McKinsey’s managing partner interview – failing to make partner twice

By | September 15, 2015

For those interested in management consulting – Dominic Barton is a name you will recognize – the managing partner at McKinsey & Company.  Basically the chief of the chief consulting firm.  This interview with him is a 1,500 word read, but worth it here by Knowledge@Wharton, the business school’s magazine.

Stay humble and learn.  Barton’s first assignment was to “determine how many pieces of KFC should go in a lunch box”.  If the global head of McKinsey’s first assignment was optimizing how much fried chicken goes in a box, your project cannot be that bad.

McKinsey Managing Partner First Project

Made partner after 3 tries. Barton failed twice at making partner. The first time, the partnership told him to “be tough and go at it”. The second time they questioned whether he was a good problem solver. In his own words, “This is like telling someone in the church that they’re an evil bastard.”

Hustle. Hustle.  Barton calls himself a student of leadership, and it only makes sense. Apparently, he has met with 2 government officials or CEOs a day, for the last six years.  WHAT?  Yes, that is crazy.  If my math is right, uh, 3,000 leaders (assuming business days only, thanks Marina).

It’s about people.  Barton notes that when CEOs reflect on their careers, they talk about how they could have spent more time focused on people.  People are the key:

They would have “moved faster on people … taken people out faster, moved them up faster and spent more time on people….”

So the questions to you:

  • Are you learning everyday on your projects?
  • Are you complaining that you are doing menial work (counting pieces of chicken)?
  • Did you go after your goal (making partner) 3 times?
  • Are you pushing yourself to meet leaders daily?
  • Are you investing in people – pushing them up / out of your organization?

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8 thoughts on “McKinsey’s managing partner interview – failing to make partner twice

  1. Sandeep

    thanks for this. The article was insightful…

    keep up the great work! I am going to introduce your blog to my team and make it mandatory for them to read your posts 🙂

  2. Marina

    I think your math is wrong:

    2 (leaders per day) * 250 (average number of business days in the US) * 6 (years) = 3000

    Maybe even less, counting in sick days, cancellations etc – still impressive of course 😉

  3. Luk

    I’m positively surprised with what I’ve read, he seems down to earth and emphatic. There’s a skewed perception that partners at strategic consultancies are a) uber-human inteligient b) they can sell ice during the winter c) they all made a partner within 5 years, while here all those myths are challanged by real life story.

    The other interview I can recommend is with Pierre Nanterme:

  4. Scarlettong

    Very inspirational, thank you! Truly made my day! I will definitely reflect on the following questions that you’ve listed at the end of the article and work towards them.

    1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

      Yes. Many ways to be successful, and often takes many tries. Keep going.

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