Get ready for another global organization to experience what went down at Google last week when employees around the world staged a walkout in protest of the company’s response to a widespread #MeToo scandal.
This time, though, I predict the spotlight will be on three of the world’s best known and most highly admired strategic management consulting firms: Booz-Allen, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group.
That’s because The Sunday New York Times chose to devote front page coverage to the trio’s extensive (and incredibly lucrative) contracts with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who was recently fired for his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Not only are the firms reaping ungodly amounts of money from the repressive Saudi regime but, critically, NONE withdrew from participating in last month’s Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh (at a time when virtually every other company, journalist and executive universally bailed in protest).
Making matters worse, the Big Three doubled down on their participation at the event:
- McKinsey led panels on money and energy (One would think the Saudis don’t need much advice on either).
- BCG focused on “unspecified intelligence” (Boy, does that ever sound shady).
- Booz-Allen held meetings with representatives of Saudi’s army and navy to whom they provide counsel (I never knew white shoe consulting firms did Black Ops).
When pressed for comments, firm representatives either provided a weak, evasive response or no comment whatsoever. And therein lies the problem.
As was the case with Deloitte last month (see my blog), I don’t think the rank-and-file employees of these global powerhouses will “permit” their executives to keep padding their wallets with moola paid by sleazy, if not murderous, regimes. Employee activism has become a force to reckon with (and no longer ignored).
And if I were sitting in the corner office of Booz, BCG or McKinsey, I’d also worry about losing key clients whose corporate values and ethics won’t permit them to engage consultants with highly controversial contracts.
Now is the time for the Big Three to step up and speak out. They need to either terminate their contracts with the Saudi government or provide a very transparent reason why they will continue to bill, bill, bill.
It’s tough to walk away from billions of dollars, but more and more employees expect their organizations to possess a higher purpose and do their part to make the world a better place. They want to feel comfortable that their personal values are in alignment with their employers’ words and actions.
I hope all three consulting firms are taking this reputational crisis as seriously as they should. If they aren’t, watch for Google-like walkouts and Deloitte-like picketing.