Meet our next global managing partner: Kevin Sneader

Every three years, our senior partners elect a “first among equals” to the office of global managing partner. While the role is quite unlike the CEO of a corporation (individuals are subject to term limits, for example), the managing partner makes key leadership appointments and plays an important part in shaping McKinsey’s overall direction.

Earlier today we announced that Kevin Sneader will succeed Dominic Barton as global managing partner on July 1, when Dominic’s third term comes to an end. A senior partner and McKinsey’s regional chairman for Asia–Pacific, Kevin joined the firm in 1989 from Glasgow University and later gained an MBA from Harvard Business School. He lives in Hong Kong with his wife, Amy, and two daughters. We caught up with Kevin to find out more about what makes him tick.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Glasgow. I was born in Canada because my parents were there for a couple of years. The family joke is that after a couple of Ottawa winters they moved back to Scotland for the weather.

What did your parents do?

My father was a lecturer at the University of Strathclyde and my mother was a kindergarten teacher. My dad’s field was pharmacy—pharmaceutical chemistry—and his work is quite well known. Some colleagues in our Pharmaceuticals Practice know me as “Dr. Sneader’s son.”

How did your background shape your outlook?

My upbringing was comfortable, but Scottish academics aren’t tremendously well paid. Travel meant taking the caravan “down South” to England. So I lived in Glasgow, and I went to school and then university there. Today, even though I’ve lived all over the world, my outlook remains rooted in Scotland and Scottish community values.

I also developed a passion for Glasgow Celtic Football Club, traveling to away matches with Celtic fans and seeing the world through their eyes. Their lives were very much oriented around the football team. It gave me a sense of what it means to be part of a group that’s passionately committed to something beyond work.

What was your first job?

My uncle owned a jewelry store. So that was my first job: selling jewelry. I worked there on Saturdays and during school holidays.

Why did you join McKinsey?

Kevin Sneader
The early days: Kevin with colleagues as a newly-hired business analyst
Kevin Sneader

At university I was president of the Student Union, and one of the duties of Student Union board members was to take turns clearing the union bar and the library at closing time. One night I was clearing the library and found a McKinsey recruiting brochure lying on a desk. I’d never even heard of McKinsey, but it looked interesting, so I sent off a letter with my CV. I got a reply saying that while the firm had never hired anyone directly from Glasgow University I was welcome to come down to London to meet a few people. They were managing my expectations!

In the end, I had to choose between an offer from McKinsey and a Kennedy Scholarship to study at Harvard. So, I became the first Scottish business analyst in the London office. Literally, I was known as “the Scottish business analyst.”

And you never looked back?

Well, I turned up at McKinsey with a law degree. I hadn’t done maths in years. I spoke with a strong Glasgow accent. I was lucky to be surrounded by some fantastic colleagues who helped me learn what I needed.

What leadership lessons have you learned along the way?

I do a lot of work in retail, serving companies with sometimes tens of thousands of employees who can do extraordinary things if they are well led. For me the leaders who stand out are those who know how to motivate and inspire people. They know how to walk the floor of a store and leave everyone feeling better. They also know how to set an inspiring vision. It’s the people skills that set them apart.

Is this what you look for in the people you hire?

We don’t rely on individuals to solve problems. It’s about putting together teams with different backgrounds and different styles. We look for people who are distinctive at something and will make the firm better for being part of it. On diversity of thought, I think we do quite well. On diversity of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, we have a lot of work to do. I believe we’ve got to look like the clients we serve and the societies in which we operate. And we’ve got to be relentless about working toward that objective.

What’s your plan for the first 100 days?

I recently reread an article by Ian Davis [global managing partner, 2003–09] arguing that “the first 100 days” is a somewhat arbitrary and unhelpful framing. I agree with that. McKinsey has been going for a long time, and there are fantastic leaders throughout the partnership. So, I’ll be out there listening and learning. To borrow one of Dominic’s analogies, I will be getting out my searchlight and my spotlight—highlighting things we’re doing well, and looking for opportunities to accelerate things that could be moving faster.

What excites you most about the managing partner role?

First and foremost, I’m excited about McKinsey! The world is getting more complicated, not less complicated, and the challenges our clients face are getting more difficult, not easier. The value of people who can help crack the world’s toughest problems and create real impact for clients is even more important today than it was in the past.

Any time for hobbies and interests outside of family and work?

Kevin Sneader
Kevin with his wife, Amy, and daughters
Kevin Sneader

I’m a fairly obsessive sport fan. I love rugby. I’m still obsessed with Glasgow Celtic. When I lived in the US, I even learned to like American football. I love watching sports, and I go to games whenever I can.

How do you start your working day?

I go to the gym—90 minutes without fail, wherever I am in the world, usually at around 5:30 am. I schedule it into my calendar. I love working out and getting my head around what lies ahead.

Never miss a story

Stay updated about McKinsey news as it happens