McKinsey centurions and other fine young cannibals

Acela I am on the train to Philadelphia.  I believe God wants us to travel by train.  I mean, would he have invented trains otherwise?  I say no. 

Part of the charm of the trip is the security warning read over the intercom as we leave Penn station.  It reads something like, "if you see something, say something: a strange package, something that doesn’t look quite right, or, [and now I’m quoting precisely], somebody acting funny."

Actually, I am watching someone acting funny.  There are 4 guys in my line of sight who are acting …I guess "funny" captures it.  By the looks of their suits, ties, brief cases, and watches, they are 4 young princes of the capital markets.  Or they are McKinsey consultants, red of tooth and claw, the ones who rampage, well tailored holligans, through a corporation.  They take no prisoners, this lot.  They leave careers where they break them.  They got a train to catch.  I would guess they have degrees from Wharton, Columbia, HBS, or Yale.  No, not Yale.  (Yale should be so lucky to graduate guys as good as these.)  They are in their late 20s or early 30s and they are making a small fortune.  And this is just the financial.  The funds of self esteem are, evidentally, still greater. 

What’s funny about them?  They are quitely tormenting the steward.  Well, why not.  They’re bored.  He’s struggling.  Why not have a little fun? Pricks. 

This is class in America.  The distance between the steward and these guys is vast.  He may have made it through high school, a public one.  They went to private schools, likely, and enjoyed the best college educations money can buy. 

I am not saying that these guys are racists. I am not saying they are actively hostile or dangerous.  (This is good, because I am sitting in their line of sight.)   

Let’s give these kids their due.  They are entitled to think well of themselves. They were smart to begin with and they are now, thanks to Penn, formidable problem solving machines.  And they are the reason American corporations are so much better at capitalism than the competitors, including those from France and England.  These kids are the future because they own a piece of it. 

But, really, does this give them the right to torment Amtrak employees.  I don’t think so.

9 thoughts on “McKinsey centurions and other fine young cannibals

  1. Tom Guarriello

    One of the psychological theorists most formative to my professional development was Alfred Adler. One of the cornerstones of his work was his concept of “social interest.” Social interest was Adler’s way of talking about a person’s degree of “fellow-feeling” (that’s a literal translation of the bodacious German word “gemeinschaftsgefuhl”), a deep sense of connection with other human beings. In Adler’s schema, those who harbor substantial “feelings of superiority” towards others, who lack social interest, are those most likely to suffer psychological difficulties (typically experiencing “feelings of inferiority,” a phrase first used by Adler).

    Toying with “the underclasses” for sport is, of course, one of the key indicators of those with this personality make up. I’ve worked with companies who take candidates to dinner in order to, among other things, see how they treat the waitstaff. These guys sound like they’d be screened out, despite their lofty intellects. Stupid is as stupid does, as some simpleton once said. We glorify intelligence in our culture, and diminish (demean?) the importance of simple decency. Bob Sutton’s coined the “no assholes rule” as a way of pointing out how damaging to a workplace jerks like this really are. I recently noted some thoughts about his work here:

  2. Peter

    “The funds of self esteem are, evidentally, still greater.”

    In two decades of working alongside McKinsey, Booz Allen, BCG and similar management consultants, I never met a single one who did not have a deep, profound, overwhelming and pervasive inferiority complex. In every single case, he/she compensated for this with an outward show of militant arrogance and superiority. Schoolyard bullies to a man. You only have to look them dead in the eye as you disagree with them, for them to fold.

  3. Carol Gee

    Grant, I am glad I stopped by your blog, because your portrait of these (emotional) adolescents is priceless. Their ilk are the same type that think it is perfectly OK to get a little regular help from the other adolescents who populate the most notorious addresses on K Street.
    I love trains, too, particularly the ones that, years ago, had true DINING cars. Aah, the good ole days.

  4. Christopher


    A question – where are intelligent men supposed to go other than these places that breed their already disdainful attitudes?

    I happen to work at a large, corporate consultancy (not one you mentioned, but in the same leagues) and I have discovered something amazing. I just don’t care that much. I care about the team, the work, the challenge, but at the end of the day – I can fall asleep without trying to injure those around me. I have little need for the traditional pursuits of life and this has left me without the essential drive that is so neccesary in this world. A little help if you please, under which rock should I look next?


  5. David Parmet

    Betcha if you said something, like “cut the crap asshats,” they would have turned and run with their tails between their legs. Guys like that obviously haven’t been beaten up quite enough in Jr. High.

  6. steve

    Actually, McKinsey has been reported to have an HR strategy of “hire insecure people with high IQs.” The idea being that the insecurity will guarantee the requisite drive and the IQ will enable rapid problem-solving. There may be side effects of the kind you note. On the other hand, they could have been a bunch of lawyers.

  7. Acad Ronin

    They work on perfecting the technique at B-School where they try to browbeat the staff who are there to ensure their safety, the smooth functioning of the program, etc. They represent max 5% of the class, but they leave such an indelible impression that one has to work to remember that they are not representative of the whole.

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