The eight contenders of McKinsey's global leadership race

24 February 2021 3 min. read
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McKinsey & Company’s 650-strong senior partner team has kicked off the voting process to select the firm’s next Global Managing Partner. While current boss Kevin Sneader is in a solid position to see his leadership extended for a second term, a number of other candidates have tabled bids to dethrone him.

Globally, McKinsey & Company has around 30,000 employees generating revenues of $11 billion. Dubbed by many as the world’s most prestigious management consulting firm, the privately-held company is led by a Global Managing Partner, elected every three years by the firm’s partnership. The selection follows a three-step process, with the first step allowing each of the firm’s senior partners to nominate seven candidates.

Out of this group, a longlist is created, after which discussions are held with the most nominated candidates. Many of the candidates will fall out of this cohort, as this stage of the voting tends to favour peer recognition over the potential interests of candidates in the running for the top role.

The eight contenders of McKinsey's global leadership race

According to reporting by the Financial Times, McKinsey & Company’s leadership team is narrowing down its current longlist to eight potential candidates. The list, which will be announced later this week, is expected to contain many expected heavyweights from the firm’s partnership, including Bob Sternfels, the San Francisco-based Senior Partner who was the runner-up to Kevin Sneader in 2018, Liz Hilton Segel, Managing Partner for North America, and Rodney Zemmel, the New York-based head of McKinsey’s digital transformation practice. 

Beyond North America, four Europe-based contenders are also likely to sit high on the list: Homayoun Hatami, the head of McKinsey’s French operations, and Virginia Simmons, Managing Partner for the UK and Ireland are both expected to figure in the selection. They are forecast to be joined by Sven Smit, the Amsterdam-based Co-Chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute; and Magnus Tyreman, head of McKinsey’s European outfit.

However, despite the impressive testimonials the contenders bring to the table, incumbent boss Kevin Sneader is still regarded as the front-runner. It is usually the case at McKinsey that the firm re-elects its global head for at least two terms, and historically such reappointments have often been broadly supported. At the same time, Sneader has largely impressed over the course of a tumultuous first term, since taking on the hot seat from Dominic Barton.

Sneader’s predecessors had presided over a period where the firm was buffeted by a series of damaging scandals – including the infamous Gupta family saga. This was not the only reputational matter in Sneader’s inbox, however. The largest of these high-profile reputation crises was perhaps the much-written about opioid settlement, which related to work McKinsey delivered over a decade ago.

In spite of these challenges, Sneader has used his tenure to craft a reputation of lifting McKinsey’s ethical standards. He has deployed a number of initiatives to that end, including the re-emphasising of values on which the partnership was founded, and tightening procedures for taking on new clients.

The next step in the process will see the shortlist whittled down from eight candidates to just two. The decision is expected to take place by the end of the week, insiders close to the matter told the Financial Times, before a final vote takes place to elect the outright winner.

Update at 19:30: Bob Sternfels or Sven Smit to become McKinsey's next leader.