How Marvin Bower shaped modern management consultancy

Our next pioneer is Marvin Bower, the man credited with defining the modern management consultancy industry. Originally trained as a lawyer, Bower joined McKinsey and Co, a fledgling accounting and engineering practice, and transformed it into the world’s premier management consulting firm. Known as ‘the leader’s leader’, many of Bower’s principles on advisory are adopted as widely now as they were when he defined them in the 1950’s.

Here’s how he shaped McKinsey and Co into a global brand:

He was the first to instil a ‘client first’ culture

Bower’s philosophy was that the aim of professional advisory was to make the client’s business a success. This should be upheld above all else, including revenues of the firm. If the client’s business was a success as a result of consultant’s advice, more work would follow.

He made selling ‘trust’ a tangible thing

Bower believed that keeping confidences was the first rule of being an advisor. He created a culture around this that wasn’t enforced by rules – rather it was based on trust and passed on through generations.

He pioneered the technique of calling a spade a spade 

One of the most famous Bower tales is of the time he once told the CEO of a company he was consulting for: ‘the problem, as I see it, is you.’ The company didn’t give McKinsey any work for two years following this, but when the difficult CEO left, his successor hired Bower immediately.

He was the inventor of ‘guiding principles’

Bower took the skills he had learnt whilst practicing the law, and applied it to the consulting world. He developed a set of guiding principles that governed every decision that McKinsey would make. Principles such as ‘responsibility for dissent’ meant that all employees were encouraged to speak their mind. Disagreements were encouraged and ideas were scrutinised openly – to check whether they could be made better.

And the founder of developing talent from within

One of Bower’s famous practices was developing the best professionals from within the firm. He insisted that the firm hired for natural talent and future potential – and then taught them the McKinsey way.


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