Bob Sternfels begins his tenure as our 13th global managing partner today. We spoke with him to learn more about how he’s feeling, what he sees ahead for the profession, and how he’s thinking about leading McKinsey as we approach our second century.
You were elected in March, and now it’s day one. How are you feeling?
I’m feeling a mixture of humility and excitement. I feel humbled to have been asked to step into this role, and I’m very excited by the opportunity we have to help our clients be bold as they navigate their way out of the pandemic and beyond.
I’m also feeling enormously grateful to my predecessor Kevin Sneader. What he accomplished for our clients and our firm during one of the world’s most challenging periods has given me the opportunity to lead a thriving organization of 34,000 great people working across the globe.
What’s your view on the state of the consulting profession?
Organizations are facing a confluence of unique external forces: the global pandemic recovery, a technology revolution that compressed 15 years of innovation into 15 months, climate change making its way onto every CEO’s agenda, and unique global geopolitical challenges. Leaders are looking for advisors who can help them successfully navigate these challenges. Because of this, there’s perhaps no better time to be a management consultant—and no better time to be a member of McKinsey & Company—than now.
What does McKinsey stand for in this moment?
If I step back and consider the impact our firm can have through the work we do for clients and our communities, my starting point is an ambition to stand for—and help realize—sustainable, inclusive growth.
For instance, by helping our clients grow, I believe we can help them fuel economic growth in the communities in which they operate, lift people up, and speed the world’s recovery. By supporting innovation and upskilling, we can help economies close the income gap, enable diversity in the workforce, and help solve the looming human capital crunch. And through our new Sustainability Practice, which helps clients on sustainability-related topics, we can help combat climate change and help protect the environment while also spurring innovation.
So, sustainable, inclusive growth—that’s what we stand for. Spurring global growth. Upskilling those who need it. Catalyzing decarbonization. It gets me excited.
Let’s look ahead a little. At the end of your first year in the role, what changes would be in progress that would make you feel proud?
One big thing I’d like to see is for McKinsey to be setting an example for how consulting firms can contribute to business and society.
We begin with this notion of ‘holistic impact.’ The pandemic has created a unique macro-environment that our clients are navigating, and it’s our time to be bold and embolden them. Whether they have been successful—or battered—over the past 15 months, we can help them emerge stronger. At the same time, consultants can and should be a real force for good in the world. We can be the firm that helps our clients’ financial performance and positively impacts other stakeholders: employees, customers, workers, and society. That’s what we’re calling holistic impact. And we want to ensure this holistic impact is sustained over time.
I’d also like to see us doubling our rate of innovation to help our clients create and capture value faster. That will mean demonstrating innovation and excellence ourselves when it comes to our capabilities, our people, and our approaches to working with clients. We will measure our innovation speed and hope to set the standard here.
Finally, I’d like to see us recommit to apprenticeship as we emerge from our remote work settings. In one way, this will mean looking at how we can continue to improve the way we provide feedback, train, and support our people. And in another, more day-to-day context, many of our new colleagues have not yet experienced some of the simple things that make working at McKinsey special: seeing senior colleagues sitting side-by-side with their teammates to teach the art of the profession; being on the receiving end of an act of generosity from a sponsor; witnessing a more junior colleague contribute a breakthrough insight; or just having a coffee together in the office to catch up. We will recommit to these things and as a result we will deepen the trust we have in each other as colleagues.
You mention trust. How do you plan to gain the trust of those who may be skeptical about McKinsey in this moment?
I think trust is earned not given, and I think we earn trust by acting responsibly and consistently. That means we need to live our values and back them up with the best risk processes, teams, governance, and accountability measures. That was a priority for Kevin, and it remains a priority for me. And we will have these things in place while not slowing ourselves down. We can be faster and safer, through empowerment, engagement, transparency, and accountability.
Finally, you embarked on a firm listening tour after your election. What did you hear?
It was so inspiring to have a chance to do that. First and foremost, I heard about the determination and perseverance—the grit, to put it simply—our colleagues brought to their work and personal lives during one of the world’s most challenging periods. My grandmother was Finnish, and the Finns have a term for this; it’s called sisu. We have sisu. It will serve us well going forward. I also heard wonderful things about the impact we are having with clients that will stand the test of time, the quality of our talent, and the uniqueness of our innovations. Our clients trust us, and we have amazing people, all 34,000 of us.