Review: Vision, Leadership and the Creation of Management Consulting

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Title: Vision, Leadership and the Creation of Management Consulting – McKinsey’s Marvin Bower
Author: Elizabeth Haas Edersheim
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Inc
ISBN: 0-471-65285-7
Price: £19.99
Reviewer: Jo Lamb-White

Values, integrity and respect are three words, which are continually used to describe Marvin Bower in this authorised biography. The author first met this ‘role model of management’ idolised by many business men including her father, when she wasa young girl and their relationship spanned over nearly half a century until Marvin Bower died in 2003 aged 99½ years.

The book written in partnership with Marvin, who was also writing his memoirs at the time, is packed with tributes from no less than 97 interviewees, many of them associates who worked with him at McKinsey’s and along with countless quotes.

Half way through reading some of the attributes, I started to feel very uncomfortable at the continued reverence and almost messianic representation of one man. However, on perseverance, one learns from the many ‘Marvin Stories’ that Marvin Bower applied a simple framework to ensure that McKinsey became the first and very successful management consultancy company. Marvin believed in treating everyone as an equal, meeting customers’ needs, not wants and having a defined set of company/common values.

Part I of the book ‘Translating a Vision into Reality’ describes Marvin’s family life which was one of ‘continual learning’ led by his father ,who sought the opinion of all family members when making important decisions. Indeed this is described as Marvin’s first introduction to a non-hierarchical management structure, a model he was to emulate
throughout his life. Marvin went on to buy McKinsey’s, a failing accountancy and engineering company and had transformed it within six years to delivering a new concept of management consultancy support to some very high powered organisations. Marvin’s career with McKinsey’s spans an impressive 59 years.

In Part II ‘A leader’s leader’ the leadership attributes through which Marvin Bower lived are defined. These include:
• Integrity and trustworthiness
• Fact based visioning – no nonsense
• Adherence to principles/values
• Humility and unassuming respect for others
• Strong communication/personal persuasiveness
• Person involvement and commitment

This section also chronicles the attributes of those interviewed entitled ‘Educating a Generation of Leaders’ which had originally made me squirm in my seat.

This book does not tell us anything new about leadership or vision or indeed about management consultancy. What it tells us is that the basics matter. In the forward, written by John McArthur, we are told that Marvin did not believe that leadership could be taught but that it could be learned. He was consistent in his approach and was no doubt a remarkable man who touched the lives of all those who worked with him.

The point is we are still learning and still need to learn the basics. We can never be reminded enough that leadership is not a science, it is about consistent and value based characteristics, which need to be lived.

Jo Lamb-White is an independent management consultant working within the public sector. Her primary clients are from the NHS and Social Service organisations and she specialises in Organisational, Team and Individual Development.

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