivated Adi to return to McKinsey, where he wanted to focus on the public sector and work with governments to improve how they serve citizens on a daily basis. Before his COVID-19 response efforts, Adi helped state governments innovate and transform how they provide services. This ranged from helping health and human services departments use data to reward high-performing providers, to launching one of the largest state-led programs to combat harmful algae blooms in rivers and lakes.

We need to be taking care of the personal in order to be able to make any real progress on the professional and societal front.

Adi Kumar, McKinsey partner

He also developed a real passion for healthcare through working with governments and private-sector healthcare companies. “I’m not only deeply interested in helping governments deliver services in a different and better way, but when it comes to healthcare, I am also very interested in thinking about how to make what I consider to be an incredibly complex system work better for people,” he says.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought an even greater urgency to this, and at times, surprising insights, too. “Often we spend time with clients in their workplaces or conference rooms, but I now find myself spending a lot of time in their living rooms—often with their kids on camera,” Adi says.

“It’s opened up this realization that in order to get through what we do professionally,” he adds, “and contribute to trying to move our country forward, we need to figure out how to get through this personally. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my clients and friends about how they are coping with this—on top of their childcare realities, their parental care realities, their own mental states from being distanced from family and friends. We need to be taking care of the personal in order to be able to make any real progress on the professional and societal front.”

Adi knows the path to progress won’t be simple—or a straight line. But he also firmly believes that we can’t go back to the way things used to be. “People realize we need to rebuild in a better, more resilient way,” Adi says. “And we should all embrace that because the future that we will have after this could be much better than what we had before.”

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