At McKinsey, the Winner Is...


Ian Davis, the charismatic leader of McKinsey & Co.'s London office, won election Mar. 6 as the consulting firm's new managing partner. His victory over Senior Director Michael Patsalos-Fox, who will retain his current role as New York office chief, capped a sometimes contentious and secretive election that began in mid-January. Some 270 directors, or senior partners, voted in the process.

Davis, 52, begins a three-year term on July 1, succeeding Rajat Gupta, who led a massive expansion of McKinsey. The firm has had a huge global presence for some time, but until recently, Americans usually had a lock on key leadership positions. Shifting to non-U.S. managers at the highest levels has been gradual, largely occurring under the nine-year reign of Gupta, who was McKinsey's first foreign-born head.

British-born Davis will lead one of the world's largest and most prestigious professional service firms, with 7,000 consultants in 82 offices across 44 countries. McKinsey's $3.4 billion in annual revenues make it the world's largest management-consulting organization.

UNUSUAL SLATE. Davis will inherit a firm that has been haunted by recent controversy over its role in several corporate meltdowns, from Enron and SwissAir to Kmart and Global Crossing. Some partners believe that in the pursuit of a fast-growth strategy, the firm strayed from its values in the 1990s by accepting too many assignments from second-tier clients, including dot-com startups and midmarket companies.

This election, for the 11th managing partner in the firm's 77-year history, was unusual for several reasons. Of the initial "slate of seven" candidates who emerged in February, only one was an American -- Chicago-based Clay Deutsch. Even more surprising was that none of the seven boasted an MBA from Harvard Business School, where McKinsey hires dozens of graduates every year. It also was the first time that the final vote came down to a pair of British citizens: Patsalos-Fox, who was born in Cyprus but raised in Australia, and Davis.

Davis himself is somewhat uncommon as well. Unlike most McKinsey directors -- who are, in the words of a former managing partner, "a dull and anonymous group" -- Davis is considered charming and gregarious, with atypical visibility. A few years ago, in fact, he popped up on a list of the 300 most powerful people in Britain published by The Observer newspaper. At the time, he had been head of the London office for only four years, but his name appeared at No. 227, lodged between artist David Hockney and William Hague, a Tory member of Parliament.

VERY BRITISH. Also, unlike his peripatetic colleagues, he has never worked in a McKinsey office outside of London. His resume doesn't even include a graduate degree of any kind, unusual for a culture populated by MBAs and PhDs.

After earning his undergraduate degree in politics, philosophy, and economics from Balliol College, Oxford, Davis went straight to work for Bowater, a paper-products maker. He spent seven years there in sales, marketing, and planning jobs, before leaping to McKinsey's London office in 1979. There, he worked on a range of strategic, marketing, and organizational issues, primarily for multinational companies.

Davis is pure Brit. He was raised in Kent, one of four brothers, each with highly distinguished careers in Britain. One brother, Crispin Davis, is CEO of publishing group Reed Elsevier, another is a judge, and a third is a lawyer. Davis' grandfather was an Oxford professor, and his daughter represents the fifth generation of the family to attend the elite university.

Known as an engaging consensus leader, Davis won the respect of his colleagues through his work and leadership style. He climbed McKinsey's ladder by serving, among others, British Petroleum (BP) and Unilever (UN), two of McKinsey's most important global clients.

"STAY FOCUSED." Davis is also much admired internally through his leadership over the past eight years of the London office, one of the largest and most international of McKinsey's 82 branches. As head of the location, which includes affiliate offices in Ireland and the Middle East, Davis led a group of 475 McKinsey staffers of 40 different nationalities.

Insiders say Davis campaigned for the top job on a "values platform," emphasizing the need for a return to the McKinsey heritage established by the firm's long-term spiritual leader Marvin Bower. He spoke about the need to make more investments in McKinsey's people and clients. "Ian carried that through in the way he managed the London office," says a former McKinsey colleague. "When things became difficult after the bubble burst, other offices were happy to take personnel hits, but he refused to cut costs by laying people off. He advocated that partners ought to take smaller bonuses instead."

Davis declined requests for an interview. Explains a McKinsey admirer: "He's like Marvin Bower. He has certain principles on how you behave as a leader, and he wants to communicate his views to his partners before he speaks to anyone outside the firm."

In a statement, Davis hinted at his vision for McKinsey: "We need to stay focused on our core mission and values which have nourished McKinsey's success over the last seven decades," he said. "Our commitment to our clients and our people are at the heart of everything we do." Davis will have plenty of time to back up those words with real actions. By John A. Byrne in New York


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