Apr 11, 2007

The father of management consulting

In his latest post my buddy Dennis Smith at Wireless Jobs raises a virtual toast to the father of wireless.

Which got me thinking: Who is the father of management consulting? I should do a blog post on that person for making this profession a reality.

Is it Peter Drucker? The greatest management thinker that the world has seen, and who's engagement with GM and Sloan was called the consulting engagement of the last century.

Or was it a certain accounting teacher called James Oscar McKinsey, whose name would go to the Firm he founded.

Er, no.

The shape of the consulting profession, the advice business, goes to Marvin Bower.

If you know some bit of consulting you would know who Bower was. If not, your response was probably "Marvin who?" If so, then read on.

Bower was the driving force behind McKinsey and Co. after his mentor, James O. McKinsey's death, and modeled the new profession on the lines of original trusted advisors, the legal professions. The partnership model, the stewardship of the firm, the democracy and meritocracy that would go on to become the hallmark of the consulting profession all bore Bower's stamp.

Rakesh Khurana's views on Bower's legacy are here. He quotes:

When McKinsey ventured into executive search, he persuaded the firm to get out. Then, when some of the partners wanted to form a joint venture with an investment bank, Bower helped talk them out of it. ''He got very upset at some of the things McKinsey was talking about,'' says Jack Sweeney, editor of Consulting Magazine. Bower's influence was also felt in McKinsey's refusal to go public, though a sale would have netted the partners millions. Today, in an age when values often seem malleable, it is fair to wonder at the source of such Calvinist rectitude
Yes, Bower placed the "independence" of the firm over all else.

Update: Thanks to Tanujit for the pointing out the typo of Marvin's name.