The Case Centre’s top 40 bestselling cases

Thirty-second place - McKinsey & Co: Managing Knowledge and Learning
The case
Case: McKinsey & Co: Managing Knowledge and Learning McKinsey & Co: Managing Knowledge and Learning
Authors: Christopher A. Bartlett
Institution: Harvard Business School
Ref: 9-396-357
Date published: 1996

This case explores the development of McKinsey & Co as a worldwide management consulting firm from 1926 to 1996. It focuses on the structures, systems, processes, and practices the business developed to help it create, transfer, and disseminate knowledge among its 3,800 consultants in 69 offices worldwide. It concludes by focusing on the experiences of three young consultants operating in different parts of the firm's organisation: the local office, the industry practice, and McKinsey’s competence centre. Managing Director, Rajat Gupta, needed to decide if the changes he had introduced were sufficient to maintain the firm's vital knowledge development process.

The authors

Christopher A. Bartlett is the Thomas D. Casserly, Jr. Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School.

The teacher

Jessica Spungin Jessica Spungin is a Teaching Fellow at London Business School (LBS) and an independent consultant. She explains why she thinks the case works so well.

This case appealed to me both because I am an ex-employee of McKinsey and because it is a very rich case that can be used to study a variety of issues such as culture, growth, strategy and change. I teach it on the Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy programme at LBS, and have taught it to executives and MBAs – always on strategy courses.


The case can be used to teach culture, strategy or growth and you can use it to explore business models of consulting, as well as the implications for business models.

In-depth understanding

The case works well because it covers a lot of ground pretty simply and gives someone with a deep understanding of McKinsey the ability to build on the case with more details to describe how the firm works. It appeals to most business students because McKinsey is a well-known organisation, but the inner workings are difficult to get information on; this case helps students to get under the skin of the brand.  

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