Bob Sternfels is McKinsey's new global managing partner

10 March 2021 3 min. read
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McKinsey’s 650 senior partners have selected American Bob Sternfels as their new global managing partner. Having edged out the Dutchman Sven Smit in the final round, he succeeds Kevin Sneader to take up the global mantle. 

Sternfels, 51, becomes the 13th global managing partner to helm McKinsey & Company since it was founded in 1926 – a role that he will officially serve as of July 1st this year from his San Francisco seat.

“I am determined to use this moment to make our partnership stronger, more inclusive, and better able to help our clients thrive in a fast-changing world,” he said in a statement released by McKinsey – commonly placed among the most prestigious consulting firms in the world.

Bob Sternfels, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company

Sternfels has been at McKinsey for more than 25 years – a career that features time in Australia, South Africa, and subsequently the United States. Currently a senior partner, he previously led McKinsey’s operations practice in the Americas, and the private equity & principal investors practice worldwide. He also sits on McKinsey’s board of directors. 

Per the statement, his new role entails “making key leadership appointments and playing an important part in shaping McKinsey’s direction.” According to Sternfels, such an enabling role suits his beliefs and competencies.

“My starting place is that we are a firm of leaders, and the partnership model works because we all assume the mantle of leadership as a governing thought. But do you really lead leaders? Or do you inspire and enable them? I aim for the latter.”

“I really believe in distributed leadership and empowerment. We are a global firm that works in local contexts, and I think this notion of trust and empowerment enables speed.”

Steadying the ship

That said, the circumstances around Sternfels’ appointment indicate that he might have to take an involved approach at times – particularly with regards to governance. His predecessor – Kevin Sneader – was the favorite to win when elections began in February, but has since become the first McKinsey global managing partner since 1976 to be ousted after a single term. 

His time at the helm was marred by scandals in South Africa and Russia, as well as the McKinsey opioid scandal that came to light in recent weeks – leaving him to answer for governance standards. According to Financial Times reports, Sneader was a victim of both the reputational damage and of resentment from the leadership ranks because of his stringent response.

Having beaten Dutchman Sven Smit in the subsequent matchup, Sternfels will have to toe this line carefully. “I don’t sense that there’s a rejection of our journey to work more responsibly. These reforms are not the work of any individual. They were voted on and agreed to by a body of senior partners, of which I’m a part,” said Sternfels.

His vision now is to take McKinsey to a place of better governance and efficiency. “I think that's our next horizon: as we innovate, we create a firm that gets it right first time, as opposed to trying to figure it out later.”