Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Flashman finds work (again)

[I'm planning a couple of posts on Teach For America's international push. One of the elements I'm planning to cover is the absolutely central role played in the reform movement by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co which makes this post from 2011 once again relevant. The list of the company's highlights comes from  Barry Ritholtz.]

Back in the late Sixties, George MacDonald Fraser came up with a wonderful idea for a series of comic historical novels. He took Flashman, the villain from the best known example of Britain's beloved school novels (a genre that includes the Mike and Psmith books, much admired by Orwell, and, of course, Harry Potter) and placed him on the scene at every military fiasco of the Nineteenth century from the Charge of the Light Brigade to Custer's Last Stand.

Had Fraser been a student of business instead of military history and had decided to make Flashman a consultant in the late Twentieth Century, his resume might read something like this:

• Advocating side pockets and off balance sheet accounting to Enron, it became known as “the firm that built Enron” (Guardian, BusinessWeek)
• Argued that NY was losing Derivative business to London, and should more aggressively pursue derivative underwriting (Investment Dealers’ Digest)
• General Electric lost over $1 billion after following McKinsey’s advice in 2007 — just before the financial crisis hit. (The Ledger)
• Advising AT&T (Bell Labs invented cellphones) that there wasn’t much future to mobile phones (WaPo)
• Allstate* reduced legitimate Auto claims payouts in a McK&Co strategem (Bloomberg, CNN NLB)
• Swissair went into bankruptcy after implementing a McKinsey strategy (BusinessWeek)
• British railway company Railtrack was advised to “reduce spending on infrastructure” — leading to a number of fatal accidents, and a subsequent collapse of Railtrack. (Property Week, the Independent)

* Update: Here's a bit more on the Good Hands People, part of our ongoing "How to Lie with Statistics" series (more examples here and here).

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