Bruce Whitfield: McKinsey’s apology and a R902 million payback may not cut it – but they are really very, very sorry

Business Insider SA

  • McKinsey has made one of the most extraordinary corporate apologies of recent years.
  • The 9-page apology uses the word “sorry” or “apology” no fewer than 13 times.
  • It is more aimed at placating an infuriated public, the state, and US authorities, than anything else.  
  • But clearly McKinsey is not sorry enough to change its pricing model..

Google the word "|sorry" and the first hit you get is a tatty Justin Bieber music video with that same title. I watched it. I don’t believe he’s sorry at all. He wrote a catchy tune and some sloppy lyrics and ka-chinged his way to even greater wealth, estimated at his tender age of 23 to be around $225 million.

Seems saying ‘"sorry" these days can be profitable.

When you bump into someone in the airport queue you say sorry. When someone’s pet rabbit dies, you say sorry. So why not say it when you help bring a country to the very edge of self-destruction?

Unlike in Elton John’s time in 1976 when “sorry” seemed “to be the hardest word”, it is used liberally today.

But, just how sorry is McKinsey about the role in played in state capture? Very, very sorry.

Or that is what the global consultancy wants you to believe, courtesy of one of the most extraordinary corporate apologies of recent years.

Kevin Sneader. Source McKinsey

The 9-page apology by new McKinsey global managing partner Kevin Sneader uses the word “sorry” or “apology” no fewer than 13 times. It also comes across as suitably self-reflective, using various forms of regret in terms of “we could have”; “we should have”; “we shouldn’t have” about 17 times. It refers to its “values” four times, and to “trust” and equal number of times right up front, and refers to the concept that it was a “mistake” or an “error” 8 times.

This was a carefully polished apology.

An apology that, in addition to announcing a return of R902 million plus interest (at South African, not American rates), is aimed at placating an infuriated public and keeping the door open for future transactions with the state.

It’s also aimed at especially US authorities, who will be investigating what, if any laws, were broken as McKinsey found itself deeply embroiled in extracting revenue from the state for the benefit of the Guptas and their associates.

The 92-year old firm has run as many as 1,000 projects in South Africa in the 23 years since they set up operations here. Can McKinsey guarantee that all its other projects were squeaky clean? No, it can't. To be fair, the basis on which those projects were concluded is not up for question right now – but that’s the problem with trashing your reputation: everything you have ever done, and will do in future, will be questioned in the light of your mistakes.

So just how sorry is McKinsey? Not sorry enough to change its pricing model. Here’s the crux of the matter.

“We hope to contribute to the future of the country,” Sneader said.

Of course McKinsey hopes to do that. There is a lot to fix, due in no small part to the fact that large corporations such as themselves and others failed to apply their minds to the work they did and align that with what the firm now admits was a fee that was “too large”.

Not everyone is going to accept the apology as easily as its teams of spin doctors would have hoped.

It’s about to get interesting. 

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

Receive a single email every morning with all our latest news: Sign up here.

See also: