Meet the posh consulting company working for some of the world's most notorious autocracies
For your end-of-year long reads, consider this piece from New York Times reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe on the role of a single American company in “rais[ing] the stature of authoritarian and corrupt governments across the globe, sometimes in ways that counter American interests.”
Hundreds of the company’s consultants frolicked in the desert, riding camels over sand dunes and mingling in tents linked by red carpets. Meetings took place in a cavernous banquet hall that resembled a sultan’s ornate court, with a sign overhead to capture the mood. […]
About four miles from where the McKinsey consultants discussed their work, which includes advising some of China’s most important state-owned companies, a sprawling internment camp had sprung up to hold thousands of ethnic Uighurs — part of a vast archipelago of indoctrination camps where the Chinese government has locked up as many as one million people.
McKinsey and Company’s cartoonishly extravagant retreat in the Chinese desert, red carpets tracing through dunes as foot-perfect paths between white tents, certainly make for arresting photographs. Of more significance is the company’s role in shoring up a collection of autocracies that have become infamous for human rights violations. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Malaysian criminals and a pro-Russian Ukrainian criminal turned president; the booming company appears to have few qualms in working with either autocracies or the shamelessly corrupt.
The corruption-marred state-controlled entity building artificial islands that China would use as the basis for claiming expansive new territorial ownership of the South China Sea? A McKinsey client. And the company would pull off a neat trick in Malaysia, being hired on both as representative of that company and as the company that reviewed, for the Malaysian government, whether a partnership with that Chinese entity to construct a new gargantuan rail line would pay national dividends. (Unsurprisingly, McKinsey found that it would be a spectacularly good idea. Construction has subsequently been abandoned.)