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Carolyn Dewar

Senior PartnerBay Area

Delivers large-scale performance-improvement programs that foster culture change and counsels senior executives making leadership transitions

Carolyn founded and coleads McKinsey’s CEO excellence work, coaching many Fortune 100 CEOs to maximize their effectiveness in the role, including business aspiration-setting and roadmap, culture shifts to unlock performance, top-team effectiveness, managing external stakeholders, board engagement, and resetting their own personal operating model. She also works extensively with clients to drive organizational effectiveness at pivotal moments—such as merger, strategic shift, and crisis—and lead large-scale performance improvement programs integrating strategic, operational, and cultural initiatives.

Examples of Carolyn’s recent client work include the following:

  • new CEO onboarding across industries, counseling many CEOs as they navigate their CEO journey in terms of business priorities, organization, top team, stakeholders, and board dynamics
  • working directly with the CEO and top team to manage one of the largest mergers in financial services and reinvent the operating model of a Fortune 50 firm in a new regulatory environment
  • redesigning and installing a new operating model—including organization design, day-to-day management practices, culture, and incentives—of a Fortune 50 consumer-goods company to align resources and attention for future growth
  • managing the merger integration between a spin-off of a Fortune 20 company with a fast-growth tech firm to establish a newco, involving significant culture, integration, leadership, and strategy alignment, as well as building and execution

In addition to her direct work with clients, Carolyn conducts ongoing research. Among her many articles are two of the most read McKinsey Quarterly articles of all time, “The CEO's role in leading transformation” and “The irrational side of change management”. She has also authored two foundational publications: “Performance culture imperative: A hard-nosed approach to the soft stuff” and “Breaking new ground: Making a successful transition into your new executive role”.

Carolyn regularly gives keynote speeches and hosts CEO and senior executive roundtables on topics related to leadership, executive transitions, and change management. Carolyn serves as faculty for McKinsey’s executive programs: The Bower Forum, The CEO Excellence Forum, and Executive Transitions Master Class.

She is a co-author of the New York Times bestseller CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest.

Carolyn is a Canadian and British citizen, and currently lives in San Francisco with her two children and husband. She is a board trustee of Bay Area Discovery Museum and has a Master’s degree in economics and international relations from University of St Andrews, Scotland.


How to make a strong start as a CEO,” McKinsey & Company, August 2023

Leadership lessons from the world’s best CEOs,” McKinsey & Company, February 2022

Business priorities in the postpandemic era,” McKinsey & Company, April 2021

In conversation: The CEO moment,” McKinsey & Company, October 2020

What sets the world’s best CEOs apart,” McKinsey & Company, May 2020

How new CEOs can manage for the future,” McKinsey & Company, March 2020

Published work

Serving a greater purpose: CEO Excellence revisited,” McKinsey & Company, March 2024

The CEOs secret to successful leadership: CEO Excellence revisited,” McKinsey & Company, March 2024

How to prepare for the CEO role,” McKinsey & Company, January 2024

How to transition out of the CEO role,” McKinsey & Company, January 2024

Sending it forward: Successfully transitioning out of the CEO role,” McKinsey Quarterly, July 2023

Staying ahead: How the best CEOs continually improve performance,” McKinsey Quarterly, May 2023

Four steps to success for new CEOs,” McKinsey & Company, April 2023

Leading with authenticity: A conversation with Bill George,” McKinsey & Company, April 2023

Stepping up: Becoming a high-potential CEO candidate,” McKinsey Quarterly, March 2023

Actions the best CEOs are taking in 2023,” McKinsey & Company, March 2023

Starting strong: Making your CEO transition a catalyst for renewal,” McKinsey Quarterly, November 2022

Author Talks: What separates the best CEOs from the rest?,” McKinsey & Company, December 2021

The CEO moment: Leadership for a new era,” McKinsey Quarterly, July 2020

What sets the world’s best CEOs apart,” McKinsey & Company, May 2020

The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs,” McKinsey & Company, October 2019

Continuous improvement: the realities of making the shift,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, June 2019

How continuous improvement can build a competitive edge,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, May 2019

Closing the gender gap: A missed opportunity for new CEOs,” McKinsey Quarterly, October 2018

New leaders: Tap your team ASAP,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, October 2018

Agility: mindset makeovers are critical,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, April 2018

6 elements to create a high-performing culture,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, April 2018

Culture: 4 keys to why it matters,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, March 2018

It really isn’t about 100 days,” blog entry, McKinsey & Company, November 2017

The POTUS as CEO-TUS,” First Year Project, Miller Center at the University of Virginia, July 2016

What CEOs can teach the next US president,” McKinsey & Company, July 2016

Ascending to the C-suite,” McKinsey & Company, April 2015

Three Steps to a High-Performance Culture,” The Conference Board, January 2012

Four Motivation Mistakes Most Leaders Make,” Harvard Business Review, October 2011

The irrational side of change management,” McKinsey Quarterly, McKinsey & Company, April 2009

The Performance Culture Imperative: A Hard-Nosed Approach to The Soft Stuff, McKinsey & Company, 2007

Past experience

MaRS Discovery District
Director, business development and strategy


University of St Andrews
MA, economics and international relations