Yale School of Management

McKinsey’s Kevin Sneader Discusses the Role of Business in Changing Times

Leaders Forum

By Karen Guzman

To keep pace with the increasing speed and complexity of global commerce, business leaders must reconsider their standards of accountability and their societal impact, according to Kevin Sneader, McKinsey & Company’s global managing partner.

“Business is a force for good,” Sneader told students at the Yale School of Management. “I believe what we do matters.”

Sneader, who began the role of global managing partner in July 2018 and is based in Hong Kong, spoke at Yale SOM on April 18 as part of the Leaders Forum lecture series. Judith Samuelson ’82, vice president of the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Aspen Business and Society Program, moderated the discussion.

In a talk titled “Leading at the Intersection of Business and Society,” Sneader addressed the complex topics impacting business and society, including public and private sector leadership, for-profit and nonprofit missions, and the role of institutions like McKinsey.

Cultural change is reshaping the role of business, and the way that people perceive business obligations to society. Discussing the recent rash of controversies that has cast doubt on the integrity of business, including the conflict-of-interest allegations leveled at McKinsey earlier this year, Sneader said, “The trust between business and society is frayed.”

The true causes of the rising public skepticism toward business are multiple and complex, Sneader said. They include uneasiness about the impacts of globalization and difficult fiscal situations.

In this environment, businesses should be questioning their missions and their operating strategies, Sneader said. McKinsey has undertaken an internal conversation about the company’s purpose. “I want our firm to engage in a dialogue about ‘why,’” Sneader explained.

And while regulatory measures can play a role in directing business practices, Sneader said that it’s incumbent upon businesses themselves to keep foremost in mind the contexts in which they operate. “Business does sometimes become divorced from society,” he said, “and that’s where trouble can start.”

Sneader said that McKinsey will remain committed to engagement with the public sector, which accounts for 6% of the firm’s workload. “It’s a very important 6%,” Sneader said. “We believe we should work on the toughest problem, whatever they are, and governments are working on the toughest problems…. We can bring the expertise that is honed in the private sector to the public sector.”

Those solutions can’t be imposed, he added: “You’ve got to operate within a framework that society will accept. We can’t be naïve about that.”

Sneader also shared the story of his own career trajectory, including his serendipitous discovery of McKinsey—he found a recruiting pamphlet at a bar—his steep learning curve at the firm, and his election to the global managing partner post while in Hong Kong. “Asia is really important, and it’s really important to understand Asia now,” he said.  

In the future, Sneader predicted that the issues impacting business and society will continue to be extremely challenging, and often unprecedented. “The pace of change will never be this slow again. It’s only going to get faster,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I want to be part of the conversation.”

About the Event

Kevin SneaderKevin Sneader, global managing partner, McKinsey & Company, will will discuss the dynamic role of public and private companies, for-profit and nonprofit missions, and institutions like McKinsey at these intersections. Moderated by Judy Samuelson ’82, Aspen Institute.

Kevin Sneader is the global managing partner of McKinsey & Company based in Hong Kong. Sneader joined McKinsey in 1989.  He has been involved in research efforts on global economic and business trends, productivity, growth, and innovation in china and Asia. He holds a law degree from University of Glasgow and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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