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A behind-the-scenes, revelatory history of McKinsey & Company, America’s most influential and controversial business consulting firm, told by one of the nation’s leading financial journalists

Founded in 1926, McKinsey & Company has become one of the world’s leading management consulting firms, helping to invent American business and shaping its course for decades. Ushering in the age of American industrial dominance, McKinsey remapped the power structure in the White House, helped create the bar code, revolutionized business schools, and introduced the idea of budgeting as a management tool. McKinsey consultants have created the corporate behaviors that shaped our world—reinventing our idea of American capitalism and exporting it across the globe.

At the same time, however, McKinsey can also be associated with a list of striking failures. Its consultants were on the scene when General Motors drove itself into the ground, and they played a critical role in building the bomb known as Enron. Yet they are rarely blamed for the failures—at least not publicly.

McKinsey employees are trusted and distrusted, loved and despised. And far from prying eyes, they are doing behind-the-scenes work for the most powerful people in the world. In The Firm, star financial journalist Duff McDonald uncovers how these high-powered, high-priced business savants have ushered in waves of structural, financial, and technological shifts to the biggest and best American organizations. With unrivaled access to company documents and current and former employees, McDonald reveals the inner workings of what just might be the most influential private organization in America.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A fascinating account of the rise of McKinsey. If you want to know what it is about the culture of the firm that sets it apart and has made it so successful, read this book.”

    Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize–winning author 

  • “In his superb examination of one of the most powerful, secretive, and least understood organizations on the planet, Duff McDonald finally solves the mystery, in elegant prose, of how McKinsey can be well known without anyone knowing anything about it. Thanks to McDonald, now we do.”

    William D. Cohan, New York Times bestselling author

  • “[A] plethora of entertaining stories and characters…[McDonald] resurrects some chestnuts that even today make one marvel at McKinsey’s influence beyond business.”

    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • “This comprehensive history of McKinsey offers a sense of how the industry’s most elite firm has shaped the ideas that drive business.”

    Harvard Business Review

  • “The celebrated management consulting company exerts an influence that varies from benign to malign, according to this revealing, if conflicted, history.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “[McDonald] examines one of the world’s most influential companies that you probably never heard of, the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company…a company that has prided itself as having the highest standards in the industry yet has contributed behind the scenes to severe cost cutting and downsizing, acted as enablers to the Enron and General Motors bankruptcies, and seen a former CEO hauled off to jail for insider trading. McDonald’s reporting reveals how and why this Teflon firm has continued to thrive through the years.”


  • “In a timely book, Fortune and New York Observer contributor McDonald probes the leading business consulting company in the country, considering McKinsey’s role in the functioning of America’s corporations and their leadership…A fast-paced account of a key business institution, its deeds and misdeeds.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “In this highly readable history, Duff McDonald brings us deep inside one of the smartest and most important firms doing business today—a place where no other journalist has taken us before. With his straightforward storytelling and thoughtful analysis, McDonald demystifies the secrets behind McKinsey’s successes and offers concrete lessons on changing companies and practices for the better.”

    Jamie Dimon, chairman, president and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase

  • “A thought-provoking new book called The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business…offers a fascinating look behind the company’s success.”

    New York Times

  • A New York Times Bestseller
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About the Author

Duff McDonald is a contributor to Fortune and the New York Observer and has also written for Vanity Fair, New York, Esquire, GQ, Wired, and Conde Nast Portfolio, among other publications.