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Influence of Marvin Bower in Management Consulting

Although James O. McKinsey is a recognizable name in the public domain as the pioneer who found McKinsey & Company, Marvin is regarded as the Father of Modern Management Consulting. Marvin entered the consulting Business in the 1930s, at a time, when Management Engineering was deemed a snake oil Business with the intent of manipulating Businesses into paying for the obvious conclusions. Marvin changed the dynamics by bringing in ethics, objectivity and a strong sense of supporting the client's goals over his company's revenues. He hated the term 'Business' and preferred instead to use the word 'practice.' Even now, the lexicon is used in any publications that cover 'consulting.' When he began his career with the law 'firm' Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, the opportunity arose to work as a secretary for committees that dealt with bondholders of companies in the red. The curiosity to find why the companies were failing led to Bower's foray into consulting.

In 1933, Marvin was Interviewed by James O McKinsey, a former University of Chicago professor, who started an accounting & Engineering firm to offer professional services for Businesses. Bower pitched the idea to change the directions from services to a Management firm. McKinsey liked the idea and offered Bower the job. Within four years, McKinsey died from Pneumonia. At that time, A.T. Kearney was the favorite to replace the Founder. With the power struggle remaining unresolved, Kearney took the Chicago office and renamed it to A. T. Kearney & Company while Bower persisted with the name "McKinsey & Company."  His life lessons on serving the client and keeping the client's goals above everything else was demonstrated when at the age of 60, he sold his shares back to McKinsey for book value, instead of a handsome profit in the open market.

What truly stands out as his contribution to Management Consulting include:

1) Decentralized Leadership

Marvin preferred Harvard MBA graduates over experienced hires as he believed that his ideologies and enthusiasm for clients could only be picked by a fresh graduate who has the leadership skills and the acumen to offer solutions based on facts and not on intuition, which are mostly built on biases or previous experience that depends on the Business models of the past. During the 1930s, the factory model of Managers controlling the schedule and decision tree was considered efficient. Marvin gave the McKinsey consultants the freedom to be themselves within the consulting framework, making the engagements a much satisfying experience. The offices are distributed across the world; the budgets pooled and the engagements distributed with the revenue from the office not impacting the performance review of the consultants.

2) Principle-Based Decision

Although Rajat Gupta, the former Managing Director at McKinsey & Co (1994 to 2003), who served two years in prison for Insider Trading is an exception, Marvin believed in the idea that principle based decision making will help partners make tough choices without any hand holding from mentors or senior partners. Also, highly capable partners prefer to work with Businesses that has a strong foundation in high principles. Most importantly, clients will recognize the value of the offering and will continue to call upon McKinsey consultants when faced with new challenges.

3) Rigorous Search for Facts

Marvin believed that consultants should search rigorously for facts from the bottom up. He suggested the same approach for large organizations as well. High-level executives should search for facts, before developing a strategy. Ideally, the facts should be collected as fast as possible before the hierarchy softens the flow of facts into opinions that pleases the authority at each level.

The 3 life lessons has been borrowed or modified in one way or the other in most successful consulting engagements.

You will also love: How Management Consulting became a favorite for MBAs (Includes History & Rise of Management Consulting)

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