McKinsey’s Medieval Recruiting Practices

Can a monastery help the recruiting efforts of one of the world’s oldest management consultancies?

May 17, 2000

Can a monastery help the recruiting efforts of one of the world's oldest management consultancies?

Leafing through the business section of a weekend newspaper, I stumbled across a peculiar advertisement. It featured a young monk walking through his monastery, quietly studying a religious tome. Apparently suffering from poor vision, a pair of eyeglasses dangled from his right hand. In bold type, a headline announced an aptly named event: “Silentium — a McKinsey seminar on thinking.”

Could it be that the giant consulting firm, always looking for new profit opportunities, was simply announcing its entry into the lucrative field of conference management? Or was it an invitation for burnt-out executives to recharge and refocus their energies in the information age?

The ad’s opening lines certainly lead one to believe just that. “The world is fast-paced, and at times rather noisy. That is why quietness has become so important. Quietness, after all, is the main source of creative thinking — and hence of innovative solutions,” the ad rhapsodized. “These innovative solutions,” it goes on to say, “shape the modern world. This lively interaction between action and reflection is what fascinates us deeply. So much so that we have created a seminar to explore it.”

None of the small print, however, reveals anything about the customary hefty attendance fee — even though the event is scheduled to take place in the venerable Castello degli Orsini near Rome. Nevertheless, the company is “looking for outstanding individuals from all sorts of academic backgrounds.” Then it dawns on me: this seminar invitation is not at all directed at hapless corporate middle managers. Instead, it is a shrewd recruitment tool.

To ensure an ample supply in the grist mill of creating a sufficient consultant population each year upon graduation, the company is advancing the timetable a bit. To this end, it is inviting talented people to have an enticing couple of days on McKinsey in Rome. The event even has its own web address.

Now, despite the ad’s visual subtext — a monk is pictured, the event site sounds like some fancy monastery – we are quite certain that women can apply to attend, too. After all, at least in the merry middle ages, there was all sorts of consorting — if not consulting — going on in those monasteries, as the Italian renaissance era writer Bocaccio made plain in his Decamerone.