McKinsey boss Kevin Sneader backs firm as a force for good in Saudi Arabia

21 December 2018 4 min. read

McKinsey's Global Managing Partner Kevin Sneader has spoken for the first time on criticism of the firm’s activities in Saudi Arabia, backing the management giant as a ‘force for good’ in the Kingdom.

In the top job for still less than six months, Kevin Sneader has had a baptism of fire since taking the helm of the world’s most prestigious and storied strategy & management consultancy McKinsey & Company – confronted with new and existing spot-fires on just about every continent; big-name clients bailing in South Africa, conflict of interest allegations in the US, a blacklisting from ministerial contracts in Turkey, and recent questions over the firm's activities in Russia and China among other controversies.

But perhaps the biggest challenge alongside the Gupta scandal in South Africa, for which the firm has formally apologised and paid back nearly $100 million in fees, is the intense recent scrutiny of McKinsey’s activities in Saudi Arabia following the brazen murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the subsequent revelation that documents produced by the firm may have contributed to a crackdown on social media dissidents by the current Saudi regime – an association with which the firm is not so readily prepared to make apologies for.

Speaking publically for the first time on the matter in an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review, Sneader, who has been with McKinsey for nearly three decades based in numerous locations around the world, said that he was proud of what the firm had contributed to Saudi Arabia’s economic, education and healthcare development and believed it was a force for good in the Kingdom – with the firm commonly credited as a large contributor to Saudi Arabia’s bold Vision 2030 social and economic transformation agenda.

McKinsey CEO Kevin Sneader backs firm as a force for good in Saudi Arabia “Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Middle East, by far. And for the world, as we've seen, it’s very important that it doesn't drift off, become disconnected, fail to develop its economic infrastructure and [not] become a major part of the global economy,” Sneader told the Australian business media outlet, adding that the firm had rejected many opportunities in the Kingdom which didn’t square with its values, such as accepting contracts from the ministries of justice, interior and defence.

“We have chosen to work on education, healthcare, and economic development, and we don't work in other things,” Sneader explained. “We have walked away from lots of opportunities that you could argue, economically, would be in our interest to accept. But they're not in our interests if we think our commitment is to help that country develops its education systems, its healthcare system and its economics, and to create jobs.” Sneader adds: “And we have an office that's 30 percent women; we are the largest employer of professional women.”

On the subject of the Twitter report compiled by the firm, which it has been claimed led to a crackdown on critics of the Saudi administration – and of which the firm contends was intended as an internal document only – Sneader was more dubious, stating that he struggled to think how that was even possible, yet expressed concern over the affair: “I hate the thought that anything we could have done could have been used to target dissidents.”

After a period of sustained criticism, it appears as if McKinsey has decided to go on the offensive, with Sneader’s interview coinciding with a press statement released by the firm directly addressing a recent New York Times report which took the firm to task for helping to “raise the stature of authoritarian and corrupt governments across the globe, sometimes in ways that counter American interests” – the counter-statement refuting numerous claims made in what it described as a ‘deeply misleading’ report and effectively contending the paper had pursued the story with an agenda.